Marmite de l’Escalade - Gastro Obscura

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Marmite de l’Escalade

Smashing this chocolate cauldron is the best part of Geneva’s celebration of a historic battle win.

A boiling pot of vegetable soup, or so the legend goes, saved Geneva’s religious fate in 1602. The troops of the Catholic Savoyards, led by the Duke of Savoy, launched a surprise attack on Protestant Geneva on a cold night in December that year. Genevans tells the story of Catherine Cheynel, also known as Mère Royaume, whose quick thinking led her to seize, and empty, a large cauldron of boiling hot soup on a group of attackers beneath her window, killing one of them. The resulting commotion alerted the townspeople who successfully defended their city and defeated the Savoyards. While it’s likely that the story of Mère Royaume is apocryphal, Geneva’s citizens did fight alongside the city’s militia to fight off invasion that fateful night. Eighteen Genevans died in the attack. Sources vary on Savoyard losses, ranging from 54 to 72 casualties.

L’Escalade or Fête de l’Escalade is an annual celebration of this historic event, usually held on the closest weekend to December 12, when the original attack was thought to have taken place. The name refers to the French word for “climb” (escalade), as the Savoyards first had to scale the city wall to get in. Celebrations include a parade at the town square and songs written about the attack sung door to door for money by Swiss children. The most delicious aspect of the fête, though, is the smashing of the marmite de l’Escalade, a chocolate cauldron embellished with the city’s red and yellow coat of arms. The cauldron, supposed to be a chocolate replica of Mère Royaume’s, is filled with marzipan vegetables and other candy. Traditionally, the oldest and the youngest members of the household stand over the marmite (French for “cauldron”), joining hands. With a resounding “Ainsi périrent [or périssent] les ennemis de la République!” (“Thus perished [or perishes] the enemies of the Republic!”), they slam their clasped hands over the cauldron, smashing it.

Chocolatiers all over Geneva display chocolate cauldrons of varying opulence in the days leading up to the festival. Special copper molds are brought out to make the pots, and the handles, legs, and other embellishments are done by hand. The entire city celebrates this sweet finale, a fun commemoration of a gruesome but victorious night in Geneva’s history.

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