The history of candied fruits in Apt extends back at least seven centuries, to when its citizens presented the delicacies to Pope Urban V during his pilgrimage there. In the 17th century, Madame de Sévigné, famed letter-writing aristocrat, described the town to her daughter as a “cauldron of jam”. Gradually, recognition of the town as a cornerstone of Provence’s confectionery industry has grown, with Apt artisans famed for their talents. These artisans began buying the finest fruits from across the region in the 19th century: cherries, melons, peaches, pears, plums, strawberries, and more. Around the middle of the 20th century, manufactures began to form larger groups, wanting to band together to modernise and embrace the new industrial era. Production was scaled up and diversified, though many of the smaller producers remained independent. This leads us to today, where large and small companies operate side by side to craft wonderful candied fruit creations throughout the town.
It’s interesting how we have a different perception of where we grow up as a child and later as an adult. I loved growing up in Apt. I enjoyed the quality of life including the climate, the food, and the countryside. At times, I did envy some friends who lived in bigger towns like Marseille because there seemed to be more exciting things happening there. One thing I was proud of living in Apt was that it was la capitale mondiale du fruit confit—the world’s candied fruits capital. Marseille had the football team, we had the candied fruit factory.
Several confectioners of candied fruits based in and around Apt employed a lot of people in the region, including my grandfather. Robert started working there following the war in 1945 after being in the army. At that time, Robert was working for a small manufacturer, supervising the production of candied cherries from Apt and the neighbouring villages. In the early ‘60s, the main producing families merged their production into one large factory. With this expansion, Robert was sent to open new subsidiaries abroad which led him to travel to and live in the UK and Eastern Europe. At the peak of his career, Robert was head buyer for the factory. When I was around 4, he retired, but he was regularly solicited by the factory to source great fruits at the best possible price. He still travelled regularly on missions to Turkey and Bulgaria.
I love the traditions about candied fruits in Provence, especially that of the Gateau des Rois (read here) and how this tradition brought jobs and pride to my hometown. I admire the career my grandfather led at the local factory but in all honesty, to this day I still don’t like candied fruits! However, if you do like candied fruits and would like us to stock some on our website and at our markets, please drop me an email and let me know.