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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!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Les Treize Desserts

Yes, that’s thirteen desserts. Dessert is not normally a big deal in Provence. But Christmas Eve is the exception, when the thirteen desserts are presented after midnight mass. The number is important because it represents Jesus and the twelve apostles.

The desserts in fact are very simple: clementines and pears; dates; prunes; black nougatv(pictured here); white nougat; pompe a l’huile (olive oil cake - pictured above); calissons; candied fruit; also the four beggars, or mendiants, representing the various religions: the figs representing the grey robes of the Fransicans; the dried raisins representing the dark robes of the Augustinians; the almonds representing the Dominicans or the Carmelites; also walnuts or hazelnuts.

All of these are on display presently at the local marché de treize desserts – a huge tent offering these desserts, and much more, such as vin cuit (‘cooked wine’) into which the pompe should be dipped; as well as other specialities, such as boudin blanc aux truffes (white sausage with truffle) and écrivisses, or crayfish, live or cooked.

Last Sunday, as part of the Christmas festivities, we rushed to the afternoon concert in the cours Mirabeau featuring a traditional group from Arles (see photos) playing the typical drums and whistles, also guitars, bagpipes, trumpets and violins. It was exhilarating. They processed formally down the street, stopping every once in awhile to play for 15 minutes or so, then processed back again.

There were literally hundreds of people out on the street, taking it all in. We are loving the spirit of the season with the lights and the little chalets, the festive crowds and the santon market.

E-mails are currently flying back and forth across the pond: Mom sending me her perogy recipe, Peter asking for Jim’s wild mushroom recipe, Mom asking for my fruit compote recipe, Corinne sending me her borscht recipe. We are all figuring out how to do our traditional meal without actually being together.

In Provence, “le gros souper” is served before midnight mass. Even though it is called “gros”, it was traditionally a meal of seven meagre dishes based around an anchoiade (anchovy purée) with some vegetables like cauliflower, cardoons, celery root and artichokes. Also some cod. Today the tradition has become very elaborate, with lots of “coquillage” (seafood). Laurent, my poissonier, has a splendid display of oysters, clams, mussels, scallops, crab, and lobster and – much to our joy – razor clams.

We are planning a kind of mish-mash of traditional Ukrainian dishes and Provençal dishes. For example, we don’t have smoked goldeye or my mother’s fish balls. However we have ready to go the said razor clams, also some oursins (sea urchins) and some quenelles of sandre (something like pike) that we purchased at the market. That means we are combining the twelve meatless dishes from our tradition with thirteen Provençal desserts. Wish us luck.

-Picked up a fresh foie gras that I ordered from “the bird man” in the market – actually the bird couple - who are wonderful people. But now my job is to de-nerve it. I’m very nervous.
-Bought the fresh beets for borscht from Celine, my favourite vegetable vendor at the market (fresh ones are actually hard to come by, as they are often sold already cooked).
-Ordered my pintade, or guinea fowl, for Christmas Day, also from the bird man. We plan to stuff it with chestnuts and place slices of truffle under the skin.
-Climbed Montagne Sainte-Victoire again with a French group, this time from the Bimont Dam.
-Attended a fantastic concert featuring the Corsican group Barbara Fortuna (no, Barbara is not a woman, this is another all-male band).
-Spent some pleasant evenings with new friends.
-Added a handsome fisherman to our collection of santons.
-Decided not to buy our calissons at Bechard on Christmas Eve (see photo).
-Strolled through the busy streets, soaking it all in.

Best wishes to all for a happy and peaceful Christmas.

Joyeux noel tout le monde!

Andrea & Jim

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