Thursday, September 23, 2010

Carcassonne's Market in mid May

On Saturday, May 15th (our final full day in Carcassonne) the main market was in full swing.  By the time we stumbled upon it, most people had completed their shopping and were leisurely talking with friends, sipping yet another espresso, or tucking into lunch.  The clothing they were wearing reveals that the weather was unusually chilly and breezy, in spite of being that far south in mid May.

I begin with a display of my favourite Aude dish, cassoulet, that wonderful combination of white beans, duck and spices.  These jars were made by Le Ferme, one of the finest food outlets in Carcassonne, a specialty store gourmets seek out.

And this brings me to my absolute favourite meat in the south of France, canard (duck).  Here we see duck legs which have been slowly and lovingly cooked for hours in pure duck fat.  The fat keeps the dark meat unbelievably moist and tender.  Duck fat is, as far as my reading indicates, more healthy than almost any oil for cooking, partly because it melts at such a low temperature and heat does not change the molecular carbon chain.  The French discovered centuries ago that it also seals out air and preserves unexposed duck for months without refrigeration.  Most importantly, the taste is superb.  Duck legs are a bit difficult to find in North America, but our local store in Vancouver now sells them regularly.  Nevertheless, I resolutely I get my organic ducks privately from Walter and Tony out in Chilliwack.  Here, as in Carcassonne, duck is not cheap . . . but it is truly a delicacy.  

If you prefer to avoid all the cooking while in Carcassonne, you can purchase cassoulet already fully baked in earthen casseroles.  Just reheat and you will have a truly hearty meal--all the protein you could possibly require for the next few hours.  You can see the ends of the duck legs protruding from the beans. 

The next several pictures, like the one above, were taken in Les Halles in Carcassonne, which I believe used to be where grain was sold, a majestic open market structure constructed in the 1700s and refurbished in recent years.  This type of market contains many individual "stalls", compact areas having display cases with refrigeration or shelves for ice to keep fish properly cooled.

While Les Halles would be open daily, the open market stalls in the square were set up only weekly.  I enjoyed observing the individual merchants and farmers lovingly look after their displays, wait on customers, many of whom were obviously recognized by sight and even by name.  The produce was local, for the most part, the vegetables were deep green and looking very fresh and healthy.  Other tables offered jars of things preserved or honey.

And while you wait for business, keep warm with the ever-present scarf,wool sweater and coffee.

Markets are family affairs, with children often joining parents on the Saturday morning outings.

Some farmers sold plants ready to be planted that weekend, provided the moon was in its correct phase.

Other people sold hard goods such as CDs, DVDs, clothing, shoes, underclothing (especially for women), toys, or handicrafts.  This young lady offered a wide variety of vegetables.

Hard as it may seem, it is possible to be bored at this bustling market, although it likely beats going to school.


Once shopping is concluded, the cafés are crowded, particularly the outside tables if the weather permits.  One quickly gets the impression that the French love sunshine and will take any opportunity to bask in it while enjoying conversation and an espresso.

Finally, one trudges home, often going down a narrow street with sidewalks even more narrow, stepping aside to let cars pass.  'No parking' zones seemed to be ignored during market hours, and this surely let more people drive in from the countryside to take advantage of the market's prime offerings.