Grand Tours; Heaven Is an Early Morning Trip to a Normandy Market ; Adventures in Literature: Food Writer Susan Loomis Savours the Thrill of the Weekly Shopping Trip in Her Small French Town
Loomis, Susan, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)
Born in Orlando, Florida, the food journalist Susan Loomis spent her childhood travelling the world with her father, an officer in the US Army. Finally, she settled in France with her husband Michael and their two children and restored a dilapidated convent in the centre of Louviers, Normandy. It is here that Loomis writes her popular expat journals-cum- cookbooks, and opened the cookery school where she runs courses during spring and autumn. This is an extract from her most recent book, `Tarte Tatin' (the sequel to `On Rue Tatin'), detailing further recipes and her latest accounts of a foodie's idyll in Normandy.
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I love waking up on Saturday morning; even from inside my bedroom I can feel the lilt in the air because it's my favourite day of the week, market day.
I like to get to the market by 8.30am. If I go any earlier the vendors won't have their stands fully set up; much later and the crowds who at that hour are still at home taking their last sips of coffee and wiping the crumbs of baguette from the corners of their mouths will descend to block the passages, chat with the vendors and stand in long queues in front of the most coveted produce. By getting there before them I can do all of these things at a leisurely pace, and still be home in time to put in a good, full day of cooking.
I have a prescribed order to my marketing, which rarely varies. I walk out of our courtyard and head right down the main street of town to the bank's cash machine. I am already in heaven as I watch the street wake up: the florists are putting out the last plants and buckets of flowers on the pavement; Brigitte, the owner of Laure Boutique, is arranging the precarious stacks of baskets and postcard racks that announce her store; and one of the women who works at the charcuterie is carefully spelling out the daily specials on a sandwich board outside the shop. I always, every time, admire her slightly Victorian handwriting and the way she manages to produce a perfectly straight, perfectly justified list.
Brigitte looks up as I pass, takes off her glasses and we kiss twice on each cheek, then I go on. When I turn the corner from the main street I can hear the hum of the market, which will build to more of a crescendo as it swings into its full, mid-morning rhythm. When I turn again, into the market, I get the same feeling as when I set foot on the dance floor: the rhythm takes over and I pick up my pace, straighten my track and hold my head a bit higher as I meet the sounds and colours.
I refer to this street as "goat cheese alley" because the goat's cheese producer is here with his soft, creamy fresh cheeses. I don't dare buy any now because they're so fragile they need special handling or they'll be torn to mush, but I smile and nod to the producer, who is usually sharing a rillettes sandwich with his neighbour, the produits de luxe, or luxury products man across the way. I'll buy cheese from him just before I leave the market to return home.
I smile at the produits de luxe man, too. He has the most exquisite smoked herring, fat, luscious fillets of salt cod, dried and peppered mackerel fillets, gorgeous smoked salmon and trout. I buy the herring and the salt cod most often - the first to serve with boiled potatoes and fresh onions, the latter to serve in dozens of different ways, though my favourite preparation is a silken, garlicky puree called brandade.
Next to him is the plant man who, each year, has the most beautiful pansies and petunias. I always buy royal blue pansies for the autumn and winter window boxes, which I like to mix with white, or white and salmon. Come spring and I plant pots with his deep purple petunias, which fill our courtyard with their vanilla aroma. …