So that was Christmas – my first in France and full of food, fun with pre-Christmas parties, a gourmet veille de Noel (Christmas Eve) meal, an English Christmas on the day itself and further jollities over the New Year. Little wonder my wits are wandering and my waistline widening.
The shops were full of the essential Christmas fare such as truffles, foie gras and oysters; my neighbours’ kids have been almost beside themselves in a frenzy of speculation as to what Papa Noel will be bringing them and even the weather played a small part by whipping up a few snow flurries to crown the mountain peaks.
Amongst the Christmas traditions observed in parts of the Languedoc and Provence is the custom of the Treize Desserts – the Thirteen Desserts. It is a custom with religious significance – thirteen being the number of the Disciples and Christ himself at the Last Supper. After the main meal (called le Gros souper), tradition has it that there must be thirteen desserts placed on the table set between three candles (to represent the Holy Trinity)and each diner must have a small piece of each dessert to bring good luck during the forthcoming year. The desserts stay on the table for 3 days and in some parts a place is set for the family’s ancestors to come and have a nibble as well.
The mix of the Treize Desserts varies a little but generally includes:
a type of olive bread, eaten with grape jam. This must be broken into individual servings with the fingers, rather than cut with a knife to protect one’s wealth from disappearing in the coming year.
Around the olive bread are arranged the “four beggars” – raisins, dried figs, walnuts and almonds. These represent four monastic houses –Dominicans, Franciscan, Augustine and Carmelite.
White and Black nougat is set out to symbolise Good and Evil
Then there are dates – a symbol of Mary and Joseph coming from the east together with more dried figs and other fruits from the far east, recalling the origins of the three wise men.
A platter of fresh fruit including oranges, clementines, apples, pears, quince paste, melon and grapes form another dessert.
In addition there will be a whole range of pastries, biscuits and quite probably the ubiquitous bûche à Noel, a rich chocolate log.
All of this feast is accompanied by vin cuit, (cooked wine) – a reference to Christ’s wine at the Last Supper.
So now it’s on to the next tradition – the New Year resolution and this year my one and only resolution is not to make my usual well-intentioned but totally unrealistic wish list since I always fall by the wayside in double quick time. But what I do wish is that all of you who read this blog have a very happy, prosperous New Year.