Writers share food stories


This past week on social media, we asked readers to submit an interesting food story, either written by themselves or someone else.


Jessica Randhawa, the head chef, recipe creator, photographer, and writer behind The Forked Spoon says that The most interesting food article she's written lately is her Olive Oil vs. Avocado Oil post. "Avocado Oil has been making a huge splash on the food scene recently," says Jessica. "Writing about the history, uses, applications, and nutritional values made me appreciate the differences and intricacies of each oil."


Darren Wayland, writer and founder of BBQHost.com says that the most detailed, comprehensive, and interesting article he's written lately was this 10,000-word guide to grilling. "I received a lot of positive feedback about it via our newsletter," Darren says.


Maryvonne Fent, one of the writers that we featured recently on Eat Like a Writer (see her interview here), sent me a lovely story this past week. It's an excerpt from one of her short stories, which features a description of la rue Mouffetard, one of the most famous open-air food markets in old Paris. I relished the way Maryvonne described the variety of foods throughout the market. Her excerpt, and provided illustration, are below, for your reading pleasure.


LA RUE MOUFFETARD IN PARIS


I grew up a few blocks from one of the oldest streets in Paris, the famed Rue Mouffetard. Located on the left bank, it runs south, winding down from a fair-sized hill that houses the Luxembourg Gardens and the Pantheon. On the north side of the Luxembourg, the Boulevard St. Michel flows down towards the River Seine carrying streams of students to the Sorbonne and the renowned faculties that have made their home in the Quartier Latin for hundreds of years.


Nowadays, the Rue Mouffetard is a hip street where rich Parisians remodel the ancient buildings to house computer savvy lofts and sky-lit artist studios but I remember it as a smelly street blending the ripeness of melons with the sour smell of venison, an almost medieval street, wet and slippery from the hosing of the daily open-air market.


Christmas was almost upon us and unusual for the season, the weather had remained dry and clear for weeks; the high skies sparkled with brutal light and short gusts of Arctic winds found their way up the tortuous market corridor. From the middle of the street one could hear the shrill barking of a pet seal the fishmonger kept in a slimy wooden playpen to the delight of customers young and old. The seal was always the children’s first stop and for a few cents, customers could buy a handful of yesterday’s catch to feed it, and no one seemed to mind the fishy fingers. Displayed on beds of slick green and black algae were all kinds of fresh fish, mackerel, sardines, tuna, hake, speckled sole, cod, eel, and my mother who knew each kind by name would point and tell me which seas they came from. They were displayed like trophies on tiered racks, so fresh they appeared to look straight at us with their round unblinking eyes, as a bare electric bulb swung free over them and drew sequined rainbows on their scaly backs.


That Christmas, the street was more alive and colorful than ever before. It was filled with sounds and scents captured in the weathered awnings and overhanging balconies of this timeworn street. During the night, truckloads of vegetables had arrived from Normandy, Brittany and the Loire Valley. Winter blood-oranges had come from Spain, avocados, peanuts and grapes from Algeria. There were large jars of black olives and wooden barrels of olive oil from Greece, thyme, rosemary, oregano, basil and lavender from the south of France, as well as colorful table cloths, carved wooden spoons and “santons”, those painted Christmas figurines Provence is famous for. All the merchandise was propped-up side by side on a slant to afford a better view.


Some farmers dressed in regional costumes sold their eggs, white, mottled and brown. They had brought baskets full of pungent cheese, ripe Camembert and Brie, aged Muenster, chunks of blue veined Roquefort, but also catered to gentler tastes with goat cheese, thick fresh cream and sweet or salted butter. Others had set up tables with homemade sausages and patés that reeked of onion and garlic. They all hailed the shoppers and forced upon them free samples of their provincial delights.


As for butcher shops, there were three kinds to choose from. At the bottom of the street, sides of beef and lamb hung on large hooks inside the doorway of the “Boucherie”. Across the street, the “Boucherie Chevaline” displayed and sold only horsemeat. All pork cuts and products were sold in several “Charcuteries”. Forced to compete, the various butchers called out loudly and waved the passerby’s inside their store without shame, the way hustlers do in the red light districts of most European cities.


I liked walking the length of the market, clutching my mother’s hand or shopping bag. Though I pulled on her skirt when she stayed too long in one place or got busy gossiping with acquaintances I didn’t mind it when she stopped near Mr. Dupin’s Boulangerie. I never tired of peeping in the open basement window beyond where, ghostly looking men dressed in white, pushed long wooden palettes loaded with dough into the mouth of roaring ovens and retrieved crusty golden baguettes. The tantalizing smell would pull me closer and closer as surely as a rope until I was halfway through the window.


As a baker Mr. Dupin rated highly, but as a confectioner he was a local hero, and after all these years I still think of him as an artist for he celebrated each season with a tableau he made out of chocolate. For Easter he sculpted large bittersweet church bells that sheltered light brown chocolate squirrels and birds, white chocolate rabbits, colorful roosters and reddish hens that sat on nests overflowing with tiny eggs. In summer he gave life to chocolate mermaids attended by starfish, seahorses, dolphins and whales, all entertaining a solid sugar Neptune. In autumn his display would be lined with brown leaves and groves of chocolate trees sheltering does, deer, and playful fawns. The Christmas displays had always been my favorite but that particular year he truly outdid himself with a tableau in which Santa flew his sled high over a ginger bread model of the Rue Mouffetard whose sidewalks and roofs were crowded with an army of chocolate cats.


There were cats of all kinds hidden in the display, from the sweetest fuzziest white to the darkest, blackest, bitterest black you can imagine. Little cats, big cats, sitting cats, jumping cats, arching cats, spitting cats, growling cats, dozens of cats found their way in his Christmas tableau. And one of them was truly awesome; it was nearly black, maybe 14 inches long with a high arched back and its tail raised straight up in the air. It was the classic cat one might see on a wine label or an old lodging sign. I can still remember how much I wanted it and how I hinted, pointed, asked, pleaded and even begged for it, but for reasons of her own, my mother made a point of ignoring me and offered me a ride on the merry-go-round instead.

© Maryvonne Fent (2004) Excerpt from “How the Hunchback Ate My Cat” published in Cicada - Cricketmedia.com




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