Summer, with its colourful bounty of fruit and vegetables, is a distant memory. It’s the greens, oranges and reds of autumn produce that now fill market stalls in villages throughout France. This is after all the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness and the fruit is particularly bountiful this year.
Autumn squashes and pumpkins
My particular favourites are the vast array of winter squash that one sees on the market stalls in the Autumn. All that farm manure has clearly paid dividends. Giant pumpkins and warty winter squashes of every shape, size and colour take pride of place.
All over France you will come across Fêtes de la Citrouille, festivals celebrating the humble winter squash. Here, you’ll discover a huge variety of squashes and gourds including what must be the ugliest of all squashes, the warty Musquée du Maroc. Despite its appearance it tastes quite delicious oven-roasted with nothing more than liberal quantities of olive oil, salt and pepper.
The Chateau du Rivau in the Loire Valley holds an annual Fête de la Citrouille in the beautiful grounds of this Renaissance castle. At this celebration of all things winter squash, the organically grown squashes from the chateau’s own potager naturally take pride of place. Events and entertainment for adults and children alike make for a full day out if you happen to be in the area.
Mushrooms and funghi
Autumn is also the time of year when you’ll notice villagers disappearing into the woodland carrying only a wicker basket and a sharp knife. They emerge some hours later, their baskets over-flowing with golden girolles, earthy cèpes and other edible boletes.
Enquiries as to where you may find such bounty are invariably met with a very vague, very gallic wave of the arm in the general direction of the woodland ‘là-haut’. You won’t find many locals who are prepared to divulge their secret mushroom locations!
Next day, at market, the reason for their secrecy becomes apparent. There they are behind their tables of mushrooms which are sold for a fine price, thank you very much!
We always look forward to the new season apples which appear on market stalls from the end of September. Apples fresh off the trees are crunchy and crisp. They bear no resemblance to the bland, tasteless imposters that are imported out of season from the other side of the world.
Check to see if there is a pick your own apple orchard in your area. Family members of all ages love picking apples straight from the trees. The only challenge is not to pick too many!
Naturally there is a celebration associated with apple season. In many villages in France, the Fête de la Pomme is an annual event which brings together whole communities in a frenzy of apple collecting, fruit pressing and juice bottling.
On a good year, villagers bring trailer loads of apples collected from their own orchards. The apples are sorted by hand, ‘scratted’ and the pulp transferred to hessian sheets before being pressed between wooden lats. The resulting juice is bottled and pasteurised. Freshly pressed apple juice, despite its colour, is the most delicious apple juice you will ever taste!
The Espelette chilli pepper
You may have heard of the ‘Piment d’Espelette’, the red chilli pepper that is grown in the Basque area of SW France. It’s a mild chilli that holds both AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) and AOP (Appellation d’Origine Protégée) status.
Only chillis that are grown in 10 defined communes in the Basque country are entitled to use the name. Tight regulation surrounds the conditions in which they can be grown, harvested (they have to be picked by hand) and even how they can be sold.
Yes, of course there is a Fête to celebrate the harvest of the Espelette chilli pepper. At the end of October the streets of the village of Espelette come alive with the Fête du Piment. The brotherhood of the Espelette chilli pepper (la Confrérie duPiment d’Espelette) is the driving force behind the festival. Aren’t they a colourful bunch?
During the festival, market stalls line the streets selling a huge variety of produce containing the chilli pepper. Cheeses, mustards, sauces, oils and even jams, you’ll be amazed at the variety of products into which chilli can be deliciously incorporated.
Other seasonal bounty that you will find on market stalls in France includes chestnuts, hazelnuts, walnuts, figs and even saffron. For each there will be a Fête. This is France after all.