Provence cooking vacation: Chef Berard talks about 13 Christmas desserts

November 8, 2012  |  By Liz SanFilippo Hall
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Provence cooking vacation: Chef Berard talks about 13 Christmas desserts

Food is a wonderful way to learn about a place’s culture and traditions, which is just one reason why our cooking vacations focus not only on making food, but discovering where it’s produced. It’s in this spirit that Chef Berard, of “Cooking Passport to Provence,” shares the history of Provence’s 13 desserts.

On December 8th, 1998, during a friendly meeting at the “Oustau de Prouvènço”, the official list of Aix-en-Provence’s Provence’s Thirteen Christmas Desserts (treize desserts aixois) was revealed…

Among Provence’s many ancient customs, probably one of the best-known is that of the famous “treize desserts,” or thirteen desserts, served after our traditional festive meal on Christmas Eve.

In his memories, Frédéric Mistral (famous writer) wrote that the ritual Christmas dishes are “segui d’uno seguèlo de privadié requisto” (followed by a number of delicacies), although the number thirteen was not specifically mentioned. Other writers also speak of “numerous desserts.”

The 13 desserts were officially recognized in the 19th century, although their content remained variable. The number thirteen was of course chosen to represent Christ and the 12 disciples.

The thirteen desserts are extremely simple and are mainly home-grown and prepared. The “Association Fouque,” “Escolo Felibranco Li Venturié,” “Pâtissiers de la Coupo Santo,” and “Union des Fabricants des Calissons d’Aix” jointly decided to draw up an official “13 desserts” list in response to public demand.

This list is intended to act as a general reference and is not in any way the “property” of its initiators. It should therefore be considered as a “user’s guide” to help avoid future errors and misleading advice.”

Here is the list of the thirteen desserts, or treize desserts aixois, which you can learn more about in a Provence cooking class with Chef Berard:
Gibassié (olive oil cake)
Black nougat
White nougat
Figs (this dessert, in addition to the three following are known as “les quatre mendiants,” or four beggars)
Walnuts (or hazelnuts)
Calissons d’Aix
Quince jelly
White grapes (servant)
Christmas melon (verdau)
Orange (or tangerine)

If you visit Chef Berard in December for his culinary vacation “Cooking Passport to Provence,” he’ll teach you more about this tradition in a small house outfitted exclusively for cooking classes.

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By Liz SanFilippo Hall
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