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What comes to a local market in the dead of winter? Very little, you would think – the fields are empty, the trees are bare, there’s nothing but rain and a dull grey sky. You’d be surprised. Here are some of the delights we found at our Norman market at the end of December.

Boxes and boxes of the freshest oysters, only a squirt of lemon needed.

Mistletoe, France

Holly and mistletoe grow everywhere in Normandy. Look up any old tree in the winter and what looks like a messy kind of birds nest is probably mistletoe. And there is a whole forest of holly, la Forêt d’Eu, in the Seine-Maritime. But if you don’t have time to collect your own, you can buy some at market.

Guinea fowl, France

I think these are guinea fowl but please tell me if I’m wrong. There were plenty of geese and roosters too. No one looked squeamish about buying fowl with the head and feet still on. Even in the supermarket, the packaged free range chickens have more feathers and blood left on than their sterile UK counterparts.

coquille st jacques

The pretty coquilles Saint-Jacques are a Normandy specialty which have been awarded the prestigious “label rouge” in recognition of their quality. (Does everything in France have a label?) Here is a video about the fishermen who catch them, and a recipe which, like all the best Norman recipes, is packed with wild (if you can get them) mushrooms and crème fraîche.

Candied fruit, FranceCandied fruit

The candied fruit sparkled like cheap jewelry under the fluorescent lights of the market stalls. It seemed that every imaginable fruit – and even vegetable – had been candied. Pears, mango, carrots, tomatoes, kiwi, pineapple, peaches, cherries, lemons, clementines, figs and more. No gallon tins of chocolates needed here to keep spirits up in the dead of winter.

Flowers, French market

And then a hint of the season to follow. All these bright bulbs poking out of the soil, promising even better come springtime.

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