Wednesday 2 August 2023

Thyme for a Cumbrian Cassoulet


The botanists are trying to confuse me again! The plant on the left used to be known as Mediterranean Thyme, Thymus capitata. It looked like thyme, it tasted like thyme and, as far as I was concerned, it was thyme. Now it has been reclassified as Thymbra capitata. It is still known as Mediterranean Thyme, but also as Spanish Oregano, despite the fact that it looks and tastes nothing like oregano. OK, there are biological differences between the genera, but in culinary terms there's not much difference between Mediterranean Thyme, which was a mainstay of my Cretan diet when I was out there, and good old British Wild Thyme, Thymus praecox britannicus. Both go well with fish, and if you're in France – sausages.

Ishbel and I were wandering around the auction house last week when I spotted a box of pots and pans which looked strangely familiar. “I think those are French,” I said to her, enthusiastically. “Hmm?”, said a man standing close by. Ishbel had wandered off somewhere. I turned a pot over, and sure enough, stamped on the bottom, were the words L'incomparable – Vallauris Co – Made in France. I'd last seen a pot like this in 1969, when visiting the rest of the family, who were living in a village near Toulouse. It was in our concierge's kitchen, and she was making the local variation of the French dish, cassoulet.

Cassoulet has many regional variations, but is basically a meat and bean stew, flavoured with garlic and herbs. Mme. Caner was making hers with local sausage and duck, and the herb she was using was thyme. Anyhow, I bought the pots and pans at auction, and determined to make a Cumberland Cassoulet, using our local Cumberland sausage and a few sprigs of British Wild Thyme. If I say so myself, the result was excellent, and I've posted the recipe in Steve's Wild Kitchen. I'd recommend a good Côtes du Rhône Villages to go with it.

A couple of weeks ago, when we were in Sunderland, I spotted a chrysalis, partially wrapped in a bramble leaf. It wasn't one I immediately recognised, so I put it in my pocket and brought it home. Yesterday morning, I came into my study-cum-lab to find a Red Admiral sitting at the computer. Even at my age, I still get excited by the hatching of a butterfly.

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The cassoulet pot can be found here.

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