Friday morning, market time - 35 degrees and raining - and we love it. Well not really, but one puts up with this sort of weather in exchange for having our world to ourselves. Living in a place so full of history, natural beauty and architectural elegance we are inundated with tourist and summer residents from June till September. As the weather becomes more challenging, it is only the locals that venture out to the markets. The sharp blade of cold weather pares down the number of vendors as well.
The first market of January has 15 or so stands, down from summer’s 40-plus vendors. Offering us products direct from their farms and gardens, these are a tough bunch of local producers. They arrive in the dark of a winter morning, bundled up for the cold, damp, 4 hours of selling. With the transient crowds gone the producers depend on the regulars. And the regulars depend on the producers to have good fresh ingredients for this weeks meals. Rabbit, duck breast, eggs, leeks, goat cheese, root vegetables. Luckily the other day there were brussels sprouts that I could buy. Before next Friday I need to look through some recipes for celeriac and endive. The seasonal limits of our local market makes you expand you horizons in cooking.
Cookbook advice is always welcome, but this quiet time of year allows for the best cooking advice available--- that from the folks that grow what you are going to eat, and from your neighbors in line who have eaten these things before you. Last week I was searching for a substitute for cottage cheese. With no one in line at the goat cheese vendors I got up the courage to describe to her the texture and the strength of cheese that I was looking for. She took great pleasure in going over three subtly different forms of goat cheese that I had never taken the time to investigate. I chose one that could be broken up with a fork and added to my corn muffin recipe. Next time I’ll try the more liquidy one suspended in it’s own juices. No idea what I’ll do with that yet. If there is no line I’ll ask what she thinks. It was lovely to have this interaction and not feel worried that I was making her miss a sale or that I was being judged by the people in line behind me. Although to be honest I often think the people in line around me are more curious about my lack of understanding of various forms of cheeses that they, naturally, take for granted. They lean in, wanting to hear what I am trying to concoct. Then they wade in to share their favorite classic way to best use this straight-from-the farm ingredient.
As in summer, a trip to the market in winter takes all day. The time you gain by not searching for a place to park or standing in line is taken up by the extra time you spend visiting with people. For now there are plenty of tables available at the café and time to have a warming hot chocolate and croissant. There are empty chairs on which to place those winter scarves and hats, next to your market basket full of fresh ingredients for this week’s meals.