Mesturets a Traditional but Elusive Dessert from the Tarn
The Great Sugar Rush
In the 17th century, Britain, France and other colonial powers established vast sugar plantations in the Americas. Sugar went from an expensive luxury to a commodity available to all in a couple of centuries. The dessert menu blossomed as chefs and cooks accidentally or deliberately created French classics such as mousse au chocolat, tarte Tatin, poire belle Hélène and crêpes Suzette. In the takeaway sector, Parisian patisseries conquered the world.
Death by Sugar and Cream
Traditional desserts were overwhelmed. Most of them were solid, peasant fare, often based on bread dough, and they had little in common with their sugary, creamy cousins from the north. One of the few surviving examples of this type of dessert is the mesturet (locals pronounce all the letters). It originated in the department of the Tarn, but its principal ingredients were introduced to the South of France from the Americas: pumpkin and maize flour.
Secrets from the kitchen
Today, it is rare to find the mesturet on the shelves of a boulangerie-pâtisserie or a restaurant menu. Instead, this is a traditional dish made almost exclusively at home, and every ancient family seems to have its recipe and continues to use it. In many cases, the recipe is a closely-guarded family secret, but after a lot of searching, I found an old lady who allowed me to sit in her kitchen for a couple of days and watch her at work. This experience inspired me to create my version. It’s a lot quicker to make, and my recipe uses something I have seen in no other – oven-roasted butternut squash.
The most surprising feature of the mesturet is that its flavour lingers in the mouth for a good ten or fifteen minutes, making it unusually satisfying. Unlike many desserts, one mouthful does not quickly lead to the next and irresistibly onwards towards sugar-fuelled gluttony.
Butternut Mesturets a Recipe from the Tarn
- 1 Large Muffin Pan or 2 pans for six, the silicone version works well
- 2.2-2.6 lbs Butternut Squash (raw) peeled, seeded and cubed
- Sunflower Oil for roasting the squash
- 3/4 cup Brown Sugar
- 1/2 cup Plain White Four
- 1 oz Maize (corn) Flour
- 1 1/2 oz Armagnac
- 1 1/2 oz Juice of 1 Lemon (approx. 35 ml)
- a few drops of Vanilla Essence
- 3/4 -1 cup of Water the exact amount might vary
- a pinch or two of Salt
- Chop the peeled butternut squash into cubes with sides of around 1.5 cm. Place in a baking tray, drizzle with sunflower oil and roast at 190°C (375°F) until they are soft enough to squash (ha-ha!) with a fork. This should take 35-40 minutes in a fan oven (convection); turn the pan every 10 minutes to stop the squash from burning.
- When the squash has cooled, weigh 600 g (1 1/3 lbs) and blend it with the sugar, plain flour, maize flour, Armagnac, lemon juice, a few drops of vanilla essence and salt. Next, slowly add the water to obtain a puree that will fall off your spatula or spoon (the exact volume of water will vary with each squash and how well you roast it). Note: for a smooth, non-fibrous mixture, you may need to run your blender for around five minutes.
- Spoon the mixture into muffin cases (I use a silicone tray with 12 cups, each holding 75 ml (2 1/2 oz); the quantities given in this recipe make enough mixture to fill them all nearly to the brim).
- Bake in the oven for 40 minutes at 160°C (320°F). Turn the oven thermostat to 140°C (285°F) and bake for another 40 minutes.
- Remove from the oven. When they have fully cooled, turn them out. Traditionally they are eaten cold, and this seems to accentuate their taste. They will keep for several days in an airtight container.
About the author
Colin Taylor has been living in the south of France for 20 years, and through his books, he shares his passion for the region’s culture, gastronomy, history and language. You can learn much more about mesturets and other emblematic dishes from the south of France in his new book, Menu from the Midi: A gastronomic journey through the South of France.
Throughout the Menu from the Midi chapters, Colin Duncan Taylor explores a full spread of gastronomic discoveries such as Armagnac, the black Gascon pig, and pink garlic soup exclusive to this part of France. Please read our book review here.
Menu from the Midi is a book for anyone who loves reading about French history and cultural practices. Food lovers will appreciate Colin’s respect for the individuals dedicated to carrying on gastronomic traditions and production. Organized like a menu, the book could easily be a reference guide for a gastronomic trip in the region. Francophiles, armchair travellers, and gourmets should all read this book. The endnotes and bibliography of Menu from the Midi contain a valuable list of additional reading and reference materials.
For more details, visit www.colinduncantaylor.com.