The Feast of James Branch Cabell

James Branch Cabell

Sunday, May 5, is the Feast of James Branch Cabell (pronounced like “rabble”). Cabell was born April 14, 1879 in Richmond, Virginia, to an affluent and well-connected Virginia family. He was named for his maternal grandfather, Lieutenant Colonel James R. Branch, of the Army of the Confederate States of America.

Cabell is best known for his fantasy novel, Jurgen, A Comedy of Justice. The book gained fame and/or notoriety shortly after its publication in 1919. Aleister Crowley called Jurgen one of the “epoch-making masterpieces of philosophy” in 1929, even though the book contains a parody of the Gnostic Mass. It also includes the phrase, “There is no law in Cocaigne save, Do that which seems good to you.”

Cabell died in Richmond May 5, 1958, of a cerebral hemorrhage. He is buried in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond. Many of his works are housed at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, and the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. He’s also this author’s 13th cousin twice removed.

In honor of his Cabell’s Richmond roots, here is a Lemaire Restaurant favorite: Wild Mallard Duck Cassoulet with Duck Confit, White Beans, Surry County Sausage, Braised Greens, and Poached Duck Foie Gras



  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon minced shallot
  • 2 cups cooked white beans
  • 1 cup shredded duck confit
  • 4 links smoked sausage, peeled, sliced into half moons, (recommended: Surry County) rendered slightly
  • 1 cup reserved white bean cooking liquid
  • 1 cup duck stock, if necessary
  • 2 pounds cooked local braising greens, such as collards, kale, chard and frisee
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Duck breast:

  • 4 wild mallard duck breasts
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 tablespoons clarified butter, plus 2 tablespoons whole butter
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 sprigs rosemary

Foie Gras:

  • 6 ounces duck foie gras, cut into 4 portions
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground white pepper

Read instructions at Food Network.

“I have finished Jurgen; a great and beautiful book, and the saddest book I ever read. I don’t know why, exactly. The book hurts me — tears me to small pieces — but somehow it sets me free. It says the word that I’ve been trying to pronounce for so long. It tells me everything I am, and have been, and may be, unsparingly … I don’t know why I cry over it so much. It’s too — something-or-other — to stand. I’ve been sitting here tonight, reading it aloud, with the tears streaming down my face …” — Deems Taylor, Letter to Mary Kennedy, December 12, 1920


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