Spring Market inspiration. Open your eyes!

Why go to the market?

I mean the local farmer’s market, of course.

Fresh, simple, direct- a bargain.

Inspiring, colorful, nurturing- satisfaction.

Diverse, diverting, fun- amused.

All those words pop into my head when I think of the many very good markets I can throw a Gascon stone at from Camont. But versatility is reason I stay faithful to one of my first loves in this area, the little true producer’s market nestled under the unattractive eaves of the Chat d’Oc strip mall on the Avenue des Landes. Not only can I buy just picked old-timey vegetables out of neighboring market gardens, get a great baguette  at l’Envie de Pain (thanks Pierre & Valerie!), take my weekly beekeeping lesson from Narcisse, pick up some house paint or maybe get a blood test at the Laboratoire and get Bacon groomed, I can also wash my car at the best carwash in town! It’s a full service strip mall French style… with wine.

What the Chat d’Oc lacks in French country charm it makes up in seriously good content. Here’s a sample of what I picked up yesterday before our MAGYC Day Cooking Class with Michelle & Rochelle where we started with a little fresh herb soup we drank as a hot cocktail.

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May Day ~ Mayday ~ M’aider: in a pickle

May Day. All is quiet this early morning but the vast aviary outside my kitchen door. In France, this first seasonal holiday, Labor Day, is the promise of Summer to be. Although it still smacks of worker’s right and labor issues, waving red flags or lily of the valley, it is just a very quiet day in the Gascon countryside.

Mayday- Mud! The famous Garonne River Fog is late this year; it has rained, rained, rained these last two weeks. So much rain now that with the soggy bottom clay silt soil holding moisture like a sponge, the promise of a clear sunny sky later makes morning fog. My own little micro-climate at Camont alongside canal & river is good for the garden…if I could only get to it though the muck.

This week’s market also shouted “Mayday” with a rouge abundance of rhubarb, strawberries, peppers and early tomatoes. Instead of pique-niques, boat rides, country walks, and gardening, I’m sticking close to my Keeping Kitchen and brewing up some seasonal treats- micro batches, single jars, starter vats. Here’s the list from the market booty…

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Inspiration rolls into town- Les Fromages de Marie

Where does it begin?

“It” being the Frenchness of  the good food made here in Gascony.

“It” being the idea for recipe.

“It’ is an homage to a certain way of life. My life.

For me, it begins and ends 100% with a list of names that sketch across the Gascon landscape like 18th Century signatures.

Jehanne = foie gras, rillettes, vin de peche.

Narcisse = amber bramble honey

Pierre = dense and crusty baguettes

Chapolard = charcuterie- deep and porky

And most newly arrived at the Saturday Market at Nerac…

Marie de Chèvre = Creamy goaty goodness, clean sweet hay milk transformed into  a plateau of delicious chèvre.  And what did I do with the 4 creamy fresh faiselles I scored?  Here’s my recipe for les petit gateaux de Marie.

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Market Report- Spring in Southwest France

Fresh green tops, dirt clinging to the roots, heavy crunch of pure RADISH.

I love this time of year at the markets. Our first local produce, much grown under poly tunnels, is filling the tables of my neighbor farmers in a rainbow of good food.

Artichauts. Peppers. Peas. Fava beans. Spring onions…

So what’s cooking at Camont?

Try this simple Radish Leaf soup from my first cookbook. It’s a wonderful way to celebrate spring and the first greens to poke through the rich garden soil. Start cooking as you unpack your baskets, then grab a piece of saucisson and a baguette. Eh Voila! a perfect Spring lunch.

Here’s the recipe…

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Sweet Peas- Old & New

 

NEWS! The main market in Agen has moved!  Moved to make way for a new Cine-plex to be built at the Place du Pin. ? Now, the weekly Sunday market has shifted over the road to the edge of the little parc on Rue Jules Ferry. Like when the big supermarkets shift products around to keep customers from getting complacent about what and how they buy, shifting the market meant I had to hunt and peck a bit more to find Phillipe and his goat cheese, the best endive on the planet, and the cilantro nestled among the onions and garlic. After 20 years of shopping at the Agen producer’s market, I have a relationship with a dozen special growers. I’ve learned who I can depend on, to trust to have the best, the freshest, the tastiest vegetables and fruit, eggs, meat and cheese. When I first came to France, I was seduced by a beret, a blue house dress, a winning smile… Then I learned how to shop.

FEATURED CROP: This week’s market in Agen was overflowing with green- weedy wild green asparagus (altogether different from California’s main crop), the first plump silvery-green artichokes, fat fava pods and the first Spring green sweet peas.

I scan the stands, tables and cartons overflowing with this week’s harvest and spotted…PEAS. Kilos and kilos of sweet fresh tender peas. STOP! Think and taste. Buying sweet peas is like buying the proverbial pig-in-a-poke. Unless you shell a few pods and taste, you can end up with a pot of dull starchy not sweet peas. These peas were too large- too long on the plant, fat but starchy not sweet peas. Those  were too wrinkled- old and dried out. So I scoured and inspected until I spotted a table full of bright, shiny, firm, plump, smooth pods. Ah… Just as I was thinking eh voila! the owner of these little pods of joy passed one to me to open and taste. “Harvested last night.” He need say no more.

I bought two kilos at 3.50 euros a kilo. Two kilos, 4 & a half pounds of sweet tender green peas. Last night we had some cooked in little water, with salt and mint then finished with a knob of butter and sea salt. Today, I’ll make a chilled Sweet Pea Soup with creme fraiche for lunch. And tomorrow, I’ll cook a Navarin d’Agneau, a spring lamb braise finished with a handful of peas.

Need a little help picking out the best Sweet peas. Look at the photograph below.

The top pea on the board is older, has a white rough finish to the pod. It’s older and the pea is larger but dull tasting; it’s sugar turned to starch already.

The bottom pod is glossy smooth and waxy. The pea is smaller, firmer and sweeter.

Learning to cook at Camont is learning to shop.

Sweet Peas to you!

 

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Charcuterie- learning French by the Market method

This letter was written by Matt Chambas, 23 year old chef from Wisconsin who spent 6 months working with me in 2008. Matt was the first of the “Charcuterie students” to pass through our doors- followed by Camas Davis of Portland (and now founder of the Portland Meat Collective), and then a long line of cooks, chefs, butchers and farmers… This is what Matt said then:

When I arrived here at Camont, there was something about this place, something here that I wanted.
I was here on a vacation doing a two-week cooking class with my Mom in the Kitchen-at-Camont.
I knew right away that two weeks was not enough time, so I asked Kate if I could stay longer. Lucky for me, she needed an intern for the summer. When my glorious vacation ended in February, I departed back to the United States, not fully aware of the seed I planted.

I returned here to Camont in late April, and immediately began working. I have done many things in the short time since I’ve settled in here this Spring. One of the many things is learning how to make charcuterie with the Chapolard family. I have been interested in charcuterie for awhile now, and I knew that I wanted to learn how to make it the correct way. After trying some of their jambon, saucisson and paté, I realized that this family who raises their own pigs knew exactly what they were doing.

Working with the Chapolard’s has been such a great experience thus far. I’ve been able to see the whole process from the abattoir, to the butcher workshop, and finally to the Saturday market. In the workshop, I’m finally able to understand how the pig comes together. However, the Saturday market is when I have the most fun.

When the Chapolard’s first asked me if I wanted to help them at the market selling their product, I thought, “are you serious?” “I don’t even speak French!” Now, I look forward to every Saturday. From learning French, to working alongside two of the nicest people I’ve ever met.

This is what you see…..

 


This is what I see….

Matt Chambas

 

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what’s going around… fried food.

LAGUIOLE

VERY NEW

Wonderfully Old

‘The new moon cradled in the arms of the old’. That’s what I say when that very New contemporary France nestles in the very old ways of la France Profonde.


“Great minds think alike… “
- that’s what I say when someone scoops me on a good recipe or a new “in” place to visit.

“If you can’t beat ‘em…join ‘em”
- if everyone else is talking about socca (not soccer!), or caramels and you have something new to add, then why not?

“What goes around…comes around”-
usually said in a disparaging tone of voice when someone has made a false move and will regret the ensuing repercussions.

Not this time! I am jumping on the bandwagon, getting on board and hoping that I can add fuel to the fire of a New old trend. Two words my friends. Fried. Food.

Maybe it started with that Dim Sum Sunday. I must confess, the steamed buns, and dumplings a la vapeur were still around for leftovers yesterday; the fried nems, beignets de choufleur and crispy samosas disappeared too fast! So when friend food writer Ed Schneider sent me a link to an article by Mark Bittman about Fried Pizza, the fried food juices started flowing. And I thought of you.

At the end of October I made a road trip up a little river (Lot) and into the Aveyron for a 3-star pilgrimage to meet and eat the Michel Bras legacy. Staying the extra day to interview the Messieurs Bras (clearly, son Sebastian is the Dauphin here– hurray for the French sense of continuity!) was a bonus and as luck would have it was Saturday- Laguiole’s market day. I love markets.

Everyone that we asked in town had told us the market was at the le parking next to the big Aubrac bull sculpture, an homage to the local breed of all things tasty- cheese, aligot, beurre. “Just look for the bull.” And each person added, “mais ce n’est pas comme avant…” meaning that nothing is as it used to be.

I guess they were right. With just 4 simple stalls, this tiny off-season market pales to the number of knife shops in town (at least 2 dozen!) with one very important exception. Here, at this tiny market in the middle of nowhere was someone… cooking. Here, someone was selling something hot and… fried! Here, Mme. Sylvie was offering to cook something just for me (if the market was miniscule, so were the clients!)– the traditional farcoux- swiss chard and parsley fritters.

For those of you whining about the dwindling dollar power…there are plenty of good things in France for just ONE EURO including these delicious homemade farcoux. Crispy on the outside, soft in the inside, hot, green and oniony, these fat beignets du blettes were just the thing needed to stave off hunger pangs before meeting the ever-so-charming and generous Michel and Sebastian Bras. (more on that… later.)

I found a recipe en francais on the very complete www.marmiton.org site; and tomorrow I’ll pop into my own local market and get some chard and parsley to translate the recipe… anon. Now, if I could just duplicate the taste of the hot green fritter in my galley. Anyone else for fried food? ‘I’d do offer‘ a better way to eat your vegetables!


View of Laguiole, the old moon, framed for you by
the very new moon M.Bras.

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French market colors- Orange & Green

If I was quick enough, I could try and capture the sound– long, plaintive and very high as Winter flies north. It is a bone chilling song that penetrates boat and brain as these Cranes head back north from their African winter vacation. This week, they gathered over the Garonne River in enough confusion before gathering their wits into a ‘V’ to leave me time to grab my camera . “Yes,” Franny tells me she, too, heard the cranes flying north taking winter with them.

While winter lingers still in the markets- roots, cabbages and bulbs, this clash of orange and green met me at the entrance to the petit marche aux Chat’ D’Oc. It lifted my spirits enough to make a simple salad with frisee served with artichauts dressed in an zesty orange vinaigrette.

Cranes. Colors. And Shapes. Kitchen inspiration comes in all forms. But most often I am drawn by the natural world outside my galley window. Like those wild cranes flying overhead, I now hunt for spring along the garden paths and plan a Spring Green Soup and Sauce Vernal for tomorrow’s Market=Table cooking class. Although we use the French Kitchen at Camont for classes, I cook in this little floating test kitchen- just one of a barge queen’s great delights.

“Arrrh, matey. Burnt the soup? Throw it overboard to the fishes

and walk the plank to the pantry!” Captain Kate.

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Market Economics

I was in a one Euro mood.
My bag filled quickly, heavily with no recipe in mind.
No list.
Just what looked good… for a euro.

spring onions
radishes
swiss chard
kilo of potatoes
kilo of carrots
slice of pumpkin
bunch of watercress

Soup.
Braised vegetables.
Greens.
The end of winter; the beginning of spring.
Tonight’s lunar eclipse, covered under a heavy cloud blanket, calls for something to celebrate this invisible full moon.

Like beans and sausage.
Moon food should be fat and round, white, cheesy or sweet. But tonight, in the galley of the Julia Hoyt, it will be hot and spicy, white beans, duck chipolatas and Saucisse de Toulouse. NOT a cassoulet but a stove-top steaming pot to scent the air with cumin and chilies, fresh garlic, and a bobbing round onion as fat as a moon.

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