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13 desserts of Provence Many of the Christmas traditions of France revolve around food, from buche de Noël - yule logs - and gingerbread to Kugelhopf and mulled cider. In Provence though, they go one step further. There it’s traditional to have 13 desserts at Christmas! Yup, 13 desserts – but not, I have to add, 13 cakes, in case you’re wondering how on earth anyone can cope with such a thing. The tradition of Les Treize Desserts de Noël goes back several centuries and it’s said that the roots of this custom lie in religion and represent Jesus and his twelve apostles at the Last Supper. The ingredients of the 13 desserts varies from village to village, and even from home to home. But it always includes dishes of nuts, fruit and sweets plus an orange flavoured cake. The desserts are spread out on a table in dishes, and everyone is invited to take a little from each dish. It’s a tradition to lay the desserts out on Christmas Eve and leave them there for three days. Though everyone’s table might have a variation of dishes, you’ll pretty much always find “les quartre mendiants”, the four beggars, which represent monastic communities: walnuts or hazelnuts symbolizing the order of St Augustin, almonds for the Carmelites, raisins for the Dominicans, and dry figs for the Franciscans. And there will always be nougat, white with hazelnuts, pine nuts and pistachios to symoblise good, and dark nougat with melted honey and almonds to symbolise evil. The fougasse or pompe à l’huile takes centre stage. This is an olive oil flatbread flavoured with orange blossom. The tradition is to break a piece of the bread off with your fingers, rather than cut it with a knife - which some say will protect your money in the coming year. (There's a recipe over the page for those who'd like to make this delicious cake at home). The rest of the desserts vary according to location and preference and might include: Fruit: melon, oranges, dates and exotic fruit like kiwi or pineapple – the fruit is considered just one dish though! Grapes might also be included, ideally the last bunches of the season picked in the vineyards and preserved in attics and cellars until Christmas. And you might also have crystalised fruit, a Provencal speciality, made in Apt in the Vaucluse department.
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