Friday’s French – raisins

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I made my Christmas cake this week using the recipe handed down to my mother by her mother. For the last 8 years, I’ve been able to buy all the dried and candied fruit (peel) at my local market but the stall has closed so I’ve been chasing around Paris for such simple ingredients as currants and raisins.  Not so simple in France however.


The word raisin is an interesting one. In French, it means grape and what we call raisins are raisins secs (dried grapes). However, in Australia (and apparently the other Commonwealth countries), raisin describes a particular sort of large dried grape.

The most common raisins secs in France are what we call sultanas in Australia, except that they are darker. However, you can buy sultanines here which are usually a golden colour and sometimes called raisins blonds.

Our currants, which are very small black raisins secs are raisins de Corinthe – currant is a degradation of the word Corinth.

As far as I know, there is no generic term in Australian English for dried grapes though raisin would seem to cover the lot in American English.

When hunting for my currants, sultanas and raisins, I came across other varieties of raisins secs: raisins de Malaga (in Spain), raisins de Muscat (like our muscatelles), raisin de smyrne, .

christmas_cake_dried_fruitIf you buy mélange de fruits secs, you’ll find yourself with a mixture of raisins secs and nuts, whereas dried fruit in English only includes dried grapes, figs, abricots, etc.

Now, that’s  a word that doesn’t exist in French – nuts. You have to specify the type: walnut  = noix, hazelnut = noisette , cashew nut = noix de cajou, peanut = cacahuète, almond = amande. They all come under fruit sec, but that’s not very satisfactory, is it?

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18 thoughts on “Friday’s French – raisins”

  1. If I want to be clear that I mean nuts rather than fruits sec in the broader sense I would say fruits à coque.

    British recipes all use raisins. It completely puzzled me and my Kiwi friend Megan when we lived in London why you would use raisins when you could use sultanas, which are so much nicer. In France the frustrating thing is the midget bags sultanas come in. I’m used to being able to buy them in 1 kg bags, but the biggest here is 500 g. To make a decent fruitcake you need lots of sultanas, and my family recipe includes candied stem ginger in syrup, another product you can’t get in France.

    There is no tradition of fruitcake in France like there is in the British anglo world, but I am pleased to note that my French friends all love it once I introduce them to it (as do most Americans, who also don’t have a tradition of heavy fruitcakes). My French plumber quizzed me as to how it was made and what spices I used and was clearly a fan.

    1. Ah, I hadn’t thought of fruits à coque and neither did JM when I asked him.

      I have had the same experience with my fruit cake. All the French people I know love it! The thing they call “cake” in French is not even remotely like it, is it? I was able to buy a one kilo bag of currants at G. Detou and was surprised it only cost 5.50 euro. I can buy some for you next time I’m in Paris if you like.

  2. Hello! Very interesting post indeed…
    “Now, that’s a word that doesn’t exist in French – nuts.”
    nut is noix ! Well…. for nuts that’s another story as a nuts is (fou, cinglé….) 🙂
    une noix can be
    – a fruit (walnut)
    – a small quantity (une noix de beurre = a knob of butter)
    – a specific piece of meat (une noix de boeuf = a beef cushion)

    As a fruit ( as seed as a matter of fact) a nut it is what you call a walnut (walnut nut), other nuts are noisette (hazel nut), noix de cajou (cashew nut), cacahuète (peanut nut) so I can’t see much difference, in English the type of nut is specified too, and it has to be as they are very different fruits. It’s only the way we built nouns that hides the similarity sometimes…

    It’a s very interesting point you are raising… To a frenchman it’s not usual to name a tree (walnut) and its fruit (walnut) with the same name… Or to built the name of the fruit by “merging” the tree’s name with “nut” (hazel, hazelnut / french noisetier/noisette)
    You can find most of these in any supermarket but probably in small packages…

    And yes Susan is right they are more ‘fruits à coque’ than ‘fruits secs’ that will include many other fruits (apricot, figs, apple, etc.)

    1. Hello Ago and thank you for stopping by and commenting. Yes, noix = walnut, but not “nut”. If an English speaker says “I would like some nuts”, they are not necessarily referring to walnuts at all. They could mean hazel nuts, macadamias, peanuts, pecans, walnuts, mixed nuts or whatever. What I’m trying to say is that “nut” is a generic term for “noix à coque” as Susan suggests.

      1. that’s the same in France… We are talking about 2 different things here.
        – If you look for the translation of nuts the rigorous translation would be ‘fruits à coque’

        – but like in the UK (and probably because of the english word nuts) you can ask for “assortiment de noix” or “mélange de noix” in France and get assorted/mixed nuts… I cannot remember seing a pack of nuts labeled “nuts” in the UK it always said “mixed nuts” or “assorted nuts”, but that is only my experience…

        mélange de noix
        the fact that you ask for mélange will make your request unambiguous, and you won’t be given walnuts….

        While at that, do you know that a mix of nuts and dried fruits is often called in France “un mendiant” (a beggar)

        1. I didn’t know about “mendiant”. Thank you. However, I continue to maintain that the word “nut” in English does not correspond to a walnut. You wouldn’t say to someone in French – “est-ce que vous voulez des noix” if you intended to give them hazelnuts, but you would in English. In the UK, you would never have a packet called “nuts”, only “mixed nuts”.

          1. Yes Rosemary I agree with you.
            I was just pointing to the fact that “noix” as an equivalent to “nuts” is used in french in expressions like “mélange de noix” (and not “mélange de fruits à coque”) probably because of an “adjustment” to what already exists in english. Languages take from each other often…

            So despite “une noix” translates to “a walnut”, “mélange de noix” does NOT tranlate to “mixed walnuts” but to “mixed nuts”
            Also, and please don’t take that badly, a typical frenchman will ask you “why do you ask me if I want some nuts, when I fact you offer me hazelnuts only?”
            Culture is more than a language it’s also a thinking process behind it… That weird question above is not weird to a frenchman. And I’m sure you know that bit is the most difficult to grasp for all of us!

  3. Thanks for this, as I am truly allergic to nuts and have to be careful what I eat! I assume I would say I am ‘tres allergique’? Also I would respectfully say that Susan Walter’s comment that ‘British recipes all use raisins,’ isn’t true at all as recipes would include sultanas, raisins, currents and mixed peel. (Can you get that in France?)

    1. Jane: to clarify — yes if the recipe is for fruitcake then a British recipe will specify a variety of dried fruit, just like an Australian recipe would, but it is very noticeable to an Australian arriving in the UK that raisins dominate, whereas in Australia it is sultanas. Where British cake recipes (and I’m not just talking fruitcake here, but across the board) tend to call for raisins, the equivalent Australian recipe would call for sultanas.

    2. Hi Jane, yes you would say “je suis très allergique aux noix à coques”. I saw a mixture of sultanas, raisins and currants on the market in Blois today, but that is the first time ever. They are in bulk. I’ve never seen packets such as we have in Australia. I will let Susan answer your other question.

    3. Jane: I don’t think you can get mixed peel here. I’ve never been very keen on commercial mixed peel and always make my own, so I’ve not really looked for it here. You can get candied peel, but it is small packets of just lemon or just orange.

  4. Yes I love to make different fruit cakes – the problem is that when you make a few in the Christmas season people ask me for recipes – how do you tell the difference sometimes! I make a note now of a different shape or nuts in the top part of the cake so that I can see to tell the difference. On another Christmas cake note: I noticed last year that the mixed fruit and nuts, cherries, figs etc did not come on sale before Christmas so when some of them were half price later in the year, and the expiry date was extending past December I bought my supplies. I have many friends and family who hang out for my cakes and I’m always needing more than jsut a few kilos of fruit. My cakes can be quite expensive at the regular price!

    1. Good thinking Butcherbird! The fruit can add up very quickly. Mine is a very expensive cake this year because I ended up buying in very select stores. Like you, I’ll be shopping earlier next year.

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