Le Gros Souper
Christmas in Provence usually involves a big family gathering for the traditional meal is known as le Gros Souper (the big supper) on Christmas Eve. This meal begins with seven meatless dishes, ending with the ritual number of 13 desserts symbolising Christ and his 12 apostles. Today this tradition goes beyond religious beliefs and in many cases the treize desserts are comprised of a selection of ingredients and recipes, including the popular bûche de Noêl. They typically consist of a combination of fresh fruits, dried fruits, nuts, and sweets. Some confectioners offer pre-packaged gifts containing some version of the 13 desserts for those individuals that do not have the time or patience to assemble the ingredients themselves. Tradition dictates that the 13 desserts must be served all at the same time, and each guest must taste each one of them.
Traditional 13 Desserts
Four dried fruits, known as the Mendicants, which represent the colours of the gowns worn by the 4 separate orders: dry figs (Franciscans), almonds (Carmelites), raisins (Dominicans) and hazelnuts (Augustinians).
“La Pompe à l’huile”, also called “la Gibassié” or “la Fougasse” (in Arles) is a flat loaf of bread made using olive oil. According to tradition the bread should be broken and never cut (a Biblical allusion to the Last Supper) so as to not find oneself in debt the following year.
White and Black Nougat: with hazelnuts, pine nuts or pistachios for the white nougat, and almonds and honey for the black nougat.
Dates: a symbol of Christ who came from the Orient, often stuffed with green or pink almond paste.
Quince paste (or crystallized fruit in the Apt or Carpentras regions): the 13 desserts originally consisted of fruit that had been gathered in the countryside where quince trees were abundant.
Fresh fruit: mandarin oranges or clementines, pears and winter apples, raisins, prunes, and winter melons preserved for the occasion.
Other possible additions:
Oreillettes”: light thin waffles
Calissons d’Aix (a must in Aix-en-Provence)
Le Cachat: a version of fromage blanc
Paper-wrapped candy (for children)
La gallette au lait
Photo: Véronique PAGNIER