Ya gotta love French street markets. I don’t know when our English street markets went wrong but go wrong they most certainly did. For many years a lot of English market stalls have felt a little like things that “fell off the back of a lorry, guv’nor”. Our market vegetable stalls are filled in the main with trays of produce imported from the vast, tasteless growers of Holland – basically the same stuff that fills our supermarkets but cheaper by virtue of not having the supermarkets’ overheads.
A French street market is a very different affair. French street markets remain true to what a market should be, largely populated by specialist local producers selling their own wares. Here are people selling only goat cheeses made from their own goat herd; people selling their own local speciality bakery goods or people selling simply the mushrooms that they themselves have gathered or grown. At Sarlat-la-Canéda, home of one of the largest street markets in France, we’ve witnessed an aged gentleman wheel his bicycle into town carrying just a single tray containing a few bags of green beans and a few bags of tomatoes. Once sold, his day was over. Brilliant! Of course, there are still stalls with imported factory-produced vegetables from Holland but they tend to be the exception rather than the rule. Even in the centre of France, a much larger country than ours, there is always a fresh fish stall (or more) with the emphasis firmly on fresh. There are butchers’ vans and frequently one or two large rotisserie vans doing a brisk trade in rotisseried meats, mainly chickens (which we like to call “spinning chickens”).
We returned to Loches because Wednesday is market day. Whilst wandering around, camera in hand, I began to notice a strange theme. Well, that is, it seemed strange to me. It is asparagus season and people here go bonkers for the white asparagus that we rarely see in England. I lost count of the number of stalls selling asparagus. However, there were at least four separate local growers selling just white asparagus together with strawberries. No, I don’t mean to imply that they should be eaten together but it seemed like an unusual combination of produce to grow. I’m certainly no gardener but we began wondering if asparagus and strawberries shared a need for a similar type of soil. Clearly there was some connection that we didn’t understand.
We came away with some nicely aged goat cheese and a couple of paupiettes de veau from a butcher’s van. Some pleurotte (oyster mushrooms) and a little crème fraîche made an excellent sauce for the veal.
English farmers’ markets are a great improvement over our usual comparatively dull street markets but they still tend to be very small and staged only once a month. They are to be encouraged but have a way to go. In my experience all French markets are farmers’ markets. It’s why they’re there.