Market day there, market day here…..

We’ve just come back from a Saturday morning strolling round Richmond market.  It’s a pity for Richmond that our most recent Saturday-strolling-round-market experiences date from our days in the Ariège.  The Saturday morning market in Saint Girons is an incomparable experience which Richmond couldn’t match.

Saint Girons has fewer than 7000 residents, but it’s the administrative centre of the Couserans, and the centre of gravity not only for its own inhabitants, but for townspeople, villagers and farmers for miles around.  Saturday is the day they come to stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables, charcuterie, cheeses, dried fruits, hardware and haberdashery, plants for the potager, and to link up with friends and neighbours over a coffee or a beer in a local bar.  Saturday is a day when they might themselves be stallholders.  Among the joys of the market is the pleasure of finding small stalls selling just a small selection of say, goats’ cheeses, produced that very week by a ‘petit producteur’, or asparagus picked no more than 24 hours before, and only available for a few short weeks in April or early May, or home-produced charcuterie, or mushrooms and fungi foraged from the woodlands and meadows round and about.  There’ll usually be a crowd surrounding these specialised stalls, which may not be there every week, or in every season, because they can only put in an appearance when they have enough good things to sell.  And the market sprawls between two squares, along the banks of the river, and up a couple of other streets.  You won’t get away in a hurry.

Compare Richmond in Yorkshire.  It too is the main town in its region, Richmondshire, and only a little larger than Saint Girons: it has somewhat more than 8000 inhabitants.  But its market barely extends beyond the handsome market square.  There are several good greengrocery stalls, an excellent fish stall, which is well-known throughout the region, others selling home-produced sausages and other prepared meat products, and plant stalls with herbs, bedding plants, bulbs and seeds.  Best of all is the wonderful cheese van, ‘The Cheesey Grin’, whose knowledgeable, enthusiastic and cheerful owner has the best variety of cheeses from Britain and Europe, from small producers, brought out for sale when at its very best, that we’ve seen in quite a long time.  But that’s all. You can be done and dusted in 15 minutes.  I fear that markets, or at least the ones local to us, are in decline.  Ripon too has noticeably fewer stalls of any kind than was the case only a very few years ago, and a smaller number of stalls selling well-produced or sourced local food.  Still, small shops selling these things seem slowly to be on the way up, so perhaps we’re exchanging one kind of market for another. Perhaps it’s not a death knell.  As a French friend of ours said recently, ‘I don’t hope so.’

14 thoughts on “Market day there, market day here…..”

  1. Thanks for taking me back in time! My dad lived in Paris for many years. When I visited, I would always walk the market which was on Tuesday and Thursday and Saturday. Here in the states there are farmers markets on Saturday. But nothing in comparison to France. The French attitude about food and eating is what drives these markets – I think. The French love their food and what else can you say about a country which has over 400 different kinds of cheeses?

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    1. Now, I can’t let you get away with that. Recent studies have shown we have even more cheeses here in the UK! In both cases, of course, many are variations on the same thing. Quite a lot of the cheeses in the Ariège strongly resemble one another, and the same can be said of some English cheeses. What I find sad is fhat we Brits are happy to sample cheeses from all over Europe – France especially, but the French don’t think we have anything but Cheddar, and you rarely see English cheeses in France.

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  2. I don’t think markets are truly a part of British life any more. Expensive markets are there for those playing at “foodie” but they are not a real part of community life as in France, Spain, Italy or other countries where they continue to play an important role in every day life…I don’t know for how long that will continue, but for now it’s real.

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  3. I totally agree. However, I slightly worry that even in those countries, like France, where they are part of everyday life, it’s older people who keep them going. Our local market in France didn’t have so many younger buyers.

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  4. Selling in these markets must be such hard work, on top of the hard work of farming or producing the food. We just go to the markets and marvel at the goodies, without thinking about what time the vendors got up, to load their goods, and how long they’ll be on their feet. I hate to think that the markets are in decline, though!

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    1. Yes, certainly wouldn’t be a market trader. Maybe on a sunny day in June. However, one I was talking to the other day wouldn’t have it any other way. A varied, interesting, if tough life, he reckoned

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  5. Our small shops were frightened of our small Farmers’ Market at first but grew to love it as they gained more custom in the rest of the week due to shoppers coming to the market.

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  6. Our local market is truly hopeless, one reasonable veggie stall but I never buy from him as the farm shops here are so good. And then it’s the usual English market stalls – nylon clothes, unlock your mobile phone, really cheap but of dubious quality meat. I could go on…

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      1. But I was! sort of. When I had an antique shop we regularly did antique fairs – more often than not in muddy agricultural showgrounds and the November/December ones were always the most profitable.

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