Christmas in France is a great time of family reunion where three things dominate: 1-decoration of the house, 2-presents, mainly for the children, and 3-… the meal!
For the Christmas meal, great care is taken with the decoration of the table. In Provence, it is traditional to cover it with 3 white tablecloths, in reference to the Trinity. Some even add 3 lit white candles in candlesticks and 3 saucers of wheat germ.
One of the most traditional meals is the “great supper (“le gros souper“), a meal without meat comprising 7 small dishes, in memory of Mary’s 7 sorrows, and served with 13 rolls, followed by 13 desserts, representing the Lord’s supper with the 12 apostles and Jesus.
For the small dishes, one often finds artichoke and celery, spinach or cauliflower, with cheese topping, in omelettes or in soups, but also cod, snails, fish or shellfish, etc.
The thirteen desserts “les treize desserts”) often enjoyed on returning from Mass and kept on the table until 27th December:
There are dried figs, almonds, raisins, nuts, dates, nougat, quince jelly or candied fruit, fresh fruit, etc.
However, families also make other choices for this big Christmas moment. Thus, in the Top 50 preferences you find turkey with chestnuts (“la dinde aux marrons”) which has a stuffing of meat and sausage meat, lightly flavoured with brandy, and an assortment of chestnuts.
One of my favourite treats; the [friars] of Christmas (“les mendiants de Noël”). These are small desserts made from little chocolate cakes covered with dried or candied fruit: figs, apricots, prunes and raisins. Delicious!
Do you want to know another secret of mine? I love another traditional cake, the famous Kings’ cake (“le gâteau des Rois”).
This is found all over France, especially for Twelfth Night, in January. But none of the cakes ever look the same as the others.
Each region, each family has a variant of the recipe, decoration and method of cooking. In short a little secret, jealously guarded and … which changes everything.
In Provence, it is of course accompanied by candied fruits and flavoured with orange blossom.