Food and drink are the reason we are motorhomers. We had travelled extensively in France, travelling by car and staying in hotels. We ate well, most of the time, but we knew we were missing so much. We would walk around markets and see the wonderful produce that was available but we were not be able to make use of it. We could buy bread, cheese, cold meats and a bit of salad stuff for a picnic lunch but we could not do any more than that.
We were in the market in Nîmes with friends and we shared our frustration at not being able to take advantage of the fabulous produce and other food on display. When we got home both couples were determined to do something about it, at that point we thought we would buy a house somewhere in France. Indeed, that is what our friends did but as we got to the point where we were in a position to do something our plans started to change.
We realised that to see all of France (and Spain, Italy, Portugal and wherever) we would still be tied to a car, train or planes and hotels. It would just be that our starting point, would be in France. We realised a fixed base in France would not solve our problem. As we approached the end of our first careers and would be able to spend more time travelling we realised a single base and hotels would not satisfy us.
That is when we started to look at the possibility of using a motorhome; a touring caravan was always out of the question. My reputation as a "petrolhead", a car enthusiast, would go out of the window — I would risk being ostracised by my fellow enthusiasts or at least suffer interminable ribbing!. We had been inspired by the slow food and slow travel movements so becoming "snails", as one friend calls us, and taking our home with us seemed to offer a solution.
After initial trials with a VW campervan we bought our Mandale Liberté, the story of which has been documented here on The Winding Way. What we have only touched on is that one of the Liberté's attractions was its full kitchen, it provides the opportunity to make the most of the food we find on markets, especially so far French markets. This article is a lead into a series of frequent articles on food and cooking in a motorhome.
Now we are in a position to make more of the produce we find on French markets we have noticed changes that have taken place over the 40 years we have been travelling in France. We are much more conscious of the brightly coloured boxes of produce with Dutch, Spanish and other languages on the labels. No doubt the markets have always sold imported out if season fruit and vegetables but there does seem to be more of it, especially in the large, and especially permanent, markets.
Last summer we started to look out for the traditional stall holder that we remember from our early visits to France, especially in the smaller village markets. Much more of a rarity these days is the woman off uncertain age with her baskets each containing a few kilogrammes of freshly harvested in-season vegetables obviously from her garden or small holding. Or the apparently retired gentleman with his garden chair and boxes and baskets of produce according to the season; often spending more time yarning with like-minded fellows than working on his sales patter. Not for them the consistently sized and shaped vegetables of the supermarket, its real food, fresh food.
They do still exist but not in the numbers that we remember. The small producers are also still there if one is prepared to look, and probably get to the market early before their products have been sold. I still remember the apricot jam being sold from a small folding table, it could hardly be called a stall, in the Saturday market at Chalon-sur-Saône. The maker had a few dozen jars of his jam for sale. Without doubt it was the best apricot jam I have ever tasted. I am choosy, apricot jam has been my favourite since my teens, all too long ago. After getting the Chalon jam back to the motorhome and trying it I regretted not buying a dozen jars! I just hope he is still selling his wares when we visit Chalon again this summer.
This year we will be actively searching out the small markets and small producers. They need support so that they do not vanish. They are at the heart of slow food, good food. We will do our small bit to support them. As and when we travel beyond France we will continue to seek out the best of local food and share our findings with our readers. The food and markets will be a key theme of our travels this year.
The markets and the food will be a major theme of our visit to France this summer. Our trip should provide enough material for us to make this food series a regular feature of The Winding Way. Future articles will also feature recipes that we have discovered or created to use the produce we find on our travels.
If you love slow, local food then please bookmark this section as we aim to regularly share our experiences and thoughts as we cook and eat our winding way across the UK, France and beyond.