French cuisine – it’s one of the things that make France great. In fact, gastronomy is such a critical part of the heritage of France that it has been recognised with a UNESCO “World intangible Heritage” status. Getting together with family and friends over a meal is a popular activity in France and as you’d expect – at Christmas, it’s taken to a whole new level.
On Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve it is common all over France to have a long dinner called a réveillon. The word comes from the French word reveiller (to wake) because it usually goes on way past midnight so you have to stay awake until the early hours of the next morning!
In Provence, the traditional Christmas Eve meal is known as le gros souper (the big supper) and it ends with a ritual number of 13 desserts (treize desserts).
The desserts represent the last supper of Christ and the 12 apostles and they are laid out symbolically on a table of three tablecloths, with three candles which represent the Trinity. Traditionally the food is set on the table for three days, they are all served at the same time and guests must taste each one.
The practice has been going on for several centuries and though no one can pinpoint exactly when it started, the present form of 13 desserts goes back to the 19th Century.
The thirteen desserts of Provence
The four beggars (dried fruit) which represent four monastic orders which offer aid to the homeless: Raisins (Dominicans); Walnuts or hazelnuts (Augustines); Dried figs (Franciscans); Almonds (Carmelites)
Fresh fruit: such as apples, pears, oranges, melon, grapes and tangerines plus exotic fruits like kiwi and pineapple. Traditionally, locally produced fruits are preserved after the autumn harvests in basements and attics.
Sweets and pastries: biscuits, candied fruit, cake, almond-paste pastries, spiced bread, waffles, brioche, yule log – there is a great choice of sweets that can be included.
Finally there are always two kinds of nougat – dark nougat and white nougat which represent good and evil.
The nougat noir au miel is made with honey and almonds and is a hard candy.
The nougat blanc is soft and made with sugar, eggs, pistachios, honey, and almonds