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