I absolutely love market days in little French villages. The market day for our town happened last Tuesday, and I was not disappointed. Our town is the center for the raising and selling of the Charolais cow, and thus this was no ordinary market. In fact, it only happens once a month, and thus is considered a “foire” and not just a “marche.” I had no idea there was a difference.
French markets are a cacophony of sights, sounds, and smells. The chicken-roasting guy is one of my favorite market staples- you can buy a whole rotisserie-roasted chicken (for MUCH cheaper than you can buy the same chicken, uncooked, from the butcher!) with potatoes that have been roasted down below all the turning chickens- delicious, and smells heavenly. There is usually a spice stand, with bulk spices that are fresher, and cheaper, than you will get at the store. They also typically have things you won’t find elsewhere, like the tikka masala spice I bought. I’m not entirely sure what to do with it, but I couldn’t resist. Of course there are fresh vegetables, and the local bakeries are open and doing a brisk business. And always a few butchers are on hand- I found one who promised that he could get me a whole turkey for American Thanksgiving! I will solidify those arrangements next week at St Honore les Bains’ market day, which is a town about 10 kilometers away that has a weekly market, and I’m excited to have this taken care of.
One of my absolute, hands-down, all-time favorites of market day is the olive stand. Usually, the olive stand is selling not only olives, but braids of garlic and onions and dried fruit of all kinds as well. But it’s the olives that pull me in. First of all, they look so beautiful, gleaming there like little jewels! I was pretty serious this market day about food acquisition, so I didn’t bring my camera… but trust me, it’s a visual treat. And smells amazing. And tastes… yes, usually the olive guy will proudly let you sample his wares. I tried and then purchased some tangy, fat black olives in oil seasoned with herbs de provence- I’m planning to make a “gardianne,” which is sort of like a beef bourguignon, which is to say it’s a beef stew made with wine. The version of the recipe that I have came from a book by Lydie Marshall called “A Passion for My Provence ” http://www.amazon.com/Passion-My-Provence-Cooking-France/dp/0060931647/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1352624791&sr=8-2&keywords=lydie+marshall+cookbook I discovered her cookbook last year when we were in France in a town called Nyons, where she is from. If you like French cooking minus the metric conversions, this one is terrific. Nothing too fussy, but everything I’ve tried has been fantastic. Her version of a gardianne uses only a cup of red wine (my beef bourguignon recipe calls for an entire bottle!), a lot of garlic, and then, the finishing touch- a handful of briny olives tossed in at the end of cooking. Here’s another link to the actual recipe… trust me, it’s good http://www.fetchmagbytaigan.com/food-drink/elizabeth-davids-delicious-legacy/ And so is the cookbook.
The cheese stands are also a favorite of mine at these markets. Be prepared to wait your turn, because they are everyone else’s favorite as well. But patience paid off for me- I found, in addition to the usual French cheese stands, a Dutch lady selling some incredible Dutch cheeses. My kids love cheese, especially my son, and he insisted that we take home some of the goat Gouda that was being sampled at the stand. I picked up another that was packed with cumin, and a little ball of chevre for my daughter since she loves it so much.
Of course, there are also the requisite clothing stands, and the table linen stands, and the stands selling various and sundry stuff. And always the sock stands. The underwear stand amuses me a bit. I’d prefer to buy my undies indoors, thank you. But they must do a good business, because there are always underwear stands. You can buy inexpensive and often trendy clothing at these markets- I’ve gotten great scarves in the past! But mostly, I stick to food.
And by the way, back to those white cows which our town is “the” place for: what made our town’s “foire” special was that these lovely cows were on display. I didn’t entirely understand what was going on, but I can tell you that the cows (who actually appeared to be young males) had been washed and brushed and fluffed, and some guy was calling out something over a loudspeaker- I’m betting they were for sale. Yep, that is my completely inexpert guess. The fact that is was market day helped me to reach this conclusion.
Be warned: it’s easy to drop a lot of cash at these markets because you are so caught up in the swirl of delicious potential all around you, even without buying an entire cow.