Romancing the Bean in the Languedoc and Latin America
In the foothills north of the magical Pyrenees, between that range and the lakes and forests of la Montagne Noire, is the long valley from Narbonne and Beziers west to Toulouse and Biarritz. In it you will find the storied tree-roofed Canal du Midi with its pleasure craft supplanting the working barges which ran from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic since the 17th Century. The largest bassin now for cruising along the canal is at the bottom of the fortified hill which holds the town of Castelnaudary, the New Castle of Arrius from Roman times, the site of a siege against Simon de Montfort during the 13th century Albigensian Crusade, and home, so they claim, to the wonders of Cassoulet.
“IT is the water”, says the brochure. “Only with the water of our springs and streams is the TRUE Cassoulet possible!” One asks if it isn’t the confit d’oie (goose) or the duck pieces or the sausage, not even the white beans? No, those things can be found elsewhere, in Bram, or Avignonet down the road or even in ancient Toulouse, or the breath-taking castle bastide of Carcassonne..
To verify the tradition a cassoulet competition and festeival is held each year in August run by the by the Confrerie (The Brotherhood!) de Cassoulet de Castelnaudary and the department of the Aude. Along with massed feedings and a 10 kilometer run, and the singing of the Hymne de Cassoulet, the attendees are witness to the Procession.. Competitors, who must be members of the Confrerie, parade through restaurants and kitchens in their long cassoulet-colored gold and brown robes wearing the hat of the cassole, yes a casserole shaped hat with bubbling cloth beans and sauce represented on top. They assemble along with diners and tourists in the town square replacing the pastis drinkers and petanque players for these five days at least.
Don Santiago--- Cazuelas y Ajiacco art at Gran Plaza in Medellin, Alpujarra/ Cisneros
So, invented with the bean and meat stew, the cassoulet, was the casserole, the oven to table hot dish. And linguists might be able to join cassoulet through French, Catalan and Spanish into the Cazuela, also a bean stew, but with red beans, in a casserole pot with sausage and meat. Way back, could the Cazuela have become the Cassoulet? Blasphemy! Living in Colombia as I do now I could buy imported cassoulet from France in tins or jars, or I could enjoy the wonderful Cazuela de frijoles available throughout Latin America in one of many incarnations, spicy to mild, but always delicious simple food with a great tradition..