May 20, 2006

shop local: Spring turnips and radish greens with flirting on the side

Transplant the Diva’s urban Florence market to the French countryside and some few things change: zucchini flowers to radish bouquets, red onions to fresh shallot sprouts, fraise des bois to May’s perfect cherries. Even the sultry dark haired Italian ragazzi morph into charming Gallic paysans. The flirt is on!

The Saturday morning market at Nerac is Flirting 101. Newbies Brits and other tourists make their way cautiously down the crowded narrow corridor of bright umbrellas—a gauntlet of fresh meat, artisan charcuterie and the best and freshest local produce. Their fear and timidity palpable as they try to decipher ‘safe’ paté from French disguised offal; compare kilos to pounds and euros to pounds or dollars. They shop with their eyes, but they haven’t learned the difference yet between the local producer vendor with a few cases of crisp apples from his own orchards labeled “coteaux de Ste. Colombe-en-Bruilhois” and the marketeer who brings in produce from the marché au gare or wholesale market from as far away as Israel and as close as over the non-existent border in Spain. They don't get the flirt because they are so afraid.

Seasoned French housewives and vieux garcons use baskets, canes and umbrellas to keep their place in competitive lines. (ask David Lebovitz about his encounters with les French furies!) They shop every week, they watch the prices by the centime, they buy half-loaves of bread, a smaller wedge of cheese, barely two hundred grams of perfect pork roast. They are not to be trifled with but to be watched and in watching learn their shopping strategies and techniques. They may not look the type but they flirt shamefully if a few more euros are at stake.

As an inside-outsider (having lived nearly 20 years here) I play a different game. I’ve learned the names and weaknesses of my favorite vendors and I trade on their friendship mercilessly. I bring a jar of my homemade apricot jam to Bernard who doles out a sample of perfectly-aged Manchego cheese and then announces a little too loudly to everyone in line that "he knows what I like". I buy a half of round of Brillant-Savarin that has a texture to rival the best butter I ever ate and a wedge of that Manchego that he brings back from central Spain when he visits his family. (That's another definition of local-where your family comes from.)

Hearts beat quickly as I approach the gastronomic bazaar of Kakou, a long extended wagon unfolded to display the variety of artisanally produced breads, sweets and charcuterie. Regardless of pretty Francoise’s eagle eye over her long-haired and smiling Kakou, he comes out from his knives and sweet hams to exchange the Gascon bizou- a kiss on each cheek and then another pair of sweet pecks. It’s double or nothing here in the Southwest.
While sipping a taste of cold saffron aperitif and nibbling a slice of saucisson aux noix and a piece of pain d’epices, I choose a loaf of pain levant, slightly sour and nutty at the same time, and two hand cut slices of ham. I leave lighter in spirit if not in kilos.

The market compresses its last few meters and the crowded line at the Chapolard brother’s “l’Art du Cochon” is my last stop. I watch anxiously as the last fresh sausage is sold. I modify my order as the boudin evaporates client by client, the ventrèche goes and the peppery dried tenderloins gets spoken for. My menu disappears into other people’s baskets. The line moves excruciately slow as each customer oversees the careful wrapping and weighing of kilos and kilos of carefully raised pork. Where as this is just a once a week ritual for many, it is a commited relationship for me. The flirting is more serious here. How many people are coming to dinner? When do you want to eat that dried sausage? Have you ever tried cooking the shoulder roast with bay leaves and shallots? The ultimate serious flirt is to seduce you with the best. This pork is so lovingly and carefully raised that the Brothers Chapolard might just as well come to my French Kitchen and cook it for me. Twice a week, four brothers and their wives trade rubber boots and butchers aprons for market clothes and smiles. They offer the best they can grow and sell it with pride.

Like a 13 year old with a crush on her teachers, I fall in love a little each week at my very local very good marché. Love make shopping local easy.

My Market list for Saturday may 20 2006:

A packet of fat radishes with very fresh greens
A bunch of young shallots sprouts
A Batavia lettuce
4 artichauts
3 kilos of apples
A wedge of manchego
Half a round of brilliant-savarin
A loaf of pain au levant
Two slices of ham
A kilo of cherries
2 bunches of spring turnips
A chunk of lightly smoked bacon
A terrine de porc
Two pigs feet
One saucisson

After the market Menu back on the Gascon ranch-
One Sausage slice and a glass of kir gascon
Spring turnip and radish leaf soup
Served with a slice of home-cured bacon
A green salad with simple vinaigrette
A chunk of bread
A slice of cheese
A hand full of cherries
A glass of good very local wine- cotes de brulhois

See you in Nerac next week.


David said...

What a lovely post. I'm off to the market as well. Will keep an eye out for les dames...and yes, I ply them with homemade chocolate, ice cream, cookies...whatever. These French are such a pushover for anything delicious to eat!

Either that, or I'm a sucker for a pretty face, and a nice basket, of apples.

Diva said...

Sign me up too.. when I have time I will hop up to shop with you.

Do you share?