13 desserts: a Provence tradition at Christmas


It is Christmas eve in Provence, 13 desserts have been laid out on a table covered with 3 layers of white cloth. Amongst the dishes, 3 candles are burning…beautiful set for a painting, but this is the typical dessert table for Christmas in Provence. You may be wondering why they do celebrate with so many desserts and what sort of desserts there are after all. Look no further, we were just as curious as yourself so we read upon the subject. We also know for a fact that some Sextant staff in Paris and London will spend a Christmas eve this year with a touch of Provence!

The origins

Just like the Santons (read our other article on this topic), the 13 desserts are very typical of a Christmas in Provence. And like the nativity miniatures, this goes back in time…many centuries. But unlike the Santons, it is roughly 100 years ago that the 13 desserts got back onto the tables of local families. Indeed, it was poet Frédéric Mistral who brought it back into fashion. As a devoted defender of the local dialect, he always talked about the traditions of his beloved region too. Actually, in “provençal”, the local dialect, the desserts are actually called “Calenos”.

So why 13? Simple, families need one desert for Jesus and each one of the apostles. On Christmas eve, the people of Provence have a light dinner but as you can imagine, it is quite sumptuous too. Rest assured though, you have 3 days to try all 13 desserts.

The dessert menu

The preparation of the 13 “Calenos” will vary a lot between villages and their selection will also depend on family preferences. There are about 50 of them in total but we have listed here the most common for a proper Christmas in Provence.

  • “pompe à huile”: there is no direct translation for what is the central piece of the 13 desserts. This local bakery is prepared with flour, demerara sugar and olive oil. It is meant to represent the bread that Jesus broke during his last supper with the apostles. This is why the “poumpo à l’oli” (local name) is never cut but always broken. It is served with dry fruits:
    • almonds
    • hazelnut
    • raisins
    • dried fig
  • As well as nougats, but there are two sorts: white and black nougats
  • dattes
  • plenty of fresh fruits: apples, pears, oranges and mandarins
  • less seasonal fruits: melon, grapes and at least one exotic fruit
  • quince paste
  • candied fruits
  • local treats like:
    • “calissons”
    • “oreillettes”

Now, there might be specialty shops where you could buy those delicacies, we usually buy off French click at: http://www.frenchclick.co.uk/ – you can also spend Christmas in Provence! We wouldn’t blame you!


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This entry was posted on Tuesday, November 29th, 2016 at 3:20 pm and is filed under Christmas, Events, French food, French history, French Regions, Lifestyle . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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