It is hard to believe that here in Provence the traditional Christmas meal served late on Christmas Eve ends with 13 desserts. The "big supper" (le gros souper) is considered the main dinner of the Christmas season and is the time when family and friends gather together.
The whole dinner is a grand feast...but it is the 13 desserts that intrigues me the most. Those who know me well would hardly be surprised by that statement - I live for dessert. My mantra is "Life is too short. Eat dessert first!" However.....13? I wonder if even I could manage that amount of dessert! Whilst I ponder on HOW anyone could manage 13, most of you would ask WHY there are 13 desserts. Ah, now I can answer that question. It represents Jesus Christ and his 12 Apostles at the last supper; a dessert for each of them.
So can it all be chocolate? It saddens me to report that the answer is "no". My research into this topic resulted in a revelation....not all desserts are made from chocolate (even though I think they should be!). The guests are expected to sample all of the desserts and as they are left lying on the table for 3 days, each visitor that enters the home during this time must also partake in the eating.
Traditional desserts are as follows:
To begin with there are four dried fruits called Beggars. They refer to various religious orders who took a vow of poverty.
1. Dried Figs - with their grey colour they represent the Franciscan Friars.
2. Raisins - these represent the Dominicans
3. Almonds - these represent the Carmelites
4. Walnuts or Hazelnuts - these refer to the Augustians
Next are the fruits
5. Grapes - the last bunch of the season are kept cool until Christmas in attics or cellars
6. Melon - watermelon as this keeps well
7. Orange - a sign of wealth
8. Dates - represents Christ from the East
9. Exotic Fruit - Mango or Kiwi for example
10. Oil Pump - this is a cake flavoured with orange blossom and is designed to be broken as Christ commanded at communion
11. White Nougat - with nuts
12. Red Nougat - with rose and pistachios
13. Black Nougat - with melted honey and almonds.
These can be substituted by or added to by (yes you can have more than 13 but not less):
Quince - usually in a jelly form
Chocolates or candies (now that's more like it!)
Pears cooked in wine
All of this is washed down with wine and liqueurs. Roll on Christmas!!!