Every Saturday morning throughout the year there’s a typical market in the centre of town – alongside the beautiful cathedral. Remember, Fecamp’s ancient monastry is the home of Benedictine – wonderful in its own right and even better as ‘B&B’ – Brandy & Benedictine – the favoured on-stage drink of many a rockstar – it runs neck and neck with Port & Brandy. Back to the Butter Market.
Today was our second visit in 2-3 years and nothing seemed to have changed – local produce grown in back gardens and in small holdings, then lovingly prepared and brought to market each Saturday.
First job is to walk the market – see what’s on offer, who has the best produce, which stall has a queue – you know the drill. There were some 30 stalls to view.
We had our heart set on chicken for tomorrow’s dinner and we were spoilt for choice – all pure breeds (not stunted legged hybrids) and each was reared to Poulet Fermier standards – a minimum of 84 days old and fed on cereals, no GMO’s and whatever the birds find to supplement their diet as they roam free. I had hoped to maybe find a Poulet de Gournay, but no such luck. Guinea fowl, ducks and geese sat alongside the chickens. All came with their giblets, most with head and feet still attached. The cockscomb as well as the gizzard are as good a guide to freshness as the eye of a decent fish.
Celeriac with the leafy stems still attached – likewise celery. Good potatoes, carrots, turnips, chard and salad to die for.
Some stall holders specialised in dairy – with sweet cream and salted butters. creme fraiche, unpasteurised milk (lait cru) and cheeses. The heart shaped, lait cru Neufchatel was plentiful, as were fresh goat and cow’s milk cheeses of no famous recipe – just simple home made young cheeses to eat with fruit and sugar, as much as with bread or a Confit.
What’s this guy selling next to one of the doors. He’s a snail farmer with snails ready to eat with garlic and parley butter – but also he has cassoulettes of snails in various styles and most unusual of all, snail cake. We bought one as he assured us it was not a sweet cake – it reminded Joy and I of our first holiday in France together when we were invited to the dusk to dawn illumination of Le Corbusier’s iconic Notre Dame de Ronchamps. There we were offered a savoury ’cake’ made with lardons to accompany the celebratory wine.
Having seen so little of France this summer we have been largely denied intensely aromatic strawberries – red to their core. One gentleman was selling just fraises de bois – but they were the size and shape of a cultivated strawberry – albeit several million times more edible than an Elsanta that plague the English shops every summer and longer as the season becomes ever more stretched.
They were labelled ‘Mara de Bois’ -meaning they were the wild strain, but at third stage of growth – hence their size and flavour. The two generous barquettes we bought won’t see midnight tonight – they already have scented our apartment kitchen.
With chickens comes eggs – not from the same hens obviously, but for a small holder it is quite normal to keep both. Similarly rabbits – the hutch variety which are not to be sneered at as they are free in their runs until the final day dawns. With whole rabbits came confit of rabbit, rabbit terrine and a rilettes of rabbit.
Last stop was with an old lady – she was certainly well past her three score and ten so would have had amazing tales to tell if we had time to sit down with her. She sold us tiny shallots and onions hand tied into bunches, Belle de Fontenay fresh dug potatoes and quails’ eggs.
The quails’ eggs were 2 Euro for 15. She counted them into a paper bag for us to take home. We made it without a single breakage.
Tree fruits – apples and pears – were on sale on so many varieties – some old and some newer more commercial plantings.
We could have bought more, but it’s about balance. Etretat has some fine food shops and we are strict about frequenting them – they’ve never let us down. I already have veal kidneys in their white jackets on special order for Monday.
I also worry about the future. I know many markets like this across France and there are no more than a handful of young people selling their produce. Where will we be 10 years from now as genuine Blue Collar Gastronauts? It’s anyone’s guess.