The calisson, Provençal sweet... and Black Death!

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Calissons - ©jean-louis Zimmermann / CC-BY Calissons - ©jean-louis Zimmermann / CC-BY
Epidemic Speciality

What’s this?

Now, this is one of the most famous French speciality: calissons, oblong candies from Aix-en-Provence, with a shiny white coating made of unleavened bread and icing sugar, a candied fruits paste (orange, apricot or melon), crushed almonds, flavoured with orange flower water...

Aah, the nice blend, full of Provence's sunny savours! From the first mouthful, the sugar crisps, and the sweet fruits paste, overruns your palate with a nice almond taste.

The little history

They used to call it canisson. French writer Alphonse Daudet wrote about it in "Numa Roumestan": Une foule d'autres provisions suivirent: figues, poivrons, des canissons d'Aix, de la poutargue de Martigues, des jujubes, des azeroles, des caroubes. But we also found the Provencal name of calissoun, which comes from canissoun, which is the pastrycook’s rack (from canis, "reed rack").

We found these candies mentioned since the 13th century! In Provence, they were part of the famous "13 Christmas desserts". Mrs. de Sévigné often received calissons from her daughter, Mrs. de Grignan.

And during the 1630 plague epidemic, archbishops of Aix gave calissons in a blessed chalice, more efficient than the traditional host! After all, the two ones are made with unleavened bread, so... why not? Believers received their calissons, called by priests who shouted the famous Venes touti au calissoun, "Come all to the chalice"...

And also!