What is a “flageolet”?

  • A.  A type of dried bean
  • B.  A Medieval musical instrument
  • C.  A microorganism
  • D.  A whip-like device of punishment and torture


I’ll give you a hint:  It’s A.

Fairly, though, you could get away with B, C, D, or even E (“All of the above,” if I had provided that option).

A “flageolet” is indeed a type of dried bean (A), and we all know that beans make you musical (B).  Microorganisms are responsible for that phenomenon (C), and it can be pretty punishing for all involved (D).

Personally, I’ve never–even as a boy–seen the humor in pull-my-finger-type jokes.  In my family, gas was one of those things that you were supposed to pretend never happened, like lamb without mint sauce, or professional wrestling.

Today, though, I caught a whiff of something different–I caught a whiff of summer, and that got me to reading poetry, including this ancient gem:

Middle English

Sumer is icumen in,
Lhude sing cuccu!
Groweþ sed and bloweþ med

And springþ þe wde nu,
Sing cuccu!
Awe bleteþ after lomb,
Lhouþ after calue cu.
Bulluc sterteþ, bucke uerteþ,
Murie sing cuccu!
Cuccu, cuccu, wel singes þu cuccu;

Ne swik þu nauer nu.

Sing cuccu nu. Sing cuccu.
Sing cuccu. Sing cuccu nu!

Modern English

Summer has come in,
Loudly sing, Cuckoo!
The seed grows and the meadow
And the wood springs anew,
Sing, Cuckoo!
The ewe bleats after the lamb
The cow lows after the calf.
The bullock stirs, the stag farts,
Merrily sing, Cuckoo!
Cuckoo, cuckoo, well you sing,
Don’t you ever stop now,

Sing cuckoo now. Sing, Cuckoo.
Sing Cuckoo. Sing cuckoo now!

Some translate “bucke uerteþ” as “the buck-goat turns,” but the current critical consensus is that the line is “the stag farts,” a gesture of virility indicating the stag’s potential for creating new life, echoing the rebirth of Nature from the barren period of winter.  So, all this time that you’ve been clenching yourself in the elevator, you could have been expressing your virility and saying bye-bye to Old Man Winter.  Now, on with the science. 

Why do flageolets and other beans make us virile and musical?  Well, it’s because they’re loaded with sugar, believe it or not.

Pretty much every food you can think of has some level and variety of sugar in it.  Bear in mind, there’s not just the kind of sugar that you sprinkle on your Wheaties.  There’s sucrose, fructose, lactose, dextrose, galactose, maltose, and a zillion variations of those.  Chemistry’s complicated.

Beans happen to be chock-full of a particular kind of sugar, called an “oliggosaccharide.”  They’re relatively huge molecules, too huge to pass through the perforations of your gut and get metabolized, so they just sort of linger in your belly until these naturally occurring microorganisms come along and gobble them up.  The by-product is–you guessed it–belly music, a sign of virility and a harbinger of balmier days.

So, in a way, it’s not really you that’s musical–it’s all them little critters in your belly.

Herewith, a classic recipe:  lamb chops with rosemary flageolets.  Lamb and flageolets are a classic combination, and I think it’s especially nice around the transition from spring to summer.  I’m also a sucker for rosemary.

A microorganic Medieval torture device?

  • 2  tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 1/4 cups finely chopped carrot
  • 1  cup finely chopped celery
  • 3/4 cup finely chopped shallots
  • 4  garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2  cup dry white wine
  • 4  cups  cooked flageolet beans
  • 2  cups chicken stock
  • 2  teaspoons  chopped fresh rosemary, divided
  • 3/4  teaspoon salt, divided
  • 6  (4-ounce) lamb loin chops, trimmed
  • 1/4  teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • rosemary sprigs (optional)

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add carrot, celery, shallots, and garlic to pan; cover and cook 15 minutes or until tender and golden brown, stirring occasionally. Add wine to pan; cook 2 minutes or until liquid almost evaporates. Add beans, stock, 1 teaspoon rosemary, and 1/2 teaspoon salt; bring to a simmer. Remove from heat, and keep warm.

Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle lamb evenly with remaining 1 teaspoon rosemary, remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, and pepper. Add lamb to pan; cook 3 minutes on each side or until desired degree of doneness. Serve with bean mixture. Garnish with rosemary sprigs, if desired.

Live it up, and embrace your inner summer.