The Market in Le Neubourg

Just an hour or so from Paris is the medieval market at Le Neubourg where each wednesday locals crowd the market, choosing their fresh fruits and vegetable, regional raw-milk cheeses and just-churned golden-yellow crocks of butter, along with meats and hand-stuffed sausages from the jovial local bouchers, doling out crispy morsels of sautéed charcuterie.

It’s the kind of market where if you ask the poultry person for a quail, they’ll stick their hands in a box, there’ll be a flurry of activity within, the unsettling sound of ruffling feathers and squawking…then calm. A few seconds later, your dinner will emerge. The medieval market at Le Neubourg is the real thing and has existed for hundreds of years and some of the wares are not for the squeemish.

Nowadays you’ll find vendors selling crisp frites sprinkled liberally with crystals of sel de Guérande, cheery Arabic vendors hawking fragrant olive oil soaps, and rubber-booted fishermen presiding over piles of glistening mussels from nearby Brittany.

Being a baker, I think (and hope), has good karma. No animals have been harmed in the making of any of my desserts. So aside from the live birds and furry bunnies for sale, what wowed me of course was the abundance of berries on display. Judging from the sweet perfume of the raspberries and the plumpness of the currants (as well as the stained fingers of the farmers) they’d obviously just been picked.

Perky sour cherries, which they’ve dubbed for some reason ‘cerises anglaise’.
Unusual crispy white cherries, a variety I’ve never seen before.
Black currants, red gooseberries and loganberries, which I’ve never found in France. The vendor told me they were framboises américain (American raspberries).
Tiny white and black currants, called cassis. Black currants have heavy tannins when eaten raw, and but are unctuous and deeply-flavored when cooked. They’re widely used (and best known) for the syrupy crème de cassis.
A jumble of juicy and vibrant summer melons.

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  • Alisa
    July 16, 2005 5:23am

    I so enjoy your blog, and I want to go to Le Neubourg now!

    Although I had heard of loganberries, I don’t think that I have ever seen them before. From the peek in the photo they look to me like raspberries – but I am guessing that “in person” they don’t? Do you know the difference in flavor? shape?

  • July 16, 2005 8:10am

    Hi Alisa: Loganberries look a bit like raspberries, but are more elongated, slightly firmer, have a more pastel-soft red color, and are a bit more tangy and agressive. The taste is slightly wild or ‘sauvage’. If you’ve ever had a dark olallieberry, that’s a cross between a loganberry and a blackberry.

    I thought it was so neat to find them here in France. Perhaps the farmer brought some seeds back from elsewhere or they’re native to France as well, but not widely cultivated in our adopted homeland.


  • July 16, 2005 9:41pm

    tag you’re it! a meme about your favorite childhood food memories, can’t wait to hear them!

  • Sue
    July 17, 2005 4:06am

    Hi David. I am really enjoying your blog. You write so wittily. I always laugh. Anyway, your two items on Le Neubourg and the Affineur in Rouen brought back memories of my trip there 3 years ago with you and Susan L. The video I took of Le Neubourg still fascinates my students whenever I show it. They certainly aren’t used to seeing the live animals, especially knowing what their fate will most likely be. I also have a video of the large glass cases with whole pigs heads complete with snouts for them to see. That really grosses them out. Fun memories. Thanks for the blog.

  • July 17, 2005 4:09am

    I spent 18 long, expensive years in therapy trying to erase childhood memories, and here you come along asking me to bring them back??

    I’m just kidding. My mother was really interesting and a terrific cook.
    (And my therapist was not that expensive.
    Nor did I spend that long in therapy. A few shocks and I was cured…)
    Will respond soon…

  • July 17, 2005 5:03pm

    Greetings from rural Missouri!
    Just linked to you from Eggbeater (sorry, but I’m the one who tagged Shuna for the childhood food memories meme. . .) Gorgeous photos. Love your writing.

    Re your comment on cookbook instructions “one octopus, cleaned:” I was having very similar thoughts recently when I started hunting online for turtle recipes (they were attacking my strawberries and my mind just sort of drifted to eating them. . .) The recipes (some very odd ones from Louisiana) would simply say, “1 turtle!”

    Can’t wait to read more of your posts.