November is a funny month.
Changes seems to begin at the end of the Fall season. New Presidents for some- Nov 4, Remembrances of past peace efforts for others- Nov 11, Turkey and Thanks- Nov 27, and yet another year under the belt- Nov 29. For better or for worse, November is my month. The last couple of years I have been celebrating its gloomy and drizzling arrival with the warmest of all French regional dishes…Cassoulet.
Camp Cassoulet continues to be a popular cooking weekend program here at the French Kitchen and abroad. Lisa and Tony Geer of the Mendocino Coast’s Ledford House restaurant joined Tiffany and Michael from Seattle and Olivier and Carole from NYC and Paris at the end of a wonderfully warm Indian Summer October to market and cook yet another great Cassoulet. Here, even the experts can learn a new trick or two.
My Fall season started early over 18,000 kilometers away with teaching and cooking cassoulet for over 400 people in New Zealand in August. In September, I returned home to Southwest France for another round of convivial weekends in front of the French kitchen cheminée and enough beans to flat a raft of saucisse de Toulouse and duck confit.
But the fire really started to blaze when I got the news that Departures Magazine, that arbiter of all things luxe for American Express Platinum cardholders published an article ‘Cassoulet Style’ by Sylvie Bigar, New York journalist and delightful culinary snoop, about cassoles and mentioned a new little scoop of my own.
It’s time to reveal what’s been cooking on the French Kitchen back burner. The Hill Sisters (my little sister Stephanie and I) are opening our own, on-line French Kitchen Piggery Pantry & Boutique. And guess what’s in stock now?
Cassoles, cassoles and more cassoles! Authentic, traditional, purpose-built clay pots, hand thrown by the Poterie NOT Freres along the canal du Midi near Castelnaudary. In her article, Sylvie gives a good argument for a rounded bean pot, but I must agree with Jacques Pepin that the shape is not as important as what goes in it. (click here for the official Camp Cassoulet recipe and cooking trucs here!) However, as far as cassoles are concerned, what is important is the actual quality of the pot- be it clay, enamel cast iron or stainless steel.
Fortunately you can now have your beans and eat them, too. Because these clay cassoles that the Not family have been throwing for since 1830 are hand-crafted from a special mix of local clay and silica, blended and fired at high temperatures to produce a rock-hard natural terre-cuit or French stoneware. Unlike softer terracotta pots, these are meant to be baked in hot ovens for long hours; they ring like glass when tapped.
The thick glaze is a rich earth color like the well-baked crust of a cassoulet. there are glaze drips and thumbprints that speak of the atelier and roughened hands that make these sturdy bowls. Cooking only deepens the colors and ages the bowl in a duck fat sort of glow. My own cassoles are over 20 years old now and a deep dark brown.
I love these pots; and the men who make them. Like the Artisan Food School teachers we work with, Ton-Ton Robert and the next generation of potters infuse their hand-built cassoles with the sort of love and attention we use when cooking here at the French Kitchen. At the Not Potterie, the cook with clay.
Interested in owning your own authentic Poterie NOT Freres Cassole?
The price is 75 euros (approx 100 US$) plus shipping and handling and is payable with Paypal or credit card (Amex included, of course!). Just click on the “buy now’ button upper right. You will be contacted about shipping options available. I drove down in the rain last week to pick up a small order ready for shipping. These pots, made by hand, one-by-one are available in very limited quantities.
The standard size is big enough to prepare a generous cassoulet for 8-10 people using one kilo of dried beans (I use 100 gr, per person) and measures approximately 30cm/12 in. x 11 cm/5 in. and weighs 2.5 kilos or 5.5 pounds.
Since the Not Pottery does not ship, I asked Robert Not to stamp these special cassoles for me so that you would know they are the real deal, straight for France and full of French Kitchen inspiration. And if that is not enough to tempt you, I’ll tuck a box of the very secretive Épice Rabelais as well as the official Camp Cassoulet recipe booklet!
(NOTE: FOR THOSE ORDERING A CASSOLE AFTER 19/12/08, the special offer including free Tarbais beans is now over. The 2008 harvest is now depleted.)
To order one or more cassoles, please click on the sidebar at right or email me directly at kate (at) thefrenchkitchen (dot) com. Cassoles weigh 4 kilos packed and are shipped by the French post service, La Poste, International economique and shipping costs are approx. 35 euros depending on destination.