Soups and the "repas complet"
Puycelsiennes love their soup. The image of family life most frequently painted by old-timers is that of a large family seated at table around a soup tureen. Soup filled the kitchen with a savoury comforting aroma, it was cooked in a large terracotta pot called la toupino in Occitan. This was set on a brazier, suspended from a crémaillère, or just placed in the warm cinders and turned regularly. The recipes collected here range from clear consommé served on festive occasions to the répas complet, previously the underpinning of daily cuisine, and which is still a mainstay in some homes.
Many regional soup recipes demonstrate the evolution of soup in French culinary history. Some linguists argue that the word soupe derives from the Latin sapa, some maintain that it is from the Celtic soubn, and others that it derives from the Germanic suppa. The word soupe seems to have been first recorded in the 13th century Le Mesnagier de Paris, where it refers to bouillon poured over a slice of bread. This early soup is still served in the region, where it is known as Soupe Cordaise, in reference to a medieval site near Puycelsi.
A 13th century recipe from the neighboring village of Castelnau de Montmiral shows the expansions of the original bouillon although still served with bread.
Fill a soup pot with cabbage, turnips, black salsify, salad, sorrel, basil, garlic, sweet onions, thyme, tarragon, salt water and goose fat. Let it cook, and pour over slices of buckwheat bread spread with olive and nut oil. If you are lucky enough to snare a crow while walking in a field, that too may be added. (p. 34)
According to J.R. Cagnieul Montfort bread served as a thickener since the potato was unknown in Europe at that time. The lack of a binder is also attested to in the fourteenth century cookbook Le Viandier by Charles V’s master of the kitchen Guillaume Tisel, better known as Taillevent, who advocated using bread in the "sops."
The potato was introduced during the reign of Louis XVI and provided the much sought after thickening agent. Soup recipes quickly multiplied, culminating in the early nineteenth century with the categories of potages clairs (bouillon and consommé) and potages liés (crèmes, purées, veloutés). The word soupe was retained in the vernacular especially in the Southwest of France and came to mean a meat or vegetable broth to which a variety of vegetables, pieces of precooked meat, croutons, etc., were added. The Potage Fermière and Le Potage are good examples, the former is in fact a potage and the latter a soupe.
Inevitabley early soup recipes led to the repas complet.. Meat and vegetables cooked together with water and yielding a delicious broth. The meat and vegetables are removed after several hours of cooking, placed on a platter and kept warm. The steaming broth is poured over slices of bread and served first, followed by the meats and vegetables served as is or with mayonnaise, mustard, left-over gravy or perhaps gratinéed in the oven. At the end of the meal a glass of red wine was poured into the plate, and this charbon. was mopped up with bread. The range of ingredients available and the cook’s creativity were the only limitations to variety.
The word is derived from the Latin bullire and has been part of the French language since the XIIIth century. Today as then it refers to the liquid gleaned from cooking meats or vegetables in water.
Broth, especially when prepared with roots has always been regarded as liquid nourishment, especially in medicinal treatments. In general, broths are idealt for fevers, but others were intended for a large variety of gastro-intestinal problems, such as upset stomachs, vomiting, and appetite stimlutants; others were prepared for pulmonary disorders; coughs; liver and kidney malfunctions.
A 19th century remedy used by a Puycelsi doctor was the “Gros bouillon de Molière”. Unfortunately, the receipt has not been preserved but it was supposed to enhance digestion and improve cardiovascular function.
Fond de cuisine
Bouillon should not be confused with fond de cuisine. or stock, that all important starter for many dishes. A true stock is either white, brown or fished based; in haute cuisine it is expressly prepared, but in country cooking resulted from simmering in water the carcasses of roast chicken, bits of meat and bones or fish skeletons. Sarah Mercadier was famous for the stock pot kept simmering over a low fire in the corner of her kitchen, which she continually topped up with leftovers.
Water in which vegetables have been cooked is often used in place of meat or fish based stock. It is healthy, inexpensive and exemplifies the lack of waste in country cooking. Vegetable stock was also indispensable to the Lenten diet.