A gourmet treat…
A Provencal tradition
Provence has been famed for its candied fruit from time immemorial. In the early 16th century, the region was fairly impoverished. Fruit grew here in abundance, but much of it was lost every year. Nostradamus, who was born in Saint Rémy-de-Provence, came up with the idea of preserving fruit in sugar using a successive boiling technique. In 1555, he drew up his "Treaty of Jams", in which he described how to "candy whole little lemons and oranges, quarters of quince to make quince jelly, and pears".
Each fruit is processed differently. Some, such as tangerines, are blanched in boiling water for several days to make them softer; a needle is used to check if they're cooked before adding sugar syrup. The confectioner adds sugar to the bowls every morning, then leaves the fruit to rest again so the sugar has time to gradually penetrate the heart of the fruit: little by little, day after day, the fruit juice is replaced with syrup. This operation takes around a month.
Other, more fragile fruit (such as strawberries) don't require prior cooking and are delicately dipped in syrup. Once the fruit is candied, it is iced (dipped in a final syrup mixture, which crystallizes) to leave a thin, matt coat of sugar on the fruit that keeps it tender, but dry to the touch. The fruit is quickly removed from its copper pan and arranged on a grid. Each fruit is separated from its neighbour using two forks. A few hours later, it is ready to be stored in boxes.
Brioche and "Calisson" candies
Provence candied fruit is found in numerous gourmet recipes, now considered as "specialities".
The "Calisson" candy owes its predominant flavour to the Provence almond, but its originality and moistness come from the candied melon and orange, bathed in syrup, that are mixed into its paste.
It is still produced using artisan techniques in two stages: preparation of the paste and "dressing of the calissons". The almonds are crushed, then ground with candied melon, to which fruit syrup is added: the recipe includes around 40 % almonds and 60 % candied fruit and syrup.
Candied fruit is also a vital ingredient in the traditional "Brioche des Rois", celebrating the Three Kings. In Provence, the lucky person who found the bean in the brioche sprinkled with sugar and decorated with candied fruit traditionally had to offer a cake in turn, hence prolonging the fun throughout January. Provence's die-hards are intent on upholding their traditional brioche with candied fruit rather than the so-called "Parisian" marzipan tart made with flaky pastry. Their only concession: most bakers now decorate the brioche with sugar grains and candied fruit, but no longer put candied fruit in the dough itself.
Last but not least, candied fruit has pride of place on the Christmas table and is part of the official "13 Desserts".
Artisans put up a fight!
Today, some large factories such as Aptunion in Vaucluse produce large quantities of candied fruit using industrial techniques. But various local artisans continue to uphold the time-honoured recipe, such as Fruidoraix in Eguilles and Lilamand in Saint Rémy-de-Provence. Traditional confectioners in Aix-en-Provence include Béchard , Brémond and Léonard Parli, whose creations include candied apricots. In their shop windows, whole candied melons gaze temptingly at passers-by…
Pierre Lilamand, confectioner
A few years back, Pierre Lilamand took up the reins of the family business and in summer, not so long ago, you could still see his aunt peeling whole melons under the plane trees if you looked through the fence! And his father still pierces his clementines with a stick to see if they are cooked... There's no joking around with traditions that go back 5 generations: time is definitely not of the essence when it comes to candied fruit!
Pierre Lilamand continues to cherish his candied fruit just like his ancestors, but he has also taken up some new challenges – like making candied peppers! After a few "burning and corrosive" attempts (using real chilli peppers…) he now produces candied red and yellow sweet peppers, delicious served with roast lamb.
By Anne Garabédian, Journalist - Food
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