Saturday, December 24, 2011

A French Christmas - "Le Gros Souper" (The Big Supper) and "Les Treize Desserts" (The Thirteen Desserts)

One of the most interesting Provencal Christmas traditions centers around the Provencal Christmas Eve Meal. 

On Christmas Eve, Provencal families traditionally attend Midnight Mass at their local church. Before attending Mass, the evening begins with what is known as "Le Gros Souper" or The Big Supper"!  This meal is divided into two parts, the first part eaten pre-Mass and the second enjoyed post-Mass.
The table for Le Gros Souper is typically set with 3 white table cloths, 3 candles and three saucers of wheat of Saint Barbara representing the Holy Trinity; Father, Son and The Holy Spirit. The food is set out on Christmas Eve and the remains of the meal stay on the table for three days until December 27.  These remains are called the "Part du Pauvre" (poor person's share.) The symbolism of this act is that the food is left for the ancestors and angels who come in the night to enjoy the celebrations or for a beggar who might come to the door.
The pre-Mass meal typically consists of seven very plain dishes symbolic of the seven sorrows of the Virgin Mary or, in some stories, the seven wounds of Christ. The seven dishes are all presented at the same time in the form of a buffet.  The seven dishes contain no meat, instead featuring fresh fish, shellfish, snails, and vegetables. Seven wines are served with this meal.

One traditional dish served at Le Gros Souper is Brandade de Morue which is a French dish containing pureed salt cod, olive oil and milk.

The family typically attends Midnight Mass and then comes home to enjoy the post-Mass part of the meal. 
This post-mass meal is known as "Les Treize Desserts" (The Thirteen Desserts), which symbolizes Christ and his twelve apostles.

The 13 desserts varies from region to region but the basic foods are:

Dried Fruit and Nuts
"The four beggars" (Les quatre mendiants), representing the four mendicant monastic orders:

1. Raisins to represent the Domenicans
2. Hazelnuts or Walnuts to represent the Augustines
3. Dried figs to represent the Franciscans
4. Almonds to represent the Carmelites, or
Dates or
Dried Plums

5. "The Olive Oil Pump" (La pompe a huile)

This is a flat yeast bread made with olive oil and flavoured with orange flower water and citrus zest . This bread is supposed to be broken just like Jesus broke the bread at The Last Supper. The superstition is that if it is broken and not sliced, it will prevent bankruptcy in the new year.

"The Two Nougats" (Les Deux
Nougats) representing good and evil.

6. White Nougat (Nougat blanc) - Made with sugar, eggs, pistachios, honey and almonds
7. Black Nougat (Nougat noir au miel) - Made with caramelized honey cooked with almonds

and 6 of any of the following fresh fruits or sweets:

Fresh fruit
Apples, Pears, Oranges, Winter melon, Grapes and/or Tangerines

Biscotins (biscuits) from Aix en Provence;
Calissons d'Aix - almond-paste pastry with sugar icing (marzipan)
Candied citron
Cumin and fennel seed biscuits
Fried bugnes
- donut-like deep-fried pastries sprinkled with sugar
Fruit tourtes
Oreilletes - light thin waffles
Pain d'epice- ("spice-bread")
sometimes loosely translated as gingerbread. These spice cakes can also be made with aniseed or other spices.
Quince chess or quince paste

In addition to the above, tradition calls for the serving of the "fortified wine." This is wine to which a distilled beverage, usually brandy, has been added. The fortified wine represents Jesus himself.

Tradition is also that you must try some of all of the thirteen desserts to have good luck in the New Year.

In honour of this Provencal tradition, and my love for sweets, I put together my own "basket" of  "Les Treize Desserts!"  We'll enjoy it tonight after our own Church Christmas Eve Candlelight Service.

Joyeux Noël, 

To all my friends and family,

I wish for you a wondrous Christmas,


No comments:

Post a Comment