If Terence Conran could sell French country style to the English in the 20th century, why shouldn't I sell English patisserie to the French in the 21st century?
If only it were that easy. I hadn't reckoned on French bureaucracy, weather and good old xenophobia. But hey, life on the traditional French markets is full of surprises so I thought I should share them with the wider world.
After 20 years living in the centre of uber style-conscious London, I shipped out to live in the rural bliss of west central France, leaving all semblance of chic and style behind me together with my manicured nails to live in muddy boots and ripped jeans to work on the 'renovation of our French country ruin'. Eventually finding a need for contact with humanity in whatever form, I came upon the idea of selling fairy cakes to the French. Only problem was; I didn't have a kitchen!
This blog will be a document to the success, or otherwise of my enterprise along with the tales, trials and emotional rollercoasters of life on the market in France. I hope you will enjoy.......

quintessentially English

quintessentially English
........but in France!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Sunshine and flowers

This week I remembered some of our reasons for moving to France. The sun is shining again and the ground is warming up so quickly compared with the English island soil. Local farmers are charging about on fifty year old tractors, cutting , turning and drying hay in such a short period it baffles me, having been used to my childhood haymaking taking forever, with showers outweighing the sunshine! My drive to the market takes me down a little winding lane, and this week it was a veritable explosion of wild flowers, all mixed in with roadside crops and blue skies. So, that's why I'm here!

Despite the idyllic wildflower-filled journey, my time on the market wasn't quite so uplifting. This week my two girlfriends and morning coffee partners have decided to leave our market for the summer season and migrate to their respective costal origins, so our ritual coffee was the last until September! Symptomatic of the French financial malaise; our little market seems to be slowly diminishing, less tourists, less money and fewer traders. The picture of a row of bored bums, epitomises our lack of trade,how often should you see a group of traders all sat in a row doing nothing at eleven o'clock on a sunny market day!

Luckily for me, the French still love their stomachs and cakes form part of their essential shopping list, so although my sales are not soaring as I had expected with the start of the summer season, I still have my loyal clients who are hooked on butterfly cakes and chocolate brownies!

As promised here is a picture of the famous chocolate and mint cream cakes that were such a success last week ( I photographed them quickly this time!) They have inspired a local English lady to order three big victoria sandwich cakes for her birthday party this weekend, so I am pleased that I can bring a little memory of home to someone!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Rainy days

Well the rain arrived here in our corner of France and this week has been a wash-out on the market! My early morning coffee and croissant with the girls stretched a little further into the morning as we looked out on the dismal weather and wondered if it was really worth going out there at all!
Still stuffed up with the cold I caught last week, I barely managed to make myself understood to the natives; the words 'meringue' and 'gateaux' don't come out too well with an English accent and congested sinuses!
Despite the rain, summer is well on it's way here, the air is warm, the green shoots are coming up in the garden and romance and procreation seem to be in the air. One of my colleagues who sells giftware on the market announced to me earlier this year that her partner had decided that they should try for a baby, she was over the moon, he seemed to think it would happen 'just like that', and the pair of them embarked in typical French hypochondriac fashion, on a series of medical appointments and check-ups. Both having been given the 'all clear', the project has been under way for a few months, with no results. This week my friend took me to one side after a strained phone call from her partner, in which I understood that something precious had been broken, but not knowing what. It turned out that she had that morning decided to do a home pregnancy test before leaving for work, only being a couple of days past her usual monthly cycle, I wondered if she wasn't a bit over keen, but she said that the test was negative, and not wanting to leave her sleeping partner in ignorance, she left the test on the kitchen table for him to see when he awoke. The resulting phone call was from a distraught boyfriend who was still in ignorance having woken up to find that their newly adopted dog had chewed the test up, and he couldn't read it!
On the subject of 'sap rising' I should tell you that my friendly veg man was back on the market today, of course no-one mentioned his disappearance of last week, but he was clean shaven and on top selling form today again! I bought some of his freshly picked red onions. I have previously used them caremelised in breadsticks, but this evening made a caremelised red onion and goat's cheese tart, which was really succulent and colourful with fresh thyme, salad and radishes from our garden.

My best selling cake this week was the invention of my little boy who requested a chocolate cake with mint for his birthday, he has a wonderful habit of 'grazing' on my mint bush when he passes, and I find it difficult to discourage such a healthy habit - so much better than sweets!
In fact my chocolate sponges were such a success that I had none left to photograph for you, but suffice it to say, that layers of chocolate sponge, peppermint cream icing and chocolate ganache went down a treat in today's miserable weather! I'll do them again and show you!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Ups and downs

I was expecting to give you a view of the market through torrential rain and storms today, but we were all relieved to be out in almost perfect sunshine, so I am showing my new lime and coconut fairy cakes instead!
Unusually for me I arrived early at the market and so was ready to set up before my friendly veg man had turned up. Not wanting to block his parking space, I piled up all my stuff; table, parasol, cool box etc, and waited for him to arrive, fending off potential usurpers of his pitch and eventually apologising to his habitual early-bird clients for his late arrival, blaming it on possible flooding from the torrential rain storms of the previous night. Having given up on his arrival I set up my stall, and went to join the other traders for our early morning coffee and croissant in the cafe, that is where I learned the real reason for the friendly veg man's no-show. It seems that my friendly veg man has been a little more than 'friendly' with a certain lady for some time and that the night before his wife had confronted him about his mistress. After the inevitable row, he left to spend the night with his mistress and so of course there was no-one to get up at 5am to pick and prepare the vegetables for the market! I don't know what made me think that life in the country was all simplicity and innocence, It seems more complicated than 'desperate housewives' at times! Of course as you can imagine there were plenty of barbed comments relating to the relative sizes of cucumbers and the voracity of the live lobsters on the fish stall today!
Because of the uncertain weather we were quiet on the market today which left us all feeling a little strange, what with the absence of our friendly veg man, the wine and foie gras couple having decided that business isn't good enough to spend the time traveling to our market, and the sausage seller still on a three week spell on the Paris market circuit, where they make more money than in three months here; our little family felt quite diminished. The tourist season hasn't yet started properly and our little spa town has little to offer out of season visitors, so customers are hard to come by at the moment, hence my delight at being approached by the manager of the town's most chic hotel. She passed by a few weeks ago and was tempted by my lavender cakes. Having tried them, she came back for more and asked if I would be interested in supplying her hotel and it's associated health spa with cakes for their bar and cafe, of course I jumped at the chance and was even more pleased to be told that the hotel would be starting a series of early evening music and 'aperitif' evenings, and would like to add English tea and cakes to their repertoire. It seems that my infiltration of French tastes has started at last. Now, can I sell them some pretty pink cupcake coat hooks too do you think?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

New additions

In the world of commerce they say that one must constantly update and innovate. I have grasped the bull by the horns and invested in some supplementary products for my 'typically English' look on my market stall. This week I launched the 'design and decoration' department in my very small way! When the box arrived with my 'nouveautes' I was jumping up and down with excitement at my treasures; patchwork union jack bunting, embroidered pink chiffon fairycake coat hooks, ceramic sugar pots in the shape of cupcakes, all pretty and very english! But, how to display them? My usual cake table lies flat and would not show off my objects to advantage , so I considered clamping display stands to the table and even hand painting boxes to match my pastel coloured union jack table! This all seemed very complicated and time was running out when my good friends the 'optimistic baker' and his wife arrived to ask if I would be interested in a display table that folds flat, but opens as a stepped display unit - serendipity is really one of my favorite words!
So I was all set this week for my new look stall. I call my friend the 'optimistic baker' because he has been in so many sticky situations and always comes out smiling and convinced that he will one day conquer the world. My very first day on the market was a spring day, and I had my little picnic table, some cakes and very little else, of course it started to rain and I was ready to pack up and go home when the 'optimistic baker' offered to shelter me and my cakes under his parasol, so began a friendship that has really helped me and my business to get going. The 'optimistic baker' is a fantastic market salesman with the gift of the gab and a smile for even the most miserable customers. He gained kudos by having the 'petite anglaise' on his stall and I gained sales by being allied with the best selling baker on the market. The 'optimistic baker' and his wife worked seven days a week, running a village bakery and also selling on five different markets during the week, living on about three hours sleep a day and adrenalin, the pair were a formidable force, undercutting the prices of other bakeries, and still managing to produce really great bread. The drawback ( or maybe not) of being with the 'optimistic baker' was that I became privy to all the personal history of their relationship and business. One of the first thing he told me, almost with a sort of perverse pride, was that his wife had cheated on him and that he was sexually very inexperienced. I was a little thrown by this, and wondered if it was some kind of chat-up line, but no, it seems that he told everyone the story, and his wife too was very open about the affair. The more disturbing moment came when he started telling me about their 'swinging' evenings and wondered if my husband and I might be interested! Wife swapping not being quite my style I declined, but the flood gates were opened and stories of visits to clubs and strange dinner parties began to come out. It seems that this was the 'optimistic baker' s way of accepting infidelity in his marriage without actually having to cuckold his wife who he loves dearly, I'm not sure that I understand the attraction of a swingers club, but it is certainly a way of brightening up a rainy morning on the market to hear of low lit corners with copulating strangers draped over the furniture! More on life and love on the market to come, in the meantime I leave you with a typical spring sunshine picture - blue skies and mock orange blossom, a perfect combination.