Welcome to The Aix-Files

Thanks for checking out The Aix-Files, my

blog postings inspired by my time in and around

Aix-en-Provence and the Vaucluse. The spot includes travel tips,

discoveries of local food and wine, recipes,

cultural events, interviews and historical

tidbits about Southern France. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Good King René

The famous Les Deux Garçons on the cours Mirabeau
The cours Mirabeau all decked out

Hotel des Augustins decorated for the holidays

Mime taking a smoke break
Bagpiper in the street

The famous calissons of Aix

Good King René
 Good King René has a disco ball above his head.  Nevertheless, his statue is regal, standing at the end of the cours Mirabeau. Next to him there is a big Christmas tree spray-painted white, and next to it is a colourful merry-go-round blaring songs by Edith Piaf on a loud-speaker.

When it is not Christmas season he is much more austere.  Since we have been living on the boulevard du Roi René for these past few months, I thought I should really find out more about him.  He is called Roi René le bon – The Good.  This 15th Century monarch was the son of Louis II, Duke of Anjou, who founded the University in Aix.  René retired to Aix-en-Provence where he was appreciated for improving the city’s administration.  He also wrote poetry and novels and supported and encouraged artistic life in the city, which puts him pretty high in my books. He is responsible for annexing Provence to the republic of France, although the town refused to accept the centralist policies of the French Monarchy for two centuries.

Historical treasures are hidden in the most unlikely places in Aix. If you walk into the Sephora makeup shop in a little alleyway near the Place des Prêcheurs, for example, you can climb up past the rows of lipstick and nailpolish to see some of the arches of King René's chapel, well-preserved, if oddly displayed.

St. Sauveur Cathedral contains a beautiful triptych by Nicolas Froment, commissioned by King René in 1476, which has recently been restored and is now visible behind a glass wall.   In the centre panel is an image of the burning bush.  On the left is King René, praying, on the right is his bride, Jeanne.  She has a noticeably severe expression on her face, perhaps unsure about her marriage to this rather corpulent aging man.  But in fact, Queen Jeanne was known for her lack of levity.  That is, until someone served her a calisson, the favourite confection of Aix-en-Provence.  Apparently after taking her first bite, she burst into a smile and the calisson is now made in the shape of it.  Hopefully that was the first of many pleasures she experienced as queen.

It has been such a wonderful experience watching the market change through the season.  The peaches of August turned into persimmons, then turned into clementines.  Eggplants have been replaced by pumpkins and hunks of squash.  Old-fashioned root vegetables, like tompinambours, or Jerusalem artichokes (or sun chokes) now fill the baskets.

Here is a lovely first course - salty, sweet and juicy. First, look for extremely ripe persimmons, on the verge of exploding.  Carefully transport them home (otherwise, buy firmer ones and let them ripen at home, even for a week or more). Again very carefully, cut through the flesh, bottom to top, then cut out the thick stem.

For each serving you will need a half a persimmon and a paper-thin slice of jambon cru or prosciutto.  Wrap the persimmon in the cloak of jambon, trimming to make it look elegant.  Decorate it with a leaf of basil or parsley.  Drizzle a fragrant honey on and around it and sprinkle a bit of piment d’Espelette for added pizzazz.  Bon appétit.
And a Happy New Year to all!

A la prochaine,
Persimmon in a regal cloak


gil said...

Your blog is a lovely treat. I am researching calissons and wondered if you had tried your hand at amking them? Also was curious about molds for calissons and substitutes for crystalized melon.


Joe said...

Best wishes to you and Jim for a Happy New Year.