I remember as a child following my French grandmother (“Mamy” in French) at the farmer’s market in complete awe, as she would pick up and smell to see if the fruit was ripe enough. I was fascinated with her way of winding through the market finding the best ingredients to take home in her effortless woven bag.
Twenty years later, I am still enchanted.
Practically every Thursday, we take our baskets and set out for the market here in Marin. It’s no French farmer’s market, like the ones you’d find in the countryside of Aix-en-Provence or Paris, but it still boasts a wide range of vibrant ingredients. I follow her lead as she navigates the stalls in pursuit of the best ingredients. There’s an art to buying produce, as my Mamy would say. I even noticed when I was in Annecy last month, the French certainly have their ways of shopping the markets and it’s truly remarkable.
So this past farmer’s market, I decided to document it — I was determined to learn the tricks of the trade.
Here’s how to shop a farmer’s market like a French woman:
1. It starts with the timing.
I am always itching to get there as soon as possible. My Mamy will often wait till the last hour of the market, as she says this is the best timing. It’s true. I watched vendors start to discount the prices of the produce. They may not be the shining star, but there are plenty of dollars off the original price and it sure does work.
2. Stick with the same seller and build a friendship.
When we go for salmon, Mamy always heads to the same seller. Sometimes the other vendor may be cheaper, but she’s developed a friendship with this seller. She knows that she’s getting quality ingredients, and that its tried and true. So, rule #2 is indeed to stick to the same seller and build a relationship.
3. Pick up the produce.
I complained last week, wining about how many apricots she was going to pick up before she chose the few she wanted. She was quick to make the point that it’s important to touch, feel, and smell the produce. After many times coming home with bad fruit, point was taken! So pick up the produce, give it a squeeze, and see if it’s fragrant.
4. Ask for a taste.
I tend to be a bit more nervous about asking for a taste, but its a common thing to do. If fruit is just out of season, it’s good to get a quick slice to be sure it’s not under or over ripe.
5. Always carry a classic woven basket.
As the basket fills, it comes to life. Daffodils spilling out one side, a head of fennel out the other, the classic woven basket in hand is the ultimate way to shop a farmer’s market like a French woman.
Here are a few of my favorites: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.
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