|Tomates anciennes |
(literally "ancient tomato," but best translated as "heirloom tomato").
The first time I took a bite from fruit I had purchased at the grand marché in Aix-en-Provence, it gave me pause. Literally. I stopped chewing, held the apple at arm's length, and examined it as though seeing an apple for the very first time.
What is up with this apple? I thought. Why does it taste so . . . good? It's just so . . . apple-y.
But that's the thing - it WAS so apple-y. It was exactly what I would imagine an apple to taste like if I had never eaten one before: perfectly ripe, with a crisp red skin and juicy flesh. It tasted like nothing I had ever eaten in the United States.
Then it happened again. This time with coffee: a milky café crème. I savored that coffee for the better part of an hour. Then with, of all things, a chicken sandwich. Everything just tasted . . . better. More real.
In the four months I spent in Aix-en-Provence, from September through December 2005, I learned to love food when previously I had merely thought of it as sustenance, just something I had to do to stay alive. I learned that real tomatoes are not mealy, like the ones that come in packs of three in the refrigerated aisle.* I learned that herbs de Provence can be sprinkled on everything from spaghetti to pizza. I learned how to cook Thanksgiving stuffing from scratch.** I learned that goat cheese is the best thing that ever happened to me.
|Banane (uh, banana - but you figured that one out, right? RIGHT?!).|
|Le fromage! (The cheese! But you knew that one, too.)|
Upon my return to Aix, I made sure that on our first morning out, Dan saw the grand marché. Now, Dan was raised on a farm in Western New York so he knows a thing or two about fresh food. But when he bit into those ruby-ripe strawberries, all he could do was smile.
Moral of the story? Fresh food is good food and good food is fresh food. End scene.
|Tomates coeur de boeuf.|
(Literally "heart of beef tomatoes" though I have no idea why.
Maybe because cow's hearts really look like that?
If so, then - ew.).
|La chèvre (meaning both "the goat" and the cheese that comes from goats).|
*Tomatoes that come from the refrigerated aisle will always taste like crap because TOMATOES ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO BE REFRIGERATED. Set them in a bowl on your kitchen table, out of the sunlight, and they'll do just fine. I have a weird little glass dish/pedestal that my mom gave me, and I put our tomatoes on it one at a time with a sign that reads Prince Tom Ato. I think the tomatoes like it - builds their confidence.
**We cooked Thanksgiving dinner for twenty people in a toaster oven. The turkey was sawed in half and we didn't eat until midnight, but my stuffing was called a "Thanksgiving miracle." Woo doggy! Those Pilgrims got nothing on me!
|The haul from our first trip to the grand marché. Total cost? About 12€.|
Post-Script: If you can't tell from this post, I AM PASSIONATE ABOUT FRESH, HEALTHY FOOD. I believe the American system of "Big Food" is single-handedly ruining our collective health and contributing to the weakened economy. If you want to read more about what is happening, Michael Pollan's website is a good place to start: his articles on American food culture are thoughtful and well-researched, and his site includes links to many other terrific organizations.