Uzès has a puces (fleamarket) every Sunday morning in the carpark at the roundabout leading to Avignon and Nîmes. One morning I found 2 antique wooden mandolines for slicing vegetables, a specially designed silver holder for toast and foie gras (instrument of my dreams), an old tagine dish and a Moroccan vase. Friends have strolled away with old beds, furniture, lamps, Dior handbags and linen. Puces in this area are great but the Uzès one is really good because it’s cheap and you absolutely do get bargains. You could find antique daybeds, kitchen equipment, fountains, lace dresses, paintings, a dinner date, the latest gossip, old comics, evening shoes .... all with the October sun shining down on your warm autumn coat. Most stuff is laid out on the ground on a blanket and some is artfully arranged on tables and the best part is, no-one hassles you. It’s all very relaxed and typically southern and when you’re done, you grab your friends and meet up for a restoring crème (coffee with milk) at L’Oustal café in the Place aux Herbes.
Every so often, like on the 14 of July (Bastille Day) Uzès treats itself to a really fine, up-market brocante (second hand and antiques market). The car park on the Avenue de la Libération is blocked off and reborn as a sparkling wonderland of antiques, crockery, mountains of old lace, embroidered linen sheets, bedspreads, nighties, tablecloths, underwear and old books. French people absolutely adore ‘chiner’ - trawling for old treasures, pouring over old books, manuscripts, cutting boards, posters and cards. You could be looking at something interesting on a lonely, unattended stall then suddenly from the ether you hear, “Quinze euros madame.” You look up, and there the stall holders are, close by, indulging in lunch. And not just quickly, furtively snacking – the antique table is set up with cutlery and glasses, there is food like roast chickens, pâté, saucisson and salads and the wine and bread are stacked up on some precious, antique bedspreads. If you bought afore mentioned table, they would just move their feast over to the piano top.
The wonderful treasures one buys at these brochantes go straight into the ‘Uzès look’ of many people’s homes – a chic, pared down mix of old and new, cool washed greys, crisp white tablecloths, contemporary chandeliers, pale embossed walls and wooden and zinc fixtures. This look is complimented by what history has kindly given these homes – old wooden flagstone and tiled floors, tall 18th century multi-paned windows, gently vaulted ceilings and beautiful walled gardens with fountains.
And I haven’t even mentioned the main event of my life in Uzès – food and the great produce markets. Everyone knows about the famous Uzès markets but there is also a good, mostly organic market on Friday at St-Quentin-la-Poterie. Last Friday, my cooking students and I filled our baskets with anchovies, almonds and mint for our spread; fennel, cèpes, parmesan cheese and hazelnuts for our salad; rabbit, Pastis, artichoke hearts and shallots for our main and fresh goat cheese and late season figs for our cake. Because it’s now chilly, we ran home and cracked open the rosé immediately.
- 2 sticks of celery, julienned
- 1 fennel bulb, finely sliced
- a handful of salad leaves like mache (lamb’s lettuce)
- a good handful of gourmet mushrooms like girolles, shiitaki or golden needle
- juice and zest of a lemon
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 100g finely sliced parmesan
- 12 hazelnuts, roughly chopped
- 2 tbsp flat leaf parsley, torn apart
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tbsp cream
Toss the celery, fennel, mache, mushrooms, lemon juice and zest, salt & pepper, parmesan, hazelnuts and parsley gently together in the olive oil. Divide the salad up onto four dinner plates and drizzle very lightly with a little cream.