French Country Markets

Village markets in France roll around once or twice a week, and if you happen to miss your local¬†march√©, there’s always another one the following day in a village nearby. I can sense pre- market excitement when I’m staying in a village but maybe it’s just my own eagerness to get there. I must confess, I’m a French market junkie, having been to around a dozen or so over the last four weeks, and I put this down to my greed and lust for good food. I’m in the right country. French markets are integral to life here. Supplies come to your village from the local district: some from the farmers, cheese makers, apiarists, some from local artisans, and of course, manufacturers of cheap clothing. Heading out the front door, with strong bags in hand, and strolling through narrow lanes and medieval arcades, with no car traffic to deal with enroute, is far more pleasurable than heading off to a supermarket by car. If only my local market back at home near Melbourne was as easy to visit, without fear of being run down by speeding tourists keen to park as close to the market as possible. In French country markets, cars are banned: they are parked on the outskirts of the village, allowing easy access for vendors’ vehicles. All shoppers must walk to the market.

Market day, Pezenas.

What treasures will turn up this week? What new seasonal vegetables will be on offer and will I show some restraint for a change? The church bells are chiming 8 am and I can hardly wait. Today’s market in Pezenas, Occitanie, will be interesting. It takes place in a nearby square, a stone’s throw from our 16th century apartment. As I write, I can hear the trolleys being wheeled in through the port below the window.

Local oysters, Pezenas. There are also two daily oyster stalls in the town. These sell at around 6 euro a kilo. ( around 15 to a kilo)
Walnut season necessitating the purchase of a walnut cracker.

The markets in the Dordogne region varied in size and style. The large and colourful Sunday market at Issigeac was a favourite. It snaked its way around the narrow and winding village streets in an unpredictable way, given that Issigeac doesn’t have a large market square. All sorts of vendors turned up: the mushroom man, selling girelles, trompe du mort and C√®pes¬†(porcini): a rugged looking duo selling oysters of every size, boxed up for buyers on beds of seaweed, a curly red headed lady with honey and bees wax for sale, who played the squeeze box and sang French folk songs when not engaged in selling, and the usual array of vegetable, cheese and saucisson stalls.

The most delicious mushrooms, Cèpes. Ne Pas Toucher, Mischa Belle.
Miel. Local honey in the Dordogne. Our honey pot, tasting of woods and flowers, was a gift from our landlord,  Jean Pierre, from his own bees.

The Thursday market at Monpazier ( it has always been held on Thursdays since the 13th century ) was much smaller, though on one occasion, a mattress seller took pride of place in the square and I did rather fancy the¬†knife sharpening man, a skill that is slowly dying. The big town market at Bergerac encircled the town’s cathedral, then radiated uphill along adjacent streets. A huge christening ceremony took place one Saturday while the market was in full swing, the shoppers and vendors forming a row of honour as the family and baby arrived.

There were little stalls selling sweet canelè in every flavour, lots of walnut stalls, chestnuts, and a substantial flower market. The Saturday market at Le Bugue, right on the Dordogne, sold the best Paella, cakess and quiches and the huge poissomiere truck did a roaring trade. I purchased a small tub of brandade to spread on croutons: this is one dish I never bother to make at home given the tedious soaking of salted cod required.

Not for sale, otherwise they would now be in my suitcase!

In each market you’ll usually find a separate area where cheap clothing, linen, shoes and handbags are sold. These stalls are appealing at first, then after a while, you recognise the same garments at every market- this season it’s oversized knitted sloppy joes, women’s tops with large stars on the back, and retro looking cotton tops with a lot of glitter and sequins.

Radish and parsnip. Bergerac market

One of the other features of the village market, and one I’m too shy and too foreign to join, is the footpath caf√© scene. Coffee and wine are¬†sipped slowly,¬† double or triple kiss greetings take place as locals gather to catch up, though you can always spot a French poseur or two, and a few expats trying very hard to appear local. I’ll head to the Caf√© des Arts¬†in the late afternoon for a Pastis. I’ve acquired a taste for this old¬†Proven√ßal drink. I’ll wave about an imaginary Gauloises and if chilly, I may even don my new fingerless gloves or perhaps a beret.¬†Bonne journ√©e.

Take away seafood paella. One metre wide paella dish.
Market day cafe scene, Pezenas

This is my list for Languedoc/ now Occitanie.

Totally Stuck for Words

Most village markets in France are orderly, traditional and predictable. Sensibly dressed women arrive with shopping baskets, older men often sport a beret or cap to ward off the morning chill. There will be stalls selling vegetables, a cheese van, a saucisson stall, a pan- Asian fast food van, to which the French flock – vive la diff√©rence – and perhaps a cake stall, featuring this season’s walnuts. And so when the knife sharpening man turned up at the weekly market in Monpazier, dressed in colourful clothes and working under the old covered hall, I was instantly drawn to his stall. I asked him if I could take his photo, although the conditional and polite part of this question, the ‘could I or may I’, suddenly escaped my memory.¬† He happily obliged despite these omissions and mentioned that if someone takes his photo without asking first, he would not give his permission. As my mind slowly processed this information, I noticed the roughly painted anarchist sign on his leather apron.

And then it happened. I stupidly inquired, in my primitive French, which is always stuck in the present tense, about why he wore this sign. I may have simply asked, ‘Pourqui’, while pointing.

He replied passionately, rapidly and fairly vocally, why he was proud to wear this sign. I could follow bits of his response: there was mention of the new French President Macron and¬†then he concluded, “But you don’t understand, do you. You can’t respond, can you. Can you speak?” I’m standing there paralysed and the words won’t come. “Je… je… je... ” A crowd is gathering behind me and he continues his anarchist rave. “Je… Je.” And I wanted to say, “Oui,¬†Je comprende ”¬†or something agreeable, like “d’accord”, just so I could run away and save face but I feel like¬†I’ve just left the frontal lobotomy ward.” Je…Je...”. I want to agree¬†that the handsome Macron bloke has turned out to be a huge disappointment, so much for middle ground, but what can you expect from a former investment banker, and do you mind pouring me a glass of wine even though it’s only 10.30 am, because I really need one now. But nothing comes out of my mouth, nothing, until eventually I mumble¬†je suis d√©sol√©¬†and I’m feeling like a total fuckwit. I haven’t even had time to get out Mt T’s favourite opening line and gap filler, “Excusez-moi, mon fran√ßais est tr√®s mal” to which I usually add behind his shoulder, “you mean c’est merde”, c’est tres merde.”

Salut

The knife sharpening man is laughing now, enjoying his wine, probably not the first for the day, and so we exchange drinking salutations, salut,¬† sant√©, salute, chin chin, na zdrowie proost, sl√°inte, cheers ( mate) and so on. It’s an exchange of sorts.

Travellers, like me, who have a smattering of French, tend to stick to simple conversations, which hover around known contexts and commerce such as buying food or goods, and include a working grasp of salutations and courtesies, all limited to the present tense with an occasional flirtation with the simple past tense and with an excellent grasp of nouns but not so many irregular verbs. Is it possible to have a real conversation without a working knowledge of the multi- tiered tenses that we use everyday without thinking, the past perfect and imperfect tenses, the future and historic tenses, all woven together, like a language knitting pattern, with fancy stitches that include the conditional, the imperative, the reflexive and the subjunctive moods used in past tenses, stitched up with¬† the gerund and embroidered with the nuances of language that involve irony, idiom and cultural understandings? I think not. I stand accused, sir. I would love to sit down with you and have a chat and a wine, but I can’t. Well not in French anyway. Cheers.

 

In My Kitchen, October 2017. Bretagne

After travelling around Central and Eastern Europe for three weeks, I was really looking forward to our first French rental house. Before unpacking or looking at the other rooms, I checked the kitchen and its equipment, running around like a headless chook, opening cupboards and drawers. The kitchen in Pont Aven, Brittany, did not disappoint. The cupboards were well equipped with decent wine glasses, serving platters, quality frying pans, a set of sharp knives, a pasta pot and some oven proof gratin dishes. This was a cook’s kitchen. These things are often missing from rental houses.

The kitchen, on Rue Le Petite Tourte, Pont Aven, Brittany

Outside the kitchen, beyond the tiny enclosed stone wall yard, a rapidly running stream provided a soothing background symphony to my kitchen activities. The rapids form part of the watery world which makes up this ancient mill town. Pont Aven’s water courses, the River Aven and it’s creeks, once operated around 14 water wheel grain mills. Many old stone houses are built directly above or next to a rapid. As the weather was damp and fairly cool, winter comfort food dominated my cooking style in this stylish stone house.

Produce bought at the local market. Backyard, Pont Aven, Brittany.

The food of Brittany is tempting, with plenty of seafood and fish, apples and cider, the famous creamy butter with fleur de sel, buttery biscuits, tarts and cakes such as Far Breton and Kouign-amann, not to mention the crepes made from Blé Noir, or buckwheat. We occasionally dined out, but in the end, the lure of the kitchen and home cooked meals became too great.

Some basics from the local supermarche.

Who can resist cooking with Cr√®me Fra√ģche ( entiere s’il vous pla√ģt ) when a small carton costs around 0.66‚ā¨. My new cheat’s white sauce is a winner. Add one finely chopped garlic to a few tablespoons of cr√®me fra√ģche, let it sit while you cook some pasta. Drain the pasta well, then return to the same pan, stir the sauce through the hot pasta, add some chunky smoked salmon and lots of herbs. Voil√†.

Fasta Pasta

I found these cute pot set yoghurts at the market in the nearby village of Tregunc, straight from the dairy farm. Sold in little glass jars for 0.40‚ā¨ each. I will never eat commercial yoghurt again.

Breakfast Pont Aven. Pot set yoghurt with peaches and raspberries

Sometimes when driving about for the day, lunch is simple: a smelly cheese from the market and a baguette from the boulangerie.

Car snacks.

I’ve developed a taste for this lovely red wine from the Loire, Chinon.

A light red wine, Chinon, from the Loire region

French cooking is superb but there’s plenty of cheating going on too. Freshly cooked beetroot¬†is available in all the markets. They make a great entr√©e with some goat cheese.

On market day, the Roti stall is popular, as sensibly dressed older women come to buy their rotisserie chicken, beef or saussison along with a portion of Boulangerie potatoes.

I succumbed to the roast man’s version of Far Breton, a nice little dessert to take back to my kitchen to reheat. I make Far Breton at home, mostly for my D.I.L, who can’t get enough of the stuff. I love the way the prunes are suspended in this version.

Far Breton- for Leanne.
Trying to stay away from the Patisserie.

The Traou Mad galettes of Pont Aven are irresistible. This tin has been refilled twice!

Also trying to stay away from the real estate office! House for sale in a little village near Pont Aven. Fantasies abound in every village. Dangereux!!!

For Rod.

I’m linking up with Sherry, from Sherry’s Pickings, once again, who hosts In My Kitchen, a monthly series where bloggers share their kitchen inspirations. If you’re new to blogging and love food, this is a great way to join up with other like-minded folk. There are no rules and no obligations. Write about your kitchen and get the post linked by the 10th of each month.