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Le Marché d’Auch

The first in a series of posts on the best of the many thousands of farmers markets in France, this one’s on the Thursday morning market in the South-West town of Auch.

Auch is the capital of the Gers region, a pretty old town on the banks of the river Gers about 90 minutes west of Toulouse. It’s in a pretty and relatively little-visited region of rolling hills, bastide towns, and large hill-top farms, that together give the area a slightly Tuscan look and feel. I’m here now in the dead of winter, when cold winds lash in from the Atlantic and the fields are bare; but in the summer they shimmer with wheat, barley and vast ranks of golden sunflowers. It’s something of the proverbial hidden gem in France: visitors here are generally really in the know, or they own houses, or they got lost on the way from Bordeaux to Biarritz.

Enough preamble. The market itself is one of the best around, albeit small, but considerably more local than many other ‘farmers markets’. By which I mean that what you’re looking for in farmers’ markets are stalls showing local and seasonal produce, that’s not travelled far, that was picked within the last 24 hours, and that was carefully and (if at all possible) sustainably grown. It’s wrong to think that just because it’s a ‘local’ market, it’s local produce. Many of the so-called farmers’ markets in France are not much more than mobile super-markets, selling produce from Spain, Morocco and further afield. Indeed they buy from the same distributors that the supermarkets themselves do. Moving around in giant vans, they’ll sell you bananas in February, kiwis in Normandy or asparagus for hallowe’en; and all manner of other seasonally and geographically impossible oddities.

In Auch, on the other hand, I found a great selection of local producers. I asked the owner of the ‘Lutte Integrée’ sign what it meant exactly – it translates roughly to ‘holistic struggle’. I had pictures of him saving his runner beans from slugs with incantations and witchcraft. Insead, he described how he keeps pests off his fields using a combination of traditional tricks and products – the most fascinating of which involves (as a last resort) buying tubes of specific insects which he lets loose on the fields depending on what scourge he’s currently trying to get rid of. Yes, that’s right, you can buy tubes of ladybirds in the post, to eat up your aphids and save your salad. I know gardeners who do this; but didn’t realise it was feasible on a larger scale. Nonetheless, we filled two baskets for eight people for five days, for about 15 EUR. All excellent, tasty stuff. You can eat like a king buying from these markets, for about 30 EUR a week, and add saving the world one turnip at a time into the bargain.

Pick of the crop, though, was the jam-man. The obssessed jam-maker is a particular French favourite of mine, and can be found occasionally in markets, or simply on the side of the road plying his wares. Many of them bear strange resemblance to bumblebees. There’s a guy outside the village of Bergheim in Alsace who has a similar gig: he sets up a stall and sells about 350 types of jam, jelly and honey that he makes. The same in Auch. You can see the serried ranks of his jars, many of them made from quite obscure recipes or fruit. The marvel is that he sells enough to make a living, and the fact that he’s here in the winter, when there are really no tourists around, speaks to the local population’s taste for real, old-fashioned, home-made food. I was only too happy to join in with my 4.50 EUR and walk away with a pot of his elderflower jelly.

Jack is happy to share all he knows about the farmer’s markets in France (though you’re not getting your hands on his elderflower jelly). 

The obsessed jam-maker is a particular French favourite of mine.

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