This section is from the book "The Steward's Handbook And Guide To Party Catering", by Jessup Whitehead. Also available from Amazon: Larousse Gastronomique.
Fire pot; the French national soup.
"The French national dish is unquestionably the world-famed pot-ait-feu, and there is hardly a Frenchman, rich or poor, who does not partake of that savory and nourishing preparation at least once a week. This soup, simple as it is, cannot be made properly anywhere but in France, and the assertion, strange as it seems, will be corroborated by all who have tasted it, The meat that has been used to make the soup is eaten afterwards, in conjunction with the vegetables that were boiled in the pot. Thepot-au-feu is made generally in an earthen vessel, used only for the purpose. The meat is put in cold water with a little salt, and set on the fire. When the liquid begins to boil, the pot is drawn back, and the contents allowed to simmer as gently as possible for 4 hours. The quantity of meat employed is 1 lb. to 1 qt. of water. When the ebullition begins, care must be taken to remove all the scum that rises to the surface. The vegetables consist of carrots, turnips, onions, leeks, celery, and cabbages.
A brown onion (oignon brule) boiled in the pot improves the flavor as well as the color of the soup, A few minutes before serving the soup the meat is taken out of the pot, and the broth is strained through a very fine strainer into the soup-tureen, which should contain some very thin slices of stale bread".
"Such is the recipe for the pot-au-feu bourgeois, as it is served in every small French family; but if required for a dinner recherche it changes its name on the menu and is called croute-att-pot. In this latter case a fowl and a knuckle of veal are added to make the broth; the vegetables are cut of an even form, and the slices of bread are replaced by the crust of 2 or 3 French rolls cut the size and shape of half a pigeon's egg. These crusts are fried in some of the clear grease skimmed from the top of the broth, and are handed round on a plate w,hen the soup is served".
"King Henry IV was alluding to the pot-an-feu when he said, in his manifesto to the people of France, that if he lived long enough, his ambition was to see every peasant in his kingdom prosperous enough to be able to have a fowl in his pot every Sunday." - 'Experienced housewives insist that any contact with metal is sure to spoil the flavor; it is the earthen pot, well seasoned, on which everything depends. In this earthen pot, then, the French cook will place only the best and freshest meat, the ten-derest and most delicate vegetables; onions and pepper, those stumbling-blocks of the inexperienced cook, are eschewed altogether, a young leek supplanting the onion in the pot-au-feu, at least with dainty feeders. No single flavor should predominate".