A tasty made-for-sharing and long-standing tradition in Provence is the thirteen desserts that returns year-in year-out on Christmas Eve. A tradition that has ties with Christianity and roots in the Garlaban, more precisely in Aubagne, the town of Marcel Pagnol. In the 17th century it was customary to propose a multitude of sweet dishes as a sign of plenty. Then, in the first half of the 20th century, a local paper mentioned, for the first time, the thirteen desserts.
Today, the thirteen desserts are often associated with the Last Supper, the final meal Jesus shared with his 12 Apostles. Surprisingly, no clear list exists as to the contents of the thirteen desserts. However, six of them are permanent features. As gueststar: the pompe à huile, a sort of unleavened bread and specialty of Provence that should be presented broken just as Christ did with the bread. Next to this come the four beggars to represent the mendicant monastic orders, with walnuts and hazelnuts representing the Augustinians, almonds for the Carmelites, dried figs the Franciscans and raisons the Dominicans.
The dark nougat and white nougat represent good and evil. For the seven remaining desserts, it’s a question of imagination: fresh fruit (apples, pears) or fruit from the Levant (oranges, dates). From one region to another you can add candied fruit as in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, calissons as in Aix, navettes in Marseille, bugnes or angel wings covered with icing sugar, fruit jellies, gibassirs, prunes or even chocolate.
For some people it is out of the question to include any exotic fruit and the current source-locally movement proves them right, so roll out the red carpet for local produce! Most importantly, try something of everything to ensure your good fortune. One century.