Friday, December 25, 2015

Les Treize Desserts de Noel

Photo by Mary M Payne

It's a crispy day and I have been out at 6am to have an energetic walk and a thrilling look at a low full moon.    It's Christmas Day.   Monsieur and I did our exercise and then returned to bed until 9am and awakened with most everyone else.  

Not surprising there were only four people out on the Promenade des Anglais this morning.   Two of those were last night's revelers, one singing loudly in Italian, his Santa hat drooped over one eye.  The other two were walking giant dogs.

The reason why our Prom was so empty this morning was that the big feast for Christmas took place last night.  It is called Le Reveillon and folks are probably still sleeping it off.  

There are many French religious traditions left over even in today's somewhat lapsed Catholic population.  The most popular of these is the tradition of 13 desserts.  The number 13 represents Jesus and his twelve disciples.  Everyone at table is expected to taste each of these desserts to insure a good year ahead.  They will stay on the table for three days to make sure one gets a good start. 

If you have wandered around through the various neighborhood street fairs during this festive season you have seen a dried fruit and nut seller in each one.   That is because the first four desserts are different types of fruits and nuts which represent the monastic communities of the Catholic Church.  The dried figs represent the Franciscans.  Almonds stand for the Carmelites.  The dish of raisins are from the Dominicans and the hazelnuts or walnuts stand for the Augustinians.  

In addition there will be a plate of white nougat and one of black nougat which stand for good and evil.  A bowl of dates will represent the Holy Land.   A loaf of olive bread (which must be torn not severed with a knife) will protect your wealth for the coming year. 

The last five desserts may be freely chosen and will probably be candied or fresh fruits.  The fresh fruit platter... most likely composed of grapes, mandarins, and apples.  

Then comes the Buche de Noel (  it may be included as number 13).   This is a cake shaped like a yule log. It can be made with a center of ice cream, cream filling or be a traditional iced cake decorated like a log with little almond paste mushrooms etc. 

 The tradition comes from the older one of choosing a real log from a fruit or olive tree ...a giant log that was meant to burn until January 1.    It would be anointed by the oldest family member with wishes for a happy and flourishing year to come.  I'm afraid log burning fireplaces are mostly forbidden in central Nice now but can be found in mountain villages.   So this cake has replace the old ways. 

 The Yule log dessert follows a lavish meal that judging from the stacks of boxes at the market probably starts with Oysters.   The main dish may be a turkey or Chapon, ( a castrated rooster) fattened to huge proportions or a big white (commercially raised) duck. 

Monsieur and I will have a Pintade ( guinea hen) for lunch today served with roasted onions and sweet potatoes and chard, a modest lunch by French standards. 

photo by Mary M Payne

  Right now I am sipping my first glass of Champagne and like it or not I will indulge in "fois gras" today and a delicious, runny chèvre (goat cheese).   The French for the most part enjoy their culinary traditions that date back centuries and come from an agricultural society, one that enjoys the hunt ( duck ( col verte), venison, wild pig, pheasants, partridges.)   The day of killing off every songbird is for the most part, a thing of the past but the season of hunting continues. 

I admit I have not been as faithful to my blog this year.  I got a case of pericarditis (probably from a wandering virus) that has taken me 4 months to shake off and that is to blame for some of my idleness.    I am grateful now for my returned good health, my returned good humor and for the outstanding French health system.  

 I want to give thanks also that I continue to have faithful readers to this blog.   To you and your loved ones, Monsieur and I wish you as much gladness and celebration as you can stand and the best of health for 2016.   

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