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Provence is a region of southeastern France on the Mediterranean adjacent to Italy. It is part of the administrative région of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur. The traditional region of Provence comprises the départements of Var, Vaucluse, and Bouches-du-Rhône and parts of Alpes-de-Haute-Provence and Alpes-Maritimes. The Romans, who conquered it in the 2nd Century B.C., called it Provincia Nostra (“our province”) or simply Provincia (“the province”), and the name in French thus became Provence.
Language and literature
Historically the language spoken in Provence was Provençal, a dialect of the Occitan language, also known as langue d’oc, and closely related to Catalan. There are several regional variations: vivaro-alpin, spoken in the Alps; and the provençal variations of south, including the maritime, the rhoadanien (in the Rhone Valley) and the niçois (in Nice). Niçois is the archaic form of provençal closest to the original language of the troubadors, and is sometimes to said to be literary language of its own.
Provençal was widely spoken in Provence until the beginning of the 20th century, when the French government launched an intensive and largely successful effort to replace regional languages with French. Today Provençal is taught in schools and universities in the region, but is spoken regularly by a small number of people, probably less than five hundred thousand, mostly elderly.
Parks and Gardens in Provence
The cuisine of Provence is the result of the warm, dry Mediterranean climate; the rugged landscape, good for grazing sheep and goats but, outside of the Rhone Valley, with poor soil for large-scale agriculture; and the abundant seafood on the coast. The basic ingredients are olives and olive oil; garlic; sardines, rockfish, sea urchins and octopus; lamb and goat; chickpeas; local fruits, such as grapes, peaches, apricots, strawberries, cherries, and the famous melons of Cavaillon.
The fish frequently found on menus in Provence are the rouget, a small red fish usually eaten grilled, and the loup, (known elsewhere in France as the bar), often grilled with fennel over the wood of grapevines (fr. sarments de vigne).
- Bouillabaisse is the classic seafood dish of Marseille. The traditional version is made with three fish: rascasse (eng: scorpionfish), grondin (eng: sea robin), and congre (eng: European conger), plus an assortment of other fish and shellfish, such as saint-pierre (eng: John Dory); lotte (eng: monkfish); ursins (eng: sea urchins); crabs and sea spiders included for flavor. The seasoning is as important as the fish, including salt, pepper, onion, tomato, safron, fennel, sage, thyme, laurel, sometimes orange peel, and a cup of white wine or cognac. In Marseille the fish and the broth are served separately- the broth is served over thick slices of bread with rouille (see below.)
- Escabeche is another popular seafood dish; the fish (usually sardines) are either poached or fried after being marinated overnight in vinegar or citrus juice.
- An oursinade is the name of a sauce based on the coal of the sea urchin, and usually is used with fish, and also refers to a tasting of sea urchins.
- Brandade de Morue is a thick cream made of cod crushed and mixed with olive oil, milk, garlic and sometimes truffles.
- Rouille is a mayonnaise with red pimentos, often spread onto bread and added to fish soups.
- Ratatouille is a traditional dish of stewed vegetables, which originated in Nice.
- Aïoli is a thick mayonnaise made from olive oil flavored with crushed garlic. It often accompanies a bourride, a fish soup, or is served with potatoes and cod (fr. Morue). There are as many recipes as there are families in Provence.
- Soupe au pistou, either cold or hot, usually made with fresh basil ground and mixed with olive oil, along with summer vegetables, such as white beans, green beans, tomatoes, summer squash, and potatoes.
- Tapenade is a relish consisting of pureed or finely chopped olives, capers, and olive oil, usually spread onto bread and served as an hors d’œuvre.
- Daube provençale is a stew made with cubed beef braised in wine, vegetables, garlic, and herbes de provence. Variations also call for olives, prunes, and flavoring with duck fat, vinegar, brandy, lavender, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, juniper berries, or orange peel. For best flavor, it is cooked in several stages, and cooled for a day between each stage to allow the flavors to meld together. In the Camargue area of France, bulls killed in the bullfighting festivals are sometimes used for daube.
- Fougasse is the traditional bread of Provence, round and flat with holes cut out by the baker. Modern versions are baked with olives or nuts inside.
- Socca is a speciality of Nice- it is a round flat cake made of chickpea flour and olive oil, like the Italian farinata. It is baked in the oven in a large pan more than a meter in diameter, then seasoned with pepper and eaten with the fingers while hot. In Toulon socca is known as La Cade.
- La pissaladière is another speciality of Nice. Though it resembles a pizza, it is made with bread dough and the traditional variety never has a tomato topping. It is usually sold in bakeries, and is topped with a bed of onions, lightly browned, and a kind of paste, called pissalat, made from sardines and anchovies, and the small black olives of Nice, called caillettes.
- The calisson is the traditional cookie of Aix-en-Provence, made from a base of almond paste flavored with confit of melon and orange. They have been made in Aix-en-Provence since the 17th century.
- The tarte Tropezienne is a tart of pastry cream (crème pâtissière) invented by a St. Tropez pastry chef named Alexandre Micka in the 1950s, based on a recipe he brought from his native Poland. In 1955, he was chef on the set of the film And God Created Women when actress Brigitte Bardot suggested he name the cake La Tropezienne. It is now found in bakeries throughout the Var.
- The gâteau des Rois is a type of Epiphany cake found all over France; the Provençal version is different because it is made of brioche in a ring, flavored with the essence of orange flowers and covered with sugar and fruit confit.
- The Thirteen desserts is a Christmas tradition in Provence, when thirteen different dishes, representing Jesus and the twelve apostles, and each with a different significance, are served after the large Christmas meal.
- Herbes de Provence (or Provençal herbs) are a mixture of dried herbs from Provence which are commonly used in Provençal cooking.
Extent and geography
The original Roman province was called Gallia Transalpina, then Gallia Narbonensis, or simply Provincia Nostra (‘Our Province’) or Provincia. It extended from the Alps to the Pyrenees and north to the Vaucluse, with its capital in Narbo Martius (present-day Narbonne.)
In the 15th century the Conté of Provence was bounded by the Var River on the east, the Rhône River to the west, with the Mediterranean to the south, and a northern border that roughly followed the Durance River.
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