Markets, and pretty much everything else, are hit and miss during August in Paris. The city's shops, restaurants, and bars systematically shut down throughout the summer, but especially in août - when iron shutters descend on storefronts for anywhere from a week to the entire month.
Chefs, bartenders, and baristas aren't the only ones who enjoy a congé annuel, or yearly break. Farmers also often take a leave of absence from their market stands. At my local market, Marché Ornano, I've had to get used to having Ile-de-France farmer Jean-Michel Delahaye set up his stand only twice a week, instead of his usual tri-weekly appearances. Staying in Paris during the month of August truly makes you appreciate the people who make the city feel like home the other 11 months of the year.
But life goes on, you get used to scanning shopfronts from afar, looking for signs of whether or not their open, holding your breath to see if you can step into your favorite bar or boulangerie. People band together and create resources to keep each other informed of closures, sometimes through word of mouth, other times through Paris by Mouth which puts together an invaluable list every year of What's Open in August. No such list exists for Paris's outdoor markets.
You never know what you're going to find at any given neighborhood market in late summer Paris. It was with this in mind that I made a recent trip to Marché Charonne with Sarah Mouchot co-owner and head chef at Holybelly.
Sarah lived near Marché Charonne for a few years with her partner Nico after they got back from a three year stay in Australia. She told me she had fond memories of this corner of the 11th arrondissement, where her and Nico hatched the plan that would make Holybelly a reality. Marché Charonne, Sarah recalled, was a lovely market with a farmer that came regularly to sell local produce.
This being August, our market rendez-vous on boulevard de Charonne was amidst a scattering of market stalls, proving the market population drastically decreased. Sarah's farmer wasn't in attendance, but we did find another independent producer at the Fruits de la Tour stand, which featured fresh fruits and vegetables from the Drôme region, about 500 kilometers south of Paris.
In addition to about a half dozen different tomato varieties, the stand had a huge selection of seasonal fruits. If the downside of August in the city is annual closures, ubiquitous street and building construction, and the occasional sense of being alone in a post apocalyptic Paris, the relief comes in the form of summer fruit.
Melons, apricots, mirabelles, and peaches were bright and tempting. While we decided what to buy, Sarah told me stories of making jam with her parents and how their family had perfected the recipe. She had just come back from a visit with her family, bringing with her batches of homemade jams that will be served at Holybelly. When it was our turn with the farmer we filled our bags with fruits and tomatoes, excited about all the possibilities they offered.
"You really only need one farmer at a market" Sarah told me, as we spoke about the importance of fresh, seasonal produce. Sarah's right, even if it isn't the farmer you were looking for, one will do. One farmer can give you peach cobbler, tomato salads, and, of course, the perfect homemade jam.
Sarah's Homemade Jam
500 grams sugar
1 kg fruit of your choice
Half vanilla bean
3 grams agar agar
In a large pot, combine sugar and fruit. Add a squeeze of lemon to brighten up the flavor and half a vanilla bean to add depth and complexity. Bring to a simmer then add the agar agar and boil until your fruit is just cooked so you keep the taste of the fresh fruit (3min for raspberries, 20min for strawberries or apricots). Fill up your resealable jars (that you boiled in water for one minute to sterilize them, along with their lids), close tightly with the lid and turn them upside down until they are cooled down, in order to make your jar air tight!
Boulevard de Charonne, 75011
M° Alexandre Dumas (line 2)
Open Wednesday and Saturday, 7h-14h30