It’s said that even without a calendar you can tell what month it is in France just by visiting the market. If all of the stalls are full of heads of cauliflower as big as basketballs, it’s probably March. In April the asparagus and artichokes compete for space. May brings flats of strawberries the size of golf balls and spilling from then into June, bright red cherries entice you to bite them. Just as some cheeses are known by the area they come from like Roquefort or Camembert, for example as are wines such as Champagne and Cognac, fruits and vegetables can be just as well known. Just say “Charentais” and everyone’s mouth begins to water when they think of sweet and juicy melons. The same goes for Mirabelle plums from Lorraine and Bill’s favorite, les cerises de Cerét, cherries and we went to the festival.
As the crow flies, we’re only about 85 km (53 miles) north of the Spanish border but since the roads don’t go quite that directly we rode with our driving friends Sally and Larry for 90 minutes to reach the town of Cerét, itself only minutes from that same border. We knew that at least 2000 years ago the Romans, and perhaps the Greeks before them, had cultivated olives and grapes all around the Mediterranean Sea but we were now in search of a much newer commodity, cherries. Some clever marketing in 1932 brought this area’s sweet fruit to prominence when it was transported for the first time by an airplane to the French president and now it’s known throughout the country.
Although we were at the Fête de la Cerise only for part of one day last Sunday, the celebration is spread across a few weekends in May. Activities that we could have been involved with included blind taste testings, gift making, jam production, floral art, dancing, and cherry pit spitting. We were content with listening to music, strolling, eating, drinking, and of course buying freshly picked cherries directly from the orchardists. As you can tell from the photos, if you can make a food or drink from this fruit or a souvenir in the shape of it, you can buy it there.
The French fresh fruits and vegetables trade association Interfel has published a calendar (link below) that shows which months the markets generally have an abundance of certain types of produce. They include storage tips and some advice for each item. For cherries it says, “Ideally, consume them soon after returning from the market.” I don’t think that’s going to be a problem.
Fruits and vegetables calendar: https://www.lesfruitsetlegumesfrais.com/_upload/ressources/calendrier/calendrier_mieux_consommer_2015.pdf