Christmas in Provence

Published December 21, 2016

83728972_oboy-wearing-lionimg_4417“A special bread called “pompe à l’huile” is part of the Provençal Christmas celebrations—scented with orange-flower water and moistened with olive oil, it is a rustic delicacy.

Then there is “le vin chaud”, that restorative hot wine scented with a bit of orange, a bit of cinnamon, some star anise and, who knows, a little coin of ginger. Served on street corners, from tents and market stands, in shops and restaurants throughout the land, it is as much a part of the holidays as Père Noël.

In Provence, families gather for a sumptuous meal and gifts. And when I say family, I mean just that. French Christmas is exclusive, as families knit themselves together in a closed circle around a laden table. There are rare times when the circle opens, and one of my favorite Christmas memories includes a midnight meal (this time, after Mass instead of before) with friends, where the main course was sea-fresh scallops in cream.

The Provençal Christmas includes traditional decor, which is also planned in advance. My favorite touch is the clementine candle, made by carefully extracting the fruit sections, leaving the central stem intact. This is the wick; the hollow skin the glowing orange candle. Accompanying these fragrant torches on the table is a plate or bowl of sprouted wheat, which signifies hope for a good harvest in the coming year.

As for the bûche de Noël, I love to make it almost as much as I enjoy the cookie baking and gingerbread-house making. It’s simple and, once it’s frosted, I supply the meringue mushrooms dusted with cocoa and leave the children to the decoration. One year my son put teeny little cars on the bûche, in amongst the mushrooms and green icing sugar—a fanciful little Christmas traffic jam on a cake”.

– a delightful read from Susan Hermann Loomis, in France Today