Les treize desserts

13 desserts

I love dessert. I’m fully in agreement with the slogan, “Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first.” So once again, I think the French have got things just right with les treize desserts (lay trez daysehr), or the thirteen desserts. This is the tradition in the south of France on Christmas Eve. While the rest of the country is enjoying le réveillon de Noël, Provence has le gros souper, (luh grow soupay), the big supper, a traditionally fish-based meal. After church, it’s time for dessert.

pompe a l'huile

If you’ve seen or read Le Château de ma mère, by Marcel Pagnol, you may remember a Christmas scene where the mother unveils a table covered with desserts that she names. The number thirteen represents Christ and his twelve apostles and the desserts themselves are also imbued with religious symbolism. A list of “official” desserts was codified in 1998, but there is some room for variation. They are:

  • white nougat, made of hazelnuts, pine nuts and pistachio to symbolizes God’s virtues
  • black nougat, made of honey and almonds that represents Evil
  • figs, raisins, almonds and nuts, also known as les quatre mendiants (lay cat men-dee-ahn) the Four Beggars, represent the colors of the robes of the four mendicant religious orders: Franciscan, Dominican, Carmelite and Augustinian
  • dates represent that Christ was born in the Middle East
  • fresh fruit, such as oranges, tangerines, or melon
  • le pompe à l’huile, a cake moistened with olive oil; the cake is traditionally fougasse-style, like the loaves of savory bread you may have seen that are formed like large, lacy leaves and served by ripping off a chunk rather than cutting it

buche de noel

The desserts are served with wine. If a bread-like cake and wine make you think of Communion, you’re right. The similarity is intentional. And each diner must sample some of each of the desserts to symbolize sharing in Christ’s gift. While I like tradition, I also love chocolate, so I was glad to hear that some families are now finishing with une bûche de Noël, (uhn boosh duh nowell) a chocolate Yule log instead of, or in addition to, le pompe à l’huile. Joyeux Noël, tout le monde! (Merry Christmas, everyone!)

51ns-Y8NXtL__SL75_Learn to make your own French desserts: Bouchon Bakery

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About Patricia Gilbert

Patricia Gilbert is a French teacher. She's Canadian, lives in the United States, but dreams of living in France. Follow her on Instagram @Onequalitythefinest and on Twitter @1qualthefinest.
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2 Responses to Les treize desserts

  1. Pingback: *~* Desserts To The Rescue, Show Off Your Talents *~* « ~~Wavensongz's Blog~~

  2. Pingback: La fête des bergers | One quality, the finest.

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