cooking is flavoursome and naturally tasty with its sun-kissed produce.
There are vegetables, sardines, anchovies, "bouillabaisse"
(fish soup), meat casseroles, ratatouille and pesto right through
to the special spicy sauces which give a taste of the land that
is incomparable with any other in France. And then, of course, there
are the big stars: garlic and olive oil.
Provençal proverb says that fish live in water and die in
oil. In any case, this cuisine, which is largely based on vegetables,
is worth tasting when the weather is hot, simply accompanied by
a cool glass of Provençal rosé wine.
: a purée of black olives crushed with a mortar and pestle
and mixed with garlic, capers and anchovies. It is eaten simply
with a slice of grilled bread flavoured with garlic or served as
an accompaniment to fish or meat.
: mayonnaise made with olive oil and generously seasoned with crushed
garlic. It accompanies vegetables and fish.
: : a basil, garlic and olive oil cream. The name comes from the
Latin "pestare" which means "to crush", because
it is necessary to crush the basil leaves with a mortar and pestle
in order to incorporate them in the recipe.
(fish soup): the special taste of Mediterranean fish (scorpion fish,
mullet, monkfish, conger eel, spider crab and dory) makes the renowned
Marseilles bouillabaisse. It is served with a traditional spicy
Brandade from Nîmes : a creamy cod purée with olive
oil and milk, seasoned with garlic and sometimes truffles.
: the Mediterranean name for bass fish, which is grilled over a
barbecue or in the oven after having been stuffed with plumes of
fresh fennel and sprinkled with dried fennel.
:a fricassee made from grilled or smoked eels from the Rhône
lamb : intoxicated with the flavours of the scrub land, it fills
gourmands with joy with its subtle and silky meat.
: pepper, courgette, aubergine, tomato and onion stew prepared with
olive oil. It is eaten cold as a starter or hot as an accompaniment
to fish or meat.
There is no life, no smell and no Mediterranean cuisine without
olive oil! It was already used on the island of Crete during the
time of Minos, 2500 AD.
olives that are used to make the oil are crushed as soon as they
have been picked in order to avoid oxidisation. Extraction is carried
out according to traditional processes, such as the stone millstone.
The olives are kneaded into a creamy paste. The oil is thus squeezed
out by cold pressing. Generally, 4 to 5 kilos of olives are needed
to make just 1 litre of oil.
is it served?
One single oil is not necessarily the right one for all dishes.
There are three categories of flavour at the connoisseur's disposal.
The "very fruity" oil heightens the sweetness of
a lettuce, a tomato and basil salad or a slice of grilled bread.
The "moderately fruity" oil is recommended for
antipasti, seafood salads and carpaccio.
The "lightly fruity" oil is reserved for foods
with a strong taste or when spices should be the dominant flavour.
should it be used in a vinaigrette?
Usually one should count three spoonfuls of olive oil for one spoonful
of vinegar. The proportion of oil can be increased for very delicate
dishes or if one adds mustard.
Olive oil goes particularly well with balsamic, wine or sherry vinegar
and lemon juice.
should olive oil be chosen?
Olive oil should be bought like wine: it is very important to look
at the label. The best oils are sold in tinted glass bottles to
protect them from the light. According to its quality and fruitiness,
the price of olive oil can vary considerably.
Extra virgin olive oil is extracted from olives using a simple
physical or mechanic operation. It has less than 1g of acidity per
100g of oil. It is the best. Fine virgin olive oil has between 1
and 2g of acidity per 100g.
Virgin olive oil always has less than 2g of acidity per 100g
Olive oil that is not named either virgin or extra virgin
has an acidity that must not go over 1.5% of refined olive oil mixed
with good quality virgin olive oil.
Refined olive oil has undergone chemical or thermal treatments
and has lost most of its nutritional value.
How should it be kept?
Away from heat and light and, ideally, for no longer than two years.
It is important to make sure that the top is tightly screwed on
to the bottle of olive oil as the oil tends to absorb other smells.
everything there is to know about the olive tree
is the end of the afternoon. The light is growing softer. The heat
is diminishing slightly. It is the time of day when the people of
Provence gather on the village square to play bowls or else drink
pastis in the shadow of the plane trees.
Pastis is an institution and its name instantly evokes the sound
The different types of pastis are made from a mixture of alcohol
concentrated to 96.3%, star anise, aniseed essence that comes from
the distillation of the star anise plant, liquorice powder, water,
sugar and an infusion of numerous Provençal plants such as
thyme, rosemary, savory, sage and verbena. The blend is left to
stew for between two weeks and several months. The preparation is
then filtered, water added (in order to bring the liqueur to 45°)
and checked before being bottled.
Thus the pastis is ready to be tasted. In general one should have
one volume of pastis for five volumes of water. Some add mint cordial
and the drink then becomes a "perroquet" (a "parrot"),
grenadine cordial and it becomes a "tomate" ("tomato")
or barley water and it becomes a "mauresque" ("Moorish
markets of Provence are particularly good. There is of course the
sun, the conviviality, the local humour and the way of taking one's
time, talking, joking, feeling and appreciating the produce on the
stalls. One catches oneself talking and gesticulating naturally.
markets abound with delicious colours and smells which tantalise
even the least sensitive nose. There are sun-kissed fruits, melons,
peaches and apricots next to the vegetables, tasty tomatoes, the
aubergines and courgettes that are indispensable to Provençal
cuisine. On the following stall, garlic is king. One can admire
the different ways in which it is plaited. The black and green olives
(prepared with herbs or spices), oil, aromatic herbs, thyme, rosemary,
savory and bay leaves as well as lavender, perfumed soaps, material
and leather goods.
Among the most popular markets are those of Carpentras, in the heart
of the old town - in winter it includes a truffle market, Richerenches,
Apt, Valréas, Aix en Provence and Arles.
Does the sun give one a sweet tooth? In any case Provence abounds
with sweets each subtler than the last.
de Carpentras : around since the 17th century, this hard red
sweet that does not stick to the palate is mint-flavoured. Today
the colours vary and the choice of flavours has grown: orange, lemon,
aniseed and coffee.
: petit fours made from marzipan, delicately flavoured with
orange blossom and topped with Aix en Provence icing sugar. These
sweets were first produced in 1454 at the wedding of King René.
d'Aigues-Mortes : this traditional sweetened bread is delicately
flavoured with orange blossom.
fruits :the popes and Madame de Sévigné encouraged
the development of glacé fruit manufacturing, of which Apt
is now the capital. The sun-kissed fruits are candied by numerous
successive dips in sugar. They are deliciously flavoured and very
Lubéron honey :the bees gather pollen from the thyme
and rosemary flowers and the lavender in the shrub land. This produces
very flavoursome honeys which have therapeutic and disinfectant
qualities for when winter comes.
: from Marseilles, this traditional biscuit is made with orange
blossom and comes in the shape of a boat. It is eaten at Candlemas,
but is now available all year round.
:whether it is from Allauch, Sault or Montélimar, creamy
and tender white nougat and delicately caramelised black nougat
are made from lavender honey and almonds.
: this sweet, made from fine chocolate, sugar and oregano liqueur,
first came into existence in Avignon in 1960 in memory of the popes
who, if we are to believe the story, had a very sweet tooth!
: chocolate sweets from Tarascon.
the western basin of the Mediterranean, lavender was used by the
Romans in order to perfume their laundry and their baths. From the
Middle Ages on, in Provence, the wild lavender flowers have been
picked, but it was in the 19th century that cultivation developed.
are more than twenty species of lavender, but three of them are
predominant on the hills of Provence: real lavender, aspic and hybrid
lavender or Lavandula Angustifolia is also known as fine lavender
or female lavender. It is cultivated at an average altitude, from
800 to 1300 metres above sea-level.
The olfactory virtues of its essential oil are extremely prized
or Lavandula Latifolia, also known as great lavender or male lavender,
is very similar to fine lavender except that its leaves are larger
and its branches consist of lots of spikes. It grows between 600
and 800 meters above sea-level and flowers a bit later in the season.
Its smell is strong and camphorated.
lavender is, as the name suggests, a hybrid species produced through
the pollination of real lavender and aspic lavender. Its spikes
are much more developed and form clumps that are rounded and regular
in shape. Its yield per hectare is four or five times greater than
real lavender or aspic lavender and its essence production is ten
times greater. It is cultivated the most.
essence or essential oil is extracted for cosmetic as well as for
medicinal purposes because it possesses numerous properties. Bees
provide us with an excellent lavender honey and the dried flowers
make pretty bouquets or perfume the linen in wardrobes.
institution, Marseilles soap became outmoded in the 1960s, but with
a rise in ecology and the search for the most natural products possible,
it has regained its popularity. It has the reputation of being kind
to the skin and it is recommended for washing laundry, silk, lace
and baby's clothes.
manufacturing of the soap has been a tradition since the 18th century.
About fifteen soap factories have made Marseilles the Mediterranean
centre of production and shipping of the olive oil and natural soda-based
soap. It was in 1688, under Louis XIV, that the first regulations
concerning soap manufacturing and branding were introduced. The
laws that were established by the Sun King are still in force today.
Marseilles soap is a natural product made from copra, palm and olive
oils, with no colouring or artificial additives. It has to contain
72% oil, the percentage being stamped on each bar of soap. Two weeks
are necessary to make a soap. The vegetable oils and soda are first
mixed in a large cauldron. The paste is then cooked for ten days
at 120°. Then it is washed in order to eliminate the soda and
left to rest for two days. Having dried for 48 hours at 50-60°,
the soap is ready to be cut up into bars of 35 kg. From the start
of its production to its being put on sale takes a month.
genuine Marseilles soap site
Christmas, in order to make or complete the nativity scene, the
people of Provence buy one or two "santons" every year.
tradition of these ornamental figures began during the French Revolution
in order to replace the nativity scenes that were in the churches
that had been closed during this period.
At first, they represented biblical characters made of dried clay
and hand-painted. Then the manufacturers took their inspiration
from the characters of Marcel Pagnol.
nativity scene is a Provençal cowshed and all those who come
to pay their respects to the divine birth are craftsmen of rural
life: wheelwrights, blacksmiths, joiners, carpenters, and the people
of the street, dressed in traditional Provençal costume,
all bringing offerings.
bible says that God made man from earth. Provence underlines that
"santon" manufacturers mould their figurines using the
same earth saturated with water and sun. The whole of the "santon"
makers' art lies in an expression, a gesture. The people's history
is fed on stories that tradition embellishes and the "santons"
of Provence bear witness to the people's tradition.
"santons" are a pleasure for all. The diversity of the
characters seems inexhaustible and it is hard to resist. As Christmas
approaches, everyone goes to the "santon" markets and
fairs. The most popular are those of Aubagne, Marseilles and Aix-en-Provence.
: production, history, characters and manufacturers.
is the popular pastime par excellence. One must throw the steel
balls as close as possible to the small wooden ball called the "cochonnet"
and knock the opponents "boules" out of the way. The most
talented manage to do this by repeating the opponent's gesture exactly
and thus take the opponent's place. This is known as "faire
Over a short distance, the game is called "pétanques",
in other words, the feet are kept together and the game is played
within a circle. Over a distance of more than ten metres, the game
is called "longue". The latter game is typically Provençal.
The southern French love of chatter and the presence of a passionate
audience, quick to tell tall stories, turn these meetings into a
modern day theatrical comedy acted out with exultation.
With regards to the assessment of distances between the boules and
the cochonnet, lively controversy ensues. Each insists that they
are right, calls upon Mother Mary and ends up admitting defeat when
confronted with the folding rule's verdict.
Provençals, young and old, yield to the "pénéquet":
the little after-lunch nap. It's a ritual which cannot be overlooked
when the heat is overwhelming. The shutters closed, it is nice to
take one's time in the half-light and coolness of the houses, cradled
by the cicadas' song.
Of course the siesta belongs to Latin folklore, yet there are more
and more people who believe that the siesta is not a layabout's
reflex, but a way of improving one's memory, mood, creativity, judgement
and communication skills.
And if one were to believe the President of the Republic himself,
"it is a fact that siestas make life a lot easier for those
who take them regularly". In the preface to "The art of
the siesta", a book by Bruno Comby, Jacques Chirac continues
"The siesta is a recipe for equilibrium available to all when
one considers that only quarter of an hour of good rest is enough
to repair even the greatest tiredness".