Off to mar­ket

The French love buy­ing chick­ens at lo­cal mar­kets. Ex-pat Ja­nine Marsh re­ports

Country Smallholding - - Feature French Hens -

Spring is when my neigh­bours head to the lo­cal mar­kets to buy birds for the year ahead. Street mar­kets are a way of life here in France and poul­try stalls al­ways have the big­gest foot­print. My lo­cal mar­ket at Hes­din in the Seven Val­leys has two poul­try sell­ers – fierce ri­vals, their plots are op­po­site each other just out­side the main square. The own­ers ar­rive at 6am each Thurs­day morn­ing in very big lor­ries packed with crates of cluck­ing chick­ens, quack­ing ducks, squeak­ing quail and squawk­ing geese.

They un­pack the boxes and cages of noisy fowl and set them out on the pave­ment and tables for passers-by to ad­mire and hope­fully buy so they don’t have to pack them all up again. A con­voy of lit­tle old French ladies with big trol­leys ar­rive to check out the mer­chan­dise, they nar­row their eyes at the birds, hag­gle with the sell­ers and leave happy with their pur­chases. Ex-pat Brits like me ar­rive much later. We start off in the café, fu­elled by tiny cups of oil-like es­presso that will keep us awake for a week and feel­ing good from eat­ing our fill of golden flaky just­baked crois­sants. Then we am­ble around the mar­ket eye­ing the prod­ucts – ar­ti­san made cheeses, jewel-like cakes, and Johnny Hal­l­i­day (the late, great, French equiv­a­lent of Elvis) T-shirts.

Two sorts

Ex-pats fall into two sorts when it comes to buy­ing birds. Those that take it se­ri­ously and make com­ments about the healthy feath­ers and strong legs. And those that buy the birds be­cause they’re pretty or for some other rea­son that has noth­ing to do with how good they might be at lay­ing eggs.

I fall into the lat­ter group and have a ten­dency to buy the birds that no one else wants. I’m a to­tal sucker when it’s a sunny day – I feel sorry for the heated crea­tures in cages and that alone is enough for me to buy them and take them home. And I ab­so­lutely can’t re­sist one that’s on its own and has to go back with­out the com­pan­ions it came with. I find it heart­break­ing. The ugly ones, the ones that have some­thing wrong with them, the lonely and un­wanted – they’re the ones I buy.

Once home they’re in­tro­duced to the rest of the group. ‘Meet Clarissa,’ I say, or ‘meet Josephine… Betty… Bertha… Beat­tie’. They all have names, though I ad­mit that with 27 of them cur­rently, I do some­times get them mixed up.

My neigh­bour Jean-Claude thinks this is a crazy way to be­have. “You must not give them names – it will make it harder to make them ready for the pot.” De­spite telling him numer­ous times that will never hap­pen as they are pets, he still lives in hope.

My lat­est chicken buy from a flea mar­ket seller is rather scruffy and lack­ing feath­ers but very bossy. “Moult­ing,” said JeanClaude. “That’s no spring chicken.”

Ah well, meet Vic­to­ria. Long may she reign in the pen. Ja­nine Marsh is the au­thor of My Good Life in France.

A chicken stall at the mar­ket INSET: No spring chicken... one of the birds at the mar­ket

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