Ah, Autumn. L’automne. C’est un saison de mistes et mellow fruitfulness, etcetera, et bien sur, le cassoulet. Mmm. Cassoulet. Avec les haricots, et les saucisses, et le canard – c’est comme un ‘bean stew’, mais pas exactement. This dish delicieux from Castelnaudary in the south west corner of la belle France is best cooked and served dans a ‘cassole’ – preferablement one made by the artisans chez ‘Poterie Not‘…
Franglais aside, Poterie Not is one of the oldest potteries in the south of France and was taken over by the Not family in 1947. Nowadays, the workforce consists of two brothers and a cousin – Robert, Jean-Pierre and Philippe Not – who dig up clay from behind the building and expertly model it into rustic ‘Cassoles’ – Cassoulet bowls. You can see them in action on this film and on this one, too. It’s mesmerising to watch them at work.
Their rustic studio is on the banks of the Canal du Midi near the village of Mas Sainte Puelle and it’s well worth a visit if you’re ever in the area. Every Cassole is stamped with the Poterie Not Frères mark and glazed inside but left rough and unglazed on the exterior; I love the hasty, careless fashion with which the glaze is slapped on – it often trickles down the edges of the bowl, in fact. This is fuss-free, no-frills craft at its best, resulting in imperfect yet functional and incredibly beautiful pieces.
Cassoulet itself has a fascinating history. During the 100 Years War in the 14th century, Edward the Black Prince besieged the town of Castelnaudary. According to legend, when the inhabitants were down to their last supplies they scraped together what was left – beans and meat – and ate the resulting mixture. Fortified by cassoulet, they soon got rid of the English, who retreated back to England where they belonged, the cheeky beggars.
A lot of wood is needed to fire up the enormous kiln! The Aude region dwellers are very proud of their famous dish and there’s even a ‘Grand Brotherhood of Cassoulet’ (Grande Confrerie du Cassoulet) – a rather mysterious group of be-robed fanatics who dedicate their lives to preserving the ancient traditions of cassoulet cooking and promoting the official recipe. It’s all a bit Knight’s Templar. It’s cheap to buy bowls directly from the pottery (a large one is about 15 Euros), but they only sell wholesale, so their Cassoles cost a bit more online. You can buy them from Le Marche au Naturel, along with white haricot beans for making cassoulet and tins of the readymade stuff, to be warmed up on winter evenings when you can’t be bothered to cook. Team it with a good, rich, red wine et voila. Parfait, cheri.