What you need to know about a typical old Provençal tradition. The thirteen Christmas desserts. Twelve for the apostles and one for Jesus.
One of the oldest Provençal traditions of Christmas, the presentation of the thirteen desserts is certainly the one most celebrated in the thatched cottages of the Provence.The tradition represent the number of guests at the “Last Supper” meal of the twelve apostles and Jesus Christ. This is the last meal that Jesus Christ took with the twelve apostles on the eve of his crucifixion.
This tradition is not formally dated, but it seems to date back to the 17th century. It was then customary to serve an abundance of desserts, to show the guests that we had enough to spend a difficult winter. Today, in Provence, you can not design a New Year without the 13 desserts on the table. From one region to another, the composition of the thirteen desserts varies but there is a common base: the four mythical beggars, the two nougats and the "pompe à huile".
All these desserts are served at the same time and in abundance on the table on Christmas Eve after "the big supper" which precedes midnight mass. They must stay three days on the table and all guests must taste each of these desserts. They are accompanied by red cooked wine in reference to the blood of Jesus Christ.
In France, the cooked wine is a sweet artisanal wine, produced in the Provence, obtained from the alcoholic fermentation of a must, heated to be concentrated, added fresh must, possibly flavored.
List of the thirteen desserts
1. Dried figs
With their gray color, they symbolize the order of the Franciscans.
Raisins represent the Dominicans
According to the versions, they refer to the Carmelites
4. Walnuts or hazelnuts
Walnuts that symbolize the Augustinians.
In the tradition, there is also fresh fruit, they were kept since September in the cellars and attics. Then they were gradually joined by exotic fruits from the old colonies:
The last bunches of the season are kept until Christmas in cellars or attics.
The end of season watermelon, which has the particularity of being well preserved.
7. An orange
Orange is a sign of wealth. This fruit, which is not originally a product specific to Provence, and then accompanied by Corsican or Spanish mandarin.
Dates are the symbol of Jesus Christ from the East.
9. An exotic fruit
Kiwi, pineapple or mangoes.
10. An "pompe à huile"
The "pompe à huile" is a cake flavored with orange blossom. Traditionally, it is the dish worn by Pistachier (typical character of the nursery and pastoral Provencal). According to tradition, we must break the oil pump as Jesus Christ broke the bread and not cut it so as not to be ruined the following year. It's a moment of sharing. The pump currently used seems to differ from traditional pumps, formerly made with wheat flour. His name remains an enigma, evoking for certain the capacity of the flour to absorb the oil poured during the preparation, or because this cake is often used to saucer the wine cooked at the end of the meal.
11. White nougat
A nougat with hazelnuts, pine nuts and pistachios.
12. Red nougat
A nougat with rose and pistachios.
13. Black nougat
Nougat with melted honey that is cooked with almonds.
Have a very happy Christmas and bon appetit!