If you live in the US you will be well-acquainted with the words in the title of today’s post. Having been residents for 20 years in Atlanta, often considered the unofficial capital of the South, we were surrounded by reminders of the heritage of that region: friendly people, big smiles, warm welcomes and tables full of comfort food always generously offered. We’ve been in France for less than a year, but I can happily report that we’ve found exactly the same reception in this southern part of the country.
The most recent example of this positive experience here was when we received an invitation to a Cassoulet dinner in our neighborhood. Even before we moved to Carcassonne we knew about this signature dish for this area. In fact, at the signing of the lease for our rental house we asked the landlords to recommend a restaurant where we could sample this specialty. Their response was “our kitchen” and 3 days later we were enjoying a delicious meal in their side garden overlooking the river. With that as our introduction to Southern hospitality, French style, we felt right at home.
If you’ve not had cassoulet, I think of it as a slow-cooked stew: rich, thick, and full of sausages, duck, and white beans. It is traditionally baked in an earthenware pot or what we might call a casserole dish and the town of Castelnaudary, 30 minutes by car from our front door, holds an annual festival to celebrate the food’s origin there, probably in the mid-1300’s. There’s a restaurant here devoted totally to this specialty and most other eateries offer their own version as well since it’s so popular with anyone visiting this part of France and even with those of us who live here!
So how did our neighborhood dinner go? Let’s start with convenience since all we had to do was walk a few doors down to our neighbor’s house with the fantastic view you see below. Earlier I had asked Roland, who had invited us, if we could bring some wine and perhaps an appetizer. His poetic response was that it was simply enough for us to be there to taste some different cassoulets, to see how the French of the South live, and perhaps pick up a few new French words in the process. How’s that for a welcome? We did bring a couple bottles of wine and and desserts just to make sure that no one went home hungry, ha! Considering that there were two gigantic tasty choices of this regional specialty to try plus salads, quiche, bread, and additional desserts, that was going to be impossible.
Once we move to our own house, we’re going to miss our wonderful neighbors who have become our friends. Luckily for us, even though we’ll be living about a 25-minute walk from here where we’re in the shadow of the castle, some of the people on our current street know several of the residents in our new neighborhood. In addition, we’ve already been to three parties over there on our new street and the people we’ve met there we see at the market, walking along the river, and of course right outside our door, so we’re certain that this tradition of Southern hospitality will continue. Bring on those smiles, welcomes, and steaming bowls of comfort food!