K is for ‘Un Kilo s’il vous plait’

It’s May Bank Holiday and I’m listening to the rain bouncing off the roof of the conservatory and can hardly see the end of the field due to the mist, so naturally my mind has turned to Provence & the incredible food that is on offer at the local markets. It doesn’t seem to matter what time of year we visit, we still find the markets packed with fresh produce that just urges you to buy and on occasions, try something new.

One of the many tasters to be found in a Apt market
One of the many tasters to be found in Apt market

Locally we are very lucky and have farmers’ markets and some excellent farm shops, where we can get great fresh local fruit and veg & locally produced meats, but they still don’t manage to come close to the mouth-watering range of produce available on the wooden trestles that are set up each week in French towns.

Even the garlic is displayed beautifully - Apt market
Even the garlic is displayed beautifully – Apt market

It sometimes seems as if we live in a world where any food can be bought (for a price) out of season – do we really need to buy fresh strawberries for Christmas or satsumas in the early summer? When we do they don’t tend to taste very good and are a pale version of the in-season fruits that our taste-buds had been hoping for.

With that in mind I always find there is something wonderful about watching the produce that’s available on the market stalls of Provence change with the seasons – in fact I look forward to the shared photos of the first strawberries on the stalls as a sign of summer almost as much as I watch for the first swallow over Dartmoor.

Peaches & Nectarines - L'Isle Sur La Sorgue market
Peaches, nectarines & grapes – L’Isle Sur La Sorgue market

Early Summer in Provence is by far the best time to find the stalls groaning under piles of bright red and almost black cherries, which (for years) have been the nibble of choice for our boys, as we have dragged them around the markets. The apricots have also been a huge hit – not the slightly sour hard yellow fruits that we tend to find in the local supermarket here, but large soft and sweet with juice that runs everywhere turning everything it touches sticky.

Then as the days lengthen the peaches (white, yellow, flat or round) take their turn on the stalls, sitting side by side with figs and ripe, scented Cavaillon melons.

Coeur de Boeuf Tomatoes, L'Isle Sur La Sorgue market
Coeur de Boeuf Tomatoes, L’Isle Sur La Sorgue market

This is also the best time to find wonderfully soft & squidgy tomatoes, which have ripened naturally in the sun. By far my favourite tomato is the ‘Coeur de Boeuf’, which may not look attractive, but is fleshy (rather than pippy) and good for cooking and salads. A good tip for finding the best ‘Coeur de Boeuf’ is to weigh them in an open hand (they are very delicate & grasping them will damage them) and choose the heaviest – you will not be disappointed.

I have also yet to find anywhere locally where the ingredients for the perfect ratatouille are sold from one container (in this case a battered metal bowl)

Ratatouille ingredients - no cookbook required
Ratatouille ingredients – no cookbook required

As Summer moves towards Autumn the artichokes and grapes start to take centre stage. I must admit the first time I saw artichokes in Brittany I had no idea what to do with them, but the owner of the camp-site where we were staying gave me a lesson in how to prepare and cook them, so I haven’t needed to shy away from them since.

Artichokes, chicory, garlic at L'Isle Sur La Sorgue
Artichokes, chicory & garlic at L’Isle Sur La Sorgue

Then comes Autumn & early Winter when you see some stalls decorated with chestnuts and displaying some of the finest mushrooms to be found………..

A taste of autum at Apt market
A taste of Autum at Apt market

………..whilst others are weighed down with huge gnarly-skinned pumpkins, beautiful displays of gourdes and pyramids of oranges

Gourdes at L'Isle Sur La Sorgue
Gourdes at L’Isle Sur La Sorgue
December oranges at L'Isle Sur La Sorgue
December oranges at L’Isle Sur La Sorgue

Then there are the cheese stalls…………..

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and fresh fish stalls – a firm favourite is a kilo of fresh langoustines (cooked quickly in salted boiling water & served with fresh bread, salad & aioli) – simple and delicious

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Olive stalls

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and even stalls laden with fruit pates – the quince one is particularly lovely.

Fruit pates Forcalquier narket
Fruit pates Forcalquier narket

To be honest the choice of food in the Provence markets is incredible & there is no reason really to buy anywhere else. We tend to find that we eat so much more fruit and veg whilst we are on holiday than we ever do at home. Why? – I don’t really know – other than the food we buy there seems to taste better and is so readily available outside supermarkets.

If you struggle to learn Frnech then there is one phrase that will happily get you around a Provence market it’s ‘Un Kilo s’il vous plait’ – believe me you won’t go far wrong!!

This blog is now linked to the latest #AllAboutFrance Linkup via Lou Messugo http://www.loumessugo.com/en/blog/entry/all-about-france-4

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