A Bastielle Day Cassoulet

A letter from the kitchen and the garden

Winter has finally arrived, very late with cold gusty buffeting winds, off the snow. We have finally had a mild frost that has killed off the little tomato plants that were bravely thinking that they might get in a very late/early crop. They got as far as flowering, but they are well and truly shrivelled up and blackened this morning. The potatoes however are not that badly affected, only a little bit of damage to the growing tips. While down in the ‘pantry field’ garden, in the clearing among the tall eucalypt trees, there is no frost. At least not yet. All the plants down there are looking fine for the time being.

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Potatoes doing fine
Tomato plants flowering out of season
The early peach is so early that we just ate what was the very last peach of the autumn or the very earliest of the spring.
Smack in the middle of winter!
It has another crop coming along and is also flowering as well. It’s quite mixed up! I don’t know what to make of this tree. It’s the only one that is acting this way. Very strange. The variety is Sherman’s Early 3-1. and it was planted in 2006, so it is 8 years old now, and has fruited well for the past few years, but this is the first time that it has tried to flower and fruit all year round. Despite the cold weather, it still persists in retaining a few leaves. I can’t understand how it can get enough energy from those few leaves to ripen a crop of fruit?
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All the other fruit trees in the stone-fruit orchard have lost all their leaves revealing a host of birds nests in among the branches. Some of these trees have five nests in them. We have a host of small birds nesting in and around the garden. They do a fantastic job cleaning up a lot of little insect pests in the veggie patch.
This months red meat meal is pork. Well, maybe that isn’t a red meat meal.
As it is almost Bastille Day and we have so many friends in France from our trips there, I have decided to make a cassoulet to celebrate. Last year we celebrated by making a cassoulet based on kangaroo fillet rather than on duck and pork. I called it ‘Hop-a-long Cassoulet’. A truely Australian cassoulet.
This year I have some pork fillet and some hand made pork sausage that my beautiful Son Geordie has made. Geordie is the Sous Chef at Biota Fine Dining in Bowral. A two hatted restaurant.
Check it out. They are working really hard to be the best that they can be.
He is a good Chef and has made a hand-made pork sausage that will go very nicely with our home grown and dried beans and vegetable mirepoix as a base for the cassoulet. We don’t have ducks here anymore so we will make it without the duck. Well, we are in Australia after-all, so it doesn’t have to be exact. It’s the thought that counts, and today we are thinking of our friends in France. Cassoulet was traditionally a dish made from what was available at the time of the season. We have dried beans left over from the Summer excess. We also have some tomato/caps/onion/garlic sugu in vacuum sealed jars these can be mixed with carrots, celery and a bouquet-garnet of fresh herbs from the garden. It’s all looking good.
I have some pork back-strap fillet and bacon rashes from the local farm butchery in Burrawang. The Maugher Family have their own farms and a butchery where they process their own animals. The Maughers, who I pronounce More-ger, because that’s the way that it’s spelt, have a very good local reputation. We are particularly fond of their home smoked bacon rashes. They have their own smoke house and the bacon has a distinctly smoky original flavour. Not at all like the stuff that they serve up at the supermarket.
There are apparently a few ways in which you can pronounce ‘Maugher’. Some of the locals pronounce it as ‘Marr’, then there are others who swear it’s pronounced ‘Meere’. My former neighbours swore that it was pronounced ‘Moore’. Well maugher or less! I don’t believe them, because they call themselves ‘Chumli’, but they spell it ‘Charmondelay’, These people, who have mis-pronounced English for generations in such a blatant way, can’t be trusted with the (English) language.  So I’m Sticking with ‘MoreGer’!  Whichever way you say it or spell it, it’s ‘gud mheet’, as the ‘Chumli’s’ might spell it!
I don’t suppose that I’ll ever know, Maughers the pity!
I sweat some of our onions in olive oil and garlic, then add the MoreGer bacon, finely chopped, with all the fat removed, then the back strap and toss until it’s lightly browned. I’ve soaked the dried beans overnight and boiled them for an hour. I mix in the chopped celery and carrots from the garden with the boiled beans. I add a big chunk of frozen stock from the freezer and let it all meld in for a while. Lastly I chop up Geordie’s sausage and add it all together and let it simmer. After cooling down. I let it sit over-night in the fridge so that I can skim off the fat in the morning. I get most of it off, but there is still maugher floating there.
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Of course, What I’ve cooked, isn’t anything to do with real French cassoulet. It is cassoulet in thought only. It’s a Post Modern Peasant Cassoulet. Cooked without salt or sugar or even too much saturated fat. It’s a cultural disaster, but it’s delicious and warming on this cold night and there is maugher left over for another night as well.
We try to be as frugal and self-reliant as we can be, but we don’t get too religious about it. We just do our best and that’s all we can hope for. As I have never had a job – a real job, I mean. One that I worked at 5 days a week and had a salary paid to me for. We have been self-employed and part-time employees and I’m proud to say that I have never been on the dole, always independent. We have become quite used to being frugal and salting away our excesses to be relied on later when times were leaner – Like now for instance.
We feed our selves pretty well from our garden and try to eat healthily. I was at a Writers Festival today with The Lovely Girl and I was waiting at the coffee counter to be served. There was a person there in deep discussion with the counter staff quizzing them about the type of tea that they were serving. This person was going on about how the tea had to be pure and uncontaminated, and that it also had to be harvested without the use of slave labour. Also that it must be free of anything artificial and they must guarantee that it contained no preservatives, because this individual valued the holy temple that is the human body and nothing less could pass the lips of such a committed practitioner. The staff all agreed that they couldn’t make any such undertaking or guarantee, because they just didn’t know. All this while the rest of us were held up waiting.
Eventually the pure and untainted one said. ” Oh, forget it, I’ll just have a Coke”!!!
I didn’t quite know what to make of that. It was such an extraordinarily stupid thing to say, that I was left speechless, as were the staff.
I know that we are all capable of holding several contradictory and incompatible views simultaneously. I know that I do. It’s the human condition. We only see these contradictions as a problem when someone else expresses them.
I used to cook for the students at the Art School where I worked for many years, on a one day a week basis. Each Friday I would take in my pots and pans, a portable stove and something from the garden to make sure that all the students had at least one good meal each week. This all came about because on one evening between the afternoon class and the evening class. There was a one hour break. I was working on a kiln repair, in the kiln room in my spare time and over-heard two students discussing how much money that they had between them. I heard them tell each other that they only had less than $2 between them. Not enough to buy anything substantial for dinner at this dog-end of the week. “So, it looks like we’ll have to go down to the Hare Krishna’s and sit through a few hours of indoctrination before we can get some food from them for free”!
I felt very sad for them, running out of money for food, until they could get paid from their Saturday night waitressing job. At least they were going to get some good wholesome vegetarian food from the Hare Krishna’s, but at the cost of missing the night class time in the studio. I thought about this and decided that I should do something proactive and positive to be helpful.  I decided that I would cook for all the students that were in the pottery workshop on that evening in future. Sometimes it was lunch and sometimes dinner, depending on the vagaries of the time table. My only condition that I put upon myself was that I had to aim to bring it in at a cost of less than $1 a head. Over the years, this was increased to $2 to allow for inflation. It seemed to work out pretty well. Everyone seemed to be happy to eat what I cooked. A number of the students even helped with prepping the vegetables and doing the washing up.
However, there were also some students who claimed to be very strict vegetarian, or vegan, or breathairian or something else weird and wonderful that set them apart as being very special and they made sure that there was a scene made to announce it. I have no problem with people’s special food requirements, but if you know that you have special needs, then you should make your own arrangements to make sure that you are OK. These special ‘needy’ students felt the need to quiz me about what I was cooking and where every ingredient had come from. It’s full pedigree and history. In those days I was young, idealistic, naive and tried my best to be ever so helpful.  These days I’d tell them to f$%k-off and not to eat my food. But back then I was compliant and tried to do my best to explain everything. I was making a simple brown rice with a can of Thai red curry flavour stirred through it, with a can of coconut milk added in,big chunks of galangal root and some chilli paste, then all boiled up together. A one pot vegetarian meal, eaten from one bowl with one spoon. Nothing could be simpler. Or at least you’d like to think so. But no!  Not for one girl. She quizzed me about every single ingredient, She settled on the chilli paste that I had added. It had a picture of a prawn on the label, and she went off! Clearly I was trying to fool her and poison her. In fact it smelt so bad, that she was going to puke. Or so she claimed. She ran out of the room, making a huge scene, gagging, screaming how she was going to throw up because of the smell of dead animals had turned her stomach! Wow! Such a ‘look-at-me, look-at-me’ scene. I don’t fully understand what is going on here, but can’t do anything about it, so continue with my work preparing the meal.
The rest of us ate it in peace in her absence and it seemed that everyone enjoyed the meal. While a few students volunteered to wash up, I retrieved the can and read the label more thoroughly. It was indeed only chilli paste, salt, vinegar and water. No Prawns were harmed in its making. When the girl came back into the room after lunch, I showed her the can and pointed out the ingredient list to her, it was written in english on the opposite side. I pointed out that it was as I had indicated to her – just chilli paste. It was a vegetarian meal.
She exploded again. “You bastard! How dare you! That smelt wonderful and you made me miss out. That would have been delicious!”
You can’t win with people who are out to make a scene. So from that day onward I side stepped the prima-donnas by saying. “I’m cooking dinner here. You’re welcome to watch and to share some. I’m going to eat some of it myself. If you think that it smells eatable, I suggest that you try some. If you think that it tastes OK, then you should try eating some. If you have any food allergies, please don’t eat it. If you can’t trust your senses and skills of judgement about what is eatable and what isn’t, then I can’t help you. I’m not telling you what is in it and I’m not entering into any discussing about it. If you want some, it’s here and it’s free. If you don’t, go away. To show that it isn’t poisonous, I’m going to have the first bowl-full.”
Any arguments were countered with please go away. I’m cooking here and you’re in the way. No, I’m not discussing it. No, I’m not telling you what’s in it.  Please leave. I had no further trouble. There were always a few newbies each year who tried it on and got ousted quick sharp. The rest of us enjoyed the meals. Of course that was back in the 80’s and 90’s. I could do that back them. Now I’m not so sure. Too much OH&S to save us from ourselves.
The cauliflowers continue to produce, but we are getting to the end of them. The Brussels sprouts are just starting and the second planting of broccoli is coming on. So we are fully into brassica season now.
We have masses of rhubarb at the moment, so we are having it stewed for breakfast and for desert in many and varied combinations. The Lovely has made a rhubarb and hazelnut cake for morning teas, from a recipe that someone has given her. Quite yummy.
Rhubarb Cake.
Mix 125 g of butter with 1 cup of sugar as usual, then beat in 2 eggs, 2 cups of self raising flour,1/2 cup of milk, and 50 grams of hazelnut meal. Place in a greased and papered 9″ or 230mm dia pan.
Cut half a dozen stalks of rhubarb into 50mm. lengths and press into the batter and sprinkle with another 50g of hazel nut meal, sprinkle with a little bit more sugar.
Cook in a pre-heated oven at 160oC for an hour, or until the knife comes out clean.
It goes well with morning coffee, but needs to be served with brandy custard or some other liquid or sauce, if served as a desert.
Our Myer lemons are just finishing after a long productive season and the Seville orange is just starting. The Tangelos are all finishing and the other citrus are in full swing, so it’s marmalade time again. We have made two batches so far with another dozen planned.
We have one jar of last seasons marmalade left in the pantry. So the timing couldn’t be better.
Let the cold wind blow. We’re warm inside enjoying morning coffee with marmalade and toast.
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Better Latté than never!
With love from the Double Doppio Macchiato and his Skinny Flat White