What to Eat in France: Mouclade de l’île de Ré, Curry and Cream Mussels from the Island of Ré
Moules de Bouchot, or Farmed Mussels
Humans have been eating mussels forever. Even the South American Indians left behind piles of millions of shells, and there is evidence that some prehistoric people used the shells as spoons.
Moules de bouchot are a specialty of this region, the Poitou-Charentes, where they are farmed. They are smaller than mussels brought in from the sea.
The story has it that this method of farming mussels was started by a shipwrecked Scotsman (or Irishman?), Patrick Walton, in 1235. Although the locals took him in, he was stranded and without money, so he decided to take up his usual occupation of hunting sea birds. He strung his nets along the coast, holding them in place with wooden posts stuck into the ground. To his great surprise he discovered that his posts were “invaded” by tiny mussels that multiplied at a phenomenal rate. He soon changed professions, and started trapping mussels and fattening them — they were a lot faster to fatten than birds — and in so doing invented the first mussel farms using young tree trunks (bouchot means young tree trunk). It is now common practice on the Atlantic Coast of France.