The History of Cassoulet

Updated: Oct 16, 2019

The cassoulet (from Occitan “caçolet”) is a regional speciality of Languedoc, made from dried beans, generally white, and meat. Originally it was made from fèves (butter beans).

Trying to trace the story of the birth of cassoulet is not an easy task when you know the inflammatory rhetoric it provokes.

One of the oldest cookbooks in France, the 14th century: "le Viandier" written by Taillevant, (his real name was Guillaume Tirel, a cook who served several kings for over 60 years), gives some indications to the cassoulet origins.

Taillevant describes recipes of pies and stews, including the ragout of mutton and pork with beans. The historians think that Taillevant could have been inspired by an Arabic book written by Mohamed de Baghdad in 1226, which reveals an extremely refined kitchen. This book uses a display of spices, herbs, legumes, and mutton. It is they who, in the seventh century, introduced into the south of France, the cultivation of a white bean and which taught the inhabitants of the country to prepare this legume. Mutton stew with white bean is one of the recipes of the Baghdad Cooking Treaty. Taillevant has taken this recipe in his “Viandier”. The cassoulet, still called “estouffet” in the seventeenth century, takes (in the eighteenth century) the name cassoulet, from the dish in which it cooked, the "cassole", a clay casserole used since the ancient times to cook all sorts of stews and ragouts.

The cassole was made by the potters of Issel, a small village 8 km north of Castelnaudary. In 1377, under the auspices of Guillaume de Plane, lord of Issel, Jean Gabalda, an Italian, established in this place a pottery workshop. The objects made then were rather household pieces, stoves, colanders, pots, oules (cooking pots intended to boil in front of the fire). The cassole, a sort of bowl with flared edge, was therefore known in the Lauragais since the fourteenth century. And it is this terracotta of Issel which gives the cassoulet it’s so particular taste.

The popular legend places the birth of the cassoulet during the Hundred Years War.

Legend tells that during a siege of Castelnaudary by the English, the inhabitants, threatened with famine, pooled all they had to feed the soldiers of the city. Bacon, pigs, beans, sausages and meats were simmered in a large bowl. Revived by this meal, the soldier’s chauriens drove the English out of the Lauragais and to the edge of France, La Manche!

This episode may be alluding to the sacking of the city by the Black Prince in 1355, which was not a siege but a fire. This dish gave birth to cassoulet, calling it a ragout at that time.

The culinary traditions evolve considerably until the 17th century, considered as the great century of French cuisine. The cassoulet which then bore the name of estouffet or stew, officially takes its name during the eighteenth century. In 1836, the first industrial factory of cassoulet opens in Castelnaudary. This is the Bouissou house that produces the brand "La Renommée"

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© 2018 Wessel Woortman

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