Snapshots from the South of France: Calissons d'Aix
I love nothing better than a bit of food and romance in a story. Luckily, French food lore is full of sexy escapades. (I’ve already told you the one about how Roquefort turned blue.)
The region of Provence brims with food, from the minuscule melons de pays at the roadside produce stands, to the almond trees that clutch the rocky earth, clinging down from the breezy mistrals. The city of Aix-en-Provence, one of the urban heartbeats of a region connected by winding arterial roads through vineyard-plaid mountains, has a magical quality to it. On one winding street you'll pass all the usual modern French shops: Princesse Tam-Tam, Petit Bateau, L’Occitane en Provence. At the corner is a church, and around it you turn. A wrinkle in time. Suddenly before you is an open air market shaded under brightly striped canopies, pocketing the light before it spoils the treasures tucked away in wooden crates below: purple asparagus and purple artichokes; tiny bulots, the escargots of the sea; briny jade olives wrapped in flecks of green pistou. To a foodie, it is a living, breathing, seething miracle.
I had read in my guidebook about several bakeries throughout the city that sold the famed Calissons d’Aix, but I am quite pleased to say that the ones I bought came from the vender Calissoun at the Marché d’Aix. Calissons are tiny petal-shaped cookies made from the produce of the region: melons and almonds, and usually flavored with orange, although we also found indigenous fig and lavender varieties. The chewy marzipan-like base is coated in a simple, crisp white glaze. They are sweet, yes, but still have that nutty, fruity reprieve of something healthier that might have been found in California.
And now for the racy French story behind them. Legend has it that at the second marriage of Good King Réné in 1473, he had these suggestively petal-shaped confections served to his young, fresh second wife. With these, named for "caress," over time, he won her over—mind, soul, and, after awhile, body. So if there’s anyone you fancy this summer, I suggest you either get on a plane to Aix-en-Provence, or get baking. Maybe a (figuratively) dirty kitchen isn't such a bad idea after all.
About the author: Kerry Saretsky is the creator of French Revolution Food, where she reinvents her family's classic French recipes in a fresh, chic, modern way. She also writes the French in a Flash and The Secret Ingredient series for Serious Eats.