Garbure ≠ garbage + ordure; or you are what you etymologize


The next time you’re eating “brunch” with a “spork,” you should stop for a moment and thank Lewis Carroll. (Perhaps you should then explore the idea of no longer brunching, especially if you frequent places providing sporks as utensils.) Carroll, one of Steve’s personal literary lions, introduced the idea of such “portmanteau words” in Through the Looking Glass, his sequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.


Portmanteaus are everywhere these days, from “Brangelina” to “breathalyzer” to “bromance.” (While we’re not particularly conversant with tabloids, we’re fairly sure that particular word string has ever appeared before now. That’s a copyright notice, Daily Mail.) Steve, who enjoys catchy and novel words, is particularly fond of portmanteaus—a trait that tripped him up as he searched for more of an idea of where the word “garbure” came from.

Steve’s confusion started in our own cookbooks. According to Paula Wolfort, the stew of cabbage, beans and confit was named by Curnonsky (“the so-called Prince of Gastronomes”) as one of the four great regional dishes of France (the others being choucroute, bouillabaisse and cassoulet). However, Wolfert goes on in The Cooking of Southwest France to admit that, while she sees the dish as “the very symbol of Béarnais cookery,” it is “eaten widely in Gascony, the Landes and the Pays Basque, too.” In Bistro CookingPatricia Wells insinuates that the Basques are the the genuine garburistes, but mostly focuses on her feeling that “garbure is such a heavy word, that it conjures up the idea of loathsome, fatty fare.” On the Internet, the origin of the word is unclear, with Wikipedia (which is infallible!) asserting it derives from the use of the term garb to describe sheaves of grain while others say it stems from a word for bundle of herbs or stew. “Stew” seems a quite likely candidate, as garbure is yet another mix of slow-cooked stuff that gets better the longer you let it sit around. The “sheaves” idea gains credibility from a French tradition calling for using a fork to “pitch” cabbage, beans and other solids into your (to the French, barnlike) mouth, saving the broth to mix with the last of your red wine for a final slurp.


Whichever origin story you choose, we like the taste of the version we’ve blended together from several sources. Our garbure is good because it has surprising layers of flavor, from rich confit to bland beans and continuing on to salty, thick-cut prosciutto. Yours, with your own twists, could be equally as good, and your guess as to the origin of “garbure” has to be better than Steve’s. He’s still chasing the idea that the concept of stew can be found by combing the root for garbage (“giblets of a fowl, waste parts of an animal”) and a Latin suffix denoting an act or result. As Charles Dodgson might say, Steve really needs to chillax about this stuff.

Garbure (1)

GARBURE (Duck, Bean and Cabbage Stew)

  • 1-1/2 c. dried white beans
  • 1 TB duck fat or neutral oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 oz. prosciutto or other air-cured ham, diced
  • Whites of 3 or 4 leeks or green garlic, cut into thin rounds
  • 8-10 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 quarts duck or chicken or pork stock
  • Bouquet garni of parsley, bay leaves and thyme sprigs
  • 4 carrots, peeled and cut into rounds
  • 2 ribs celery, cut into half moon shapes
  • Salt
  • 1 lb. potatoes and/or turnips, peeled and cubed
  • 1/2 of a cabbage, coarsely chopped
  • 2 duck confit legs, crisped in a skillet
  • Piment d’Espalette or smoked paprika, to taste
  • Pepper

Rinse beans and place in a saucepan. Add water to cover. Bring to a boil over high heat. Remove pan from heat, cover and let sit for about half an hour.  Drain beans and discard cooking liquid.

Sauté onions in duck fat in a soup pot. After a few minutes, add ham, leeks and garlic. Stir occasionally onion is softened but not browned.

Add stock, bouquet garni, beans, carrots and celery. Season lightly with salt. Simmer, covered, for about 45 minutes.

Add potatoes and/or turnips and cabbage. Cook until vegetables and beans are tender, about 30 minutes more.

While stew is cooking, remove meat from duck legs and shred. Add meat (along with the crisped skin) to stew in the final minutes of cooking.

Season to taste with additional salt, Piment d’Espalette or smoked paprika and pepper.



  1. Eha

    Garbure may be a ‘heavy word’ but the delicious result bubbling away on the stove is no summer lettuce + either 🙂 ! These days one only needs to take a brief monastic holiday to find another half dozen expressions to ‘learn’ upon return if your mindset moves that way! One thing for sure, commenting rather widely around the world from Down Under, but with a quirky European background, I regularly leave my readers with expressions long outdated [oops: age !] or words used in Oz and puzzling to the outside world!!

  2. Bravay! Guaranteed to banish a bad case of the slithy toves! I loved the word as a novice language student. It forces your mouth musculature into one of those quintessentially French modes that native English speakers immediately recognize as alien. And also in French mode, it tastes great. Good post. Ken

  3. This is one of those dishes I doubt I’ll ever make for myself. More’s the pity because it sounds delicious. I’ll just stare at your opening photo and hope that one day I’ll be lucky enough to see this on a menu someplace.

      • Funny how perspectives differ. You feel my pastas are complicated and I feel very much the same way about anything with “confit” in the title or ingredient list. Together, I bet we’d throw one fantastic dinner party!

        • We would! But though Steve does make excellent confit, I have a confession to make: we bought these already confit-ed legs at Whole Foods. Think of it as the French equivalent of wonton wrappers for ravioli. 🙂 As Martha Stewart would say, “it’s a good thing.”

  4. I loved this post! I’d never heard the word portmanteau before but as I just learned about paraprosdokians earlier this week, it must be a bit of vocabulary synchronicity. =) Also that stew looks amazing! Which I had a bowl of that to dive into for dinner tonight.

    • Thanks much! You sent me to Google on paraprosdokian (though I’m sure if Steve was replying he’d say he knew that … whether he did or not). It was a delicious dish. We’ve made it before, but never with duck stock. That really took it to another level, I think.

  5. I’ve often seen the meat+cabbage+beans combo in the Slavic cuisine, often performed with sausage bits, cuts of salt-cured pork or even beef.

    There’s another regional kitchen that makes a similar but not identical stew, it’s called khoresht sabzi, of the greater Persian area, with lots of herbs and chopped greens, sometimes heavy on cabbage but other times not so.

  6. I love this post! Admittedly, every time I see garbure, I think garbage + ordure — which must be somewhat anachronistic . . .

    Your garbure looks fantastic. If I was still teaching, I would have made a giant pile of this and ate it for a week instead of ordering Indian food!

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