The name of our local bakery is Les Délices de la Vallée, and I can’t conceive of one more suitable. This bakery is the heart of the village: warm and welcoming, with smiling friendly faces behind the counter, filled with golden light and the scent of bread in the rainy cold predawn hours, and on certain occasions the line runs out the door. And unlike other lines (say, the one at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles), this one is permeated with a sense of happy anticipation. It’s also a place to meet people, chat, and hear news.
The second major focus of this festival was the cèpe, a wild mushroom that, if rainfall and temperatures permit, is abundant in this season. As we walk the forests of this region, we have encountered folks bearing baskets and seeking out cèpes. (Since we’re not familiar with wild mushrooms, we haven’t joined in this search, not wanting to wipe out our family by accident, although there are apparently not toxic varieties that greatly resemble this one.) Anyone who wishes can offer their finds and bargain for the best prices at the many Marchés de Cèpes taking place in this season. Professionals, like restaurateurs, usually buy large quantities; but anyone may be a customer. I was tempted, but the minimum purchase is a banquette of three kilos, which is a LOT of mushrooms, and I couldn’t persuade the woman standing next to me to split one.
We spent the day in Villefranche-du-Périgord for the Fête de la Chataigne et du Cèpe. You can’t take a country walk right now without stepping crunchily on chestnuts; everywhere they are falling from the trees and it’s really unnecessary to go purchase them. But it’s fun to watch them roasting and eat them hot from a little bag (memories of Rockefeller Center) while wandering around looking at other products: chestnuts preserved in syrup, chestnuts puréed, chestnut wood carved into knife handles and furniture. There are also contests for the biggest, the smallest, and the most beautiful chestnut.
The street market is only in part a convenient way to obtain fresh seasonal produce for the next few days. It’s also a time to find useful household goods or special gifts, greet neighbors and make plans, obtain cooking suggestions for a new food from its merchant, and enjoy the endlessly fascinating scene. The shops, bakeries and cafes are open (until early afternoon only!) so after shopping you can sit down with your full market-basket at a tiny table for coffee and people-watching.
We spent the afternoon exploring the Jardins Suspendus de Marqueyssac, perched high above the meandering Dordogne with stunning views of the surrounding valleys, villages, farms, and cliffside fortified castles.