When I first came across Emily Dilling's gorgeous book, My Paris Market Cookbook: A Culinary Tour of French Flavors and Seasonal Recipes, I knew she was a kindred spirit. Emily moved to France from California to explore the markets of Paris, and later moved to the French countryside. We're honored to have her as our guest blogger this week.
Springtime Foraging in the Loir-et-Cher
by Emily Dilling
When I lived in Paris I spent a lot of time shopping. Not the kind of shopping you may think of when you think of Paris- I wasn't shopping for clothes, or shoes, or antique books along the banks of the Seine. What I spent most of my time each week doing was shopping for food (full disclosure: I also spent a lot of time seeking out great beer and wine, too).
Because the origins of my food (and wine and beer!) are important to me and because I try to always support local producers, I planned my days around where to get the best quality produce and groceries. I would work my schedule around that of my neighborhood market, the craft beer store, the natural wine cave and my favorite small shops- the fromagerie, the Italian deli, and the fishmonger, to name a few. I am lucky to have a flexible schedule given the nature of my work and I often wonder how people balance full time jobs AND food shopping in Paris. The erratic hours, the fact that the markets happen in the morning, the time to get from one side of town to the other in order to get the best bread, and not the just ok bread, it's a full time job itself.
Fortunately, food is my job and shopping for it is part of the fun. Though I must admit that I think the errands that take over your day and the overall stress of city living are part of the reason I decided to leave Paris and move to the countryside. After 10 years living in the city, a city I still love very much, I was ready for the calmness of the countryside. The change of pace didn't change my commitment to eating locally and seasonally and as soon as I was settled into my new home I started to look into the best places to shop for food in the area.
The local market and co-op were obvious options, but the most surprising- and convenient- spot for me to faire mes courses ended up being right outside my front door! Apparently the slow pace of country life extended itself as far as food shopping, as I regularly found myself foraging in fields and forests for the ingredients for my dinner.
Fall foraging brought mushrooms- chantrelles and black trumpets in our region- as well as walnuts that fell on their own accord from a large tree in my backyard. Winter brought with it wild mâche, or lamb's lettuce, and the beginnings of spring onions- which showed up early due to this year's mild weather. I quickly had foraging fever- creating new recipes around things I could find in my backyard or in the nearby biodynamically cultivated grapevines. Walnut cakes, garlicky mushroom sautés, a mâche salad cosied up to some oeufs mayonnaises- these became common meals served in my country house. I love the fleetingness of foraging, how it makes you truly appreciate the changing of the seasons and the edible treasures of each time of the year.
Now spring is upon us, and with its arrival comes a whole new bounty of wild things to put on your plate. The spring onions have reached maturity and now can be cajoled out of the ground to reveal lovely little pearl-like onion bulbs that taste great thrown on a grill or chopped up and sprinkled over fresh eggs. The nettles are at their pre-flowering prime and will soon take over ever yard and field in sight. If you are careful to pinch off the topmost tuft of leaves- touching the stem and not the tops of the leaves- you can manage to avoid the “stinging” and just get the nettle. Another new arrival is ail des ours, or wild garlic, whose bright, tender leaves can be made into a delicious pesto.
Soon there will be wild strawberries bringing ruby red spots to lush green pastures, they will be accompanied by dandelion leaves and all sorts of edible flowers. By the time I've run out of recipes for those, bright red cherries will be ripening overhead and a new culinary conquest will begin. Sometimes I miss the baskets of walnuts that filled themselves when left under the tree. Sometimes in the winter it feels like the days of wild strawberries will never come. Foraging not only makes you love, and sometimes long for, a particular time of year- it also makes you take the time to appreciate the present. While I can't wait for fresh cherry pies and roasted cherries with creamy cheeses and all tha ways my imagination will wander with the next ingredients that nature offers up- I also know that, at any given time, I can go for a walk in the woods and come back with dinner.
To learn more about Emily, and get some great recipes and tips, go to her blog, Paris Paysanne. And don't forget to order her book, My Paris Market Cookbook: A Culinary Tour of French Flavors and Seasonal Recipes.
Or better yet, you can WIN a copy with our BOOK GIVEAWAY this week! Anyone who leaves a comment on this post this week will automatically be entered into a random drawing to win a copy (drawing will be on April 15th, and winner announced in the next post).
In the COMMENTS: Mary-Anne, I'm still looking for one of those wicker market baskets! The rolling fabric one I have is foldable and practical, but not the least bit romantic. It seems I have lots of company, with my Basket Probation. Mariella, we hope to be sitting in the sun with you very soon at the Cluny marché. Natalia, well put: "Je suis Brussels, and further words are inadequate." How we hope it will be the last incident, but I fear we are in for more. And hello to my cousin Ann, thanks for checking in!