Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The Beans I Found

Alas the beans I found are not all white, like those we imagine to be in a cassoulet. Some of my beans are marbled with purple or creamy cocoa colored streaks. Such are the pickings on a Wednesday near noon in Lyon. After a morning of writing I suddenly bolted from the house and ran down to the market with a mission. Pascal, the man who supplies us with the best cherries and dried nuts, had a two handfuls of beans for me. Will my little cassoulet for two be good with two kinds of beans?

I have prepared a Cassoulet about a half dozen times. It became a pre-Christmas tradition at our house, because every year we go down south and Brigitte, my mother-in-law, has reign in the kitchen. I don’t get a chance to cook at all for Christmas.

I needed to make a tradition of my own, to take place here at home before we go down for the oysters and capon. I quickly became a devotee to Paula Wolfert’s recipe for Cassoulet in the style of Toulouse, and prepared it in a stock pot, a recipe I follow carefully every year. You can find me, combing Les Halles for just the right things to go into it, two weeks before Christmas, every year. It takes the better part of a week to prepare when you include going all of the places to get everything.

Kate is encouraging me to find fresh beans, and it's a wonderful opportunity to learn.

When Aude and Sebastien were students preparing for their teacher’s examinations and were just beginning their journey together, they came kind of on a date together to our house to have the cassoulet with us before they separated for the holidays. Sebastien appreciated it immensely. I still remember his having his mouth full and letting out a low moan that expressed everything and nothing at once, something that endeared me to him immediately. He certainly knows how to compliment a woman’s cooking. They shared a dream of one day moving out into France profond and giving something back to the people there, as teachers. Seb was born and raised in the Auvergne, and his mother has a sheep and horse farm. He came to Lyon beginning in high school, staying with his grandmother in town.

We go to Sebastien’s mother’s farm to visit from time to time, staying in the guest house, with the startling trumpet of peacocks to wake us in the morning. We watch the birthing of lambs, and stare into goats alien eyes, tromp through the trails to visit the horses while they are out, and watch the goings on in the stable. This year, Aude and Seb finally made the move out to the country. Aude is expecting her second child, with the first nearly two, and they wanted to get settled out there before the oldest begins school.

Since they are not nearby anymore, we won’t be having them for Cassoulet this year. Perhaps I could do one and take it out to them. Nearby is such a relative term. For me, being an American, three hours by car is really quite easy and I envision visiting often. But for the French, who tend to stay put, it seems an eternity, and they can’t imagine such a long trip, maybe doing something like that once a year. Alas, grandparents that live near the beach trump Lyonnais aunties and uncles.

Cassoulet being a winter thing for us, I have always used dried beans. Now that I am preparing it with Kate, I am following her advice and got fresh ones today, still in their husks, the plump shiny beans that will humbly christen my little cassole. I suppose I have about a pound of fresh beans here.

Kate, are these beans ok?

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Blogger Jann said...

I hope you get to make that visit~they certainly would enjoy the cassoulet. The beans are a work of art! This was a great story, thanks,

3:12 AM, October 04, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The beans are so beautiful. I look forward to following your progress.

10:05 AM, October 04, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lucy, I was amazed to find how much more delicious fresh undried beans were. My favorites are canellini. I buy all I can find and once shelled I freeze them. The missing flavor note in the dried version is still there in the frozen bean.

11:00 AM, October 04, 2007  
Blogger L Vanel said...

This is exactly what Pascal told me, that I could freeze them and they'd be very good. I think I might buy some more while I can and freeze them for winter.

11:05 AM, October 04, 2007  

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