Million Dollar Bread

Markets are one of the highlights of any visit to Provence, and you can find one every day of the week in one town or another.  We’ve visited the Saturday market in the town of Apt twice. It is one of the largest in Provence, spreading over several streets, squares and parking lots in the center of town.  While it is far from the favorite of those we’ve visited (many are far more charming and well-edited), it has a great selection of vendors selling local Provencal specialties – soaps, table and kitchen linens, boutis bedspreads, honeys (including an amazing chestnut honey), bottled tapenades – that one might want to bring or ship home for souvenirs.  (Just avoid the tables selling airport pashminas and funky purses and shoes from China.  The clothes, though, look kind of interesting.  Several vendors had some pretty neat long sweaters that bear further investigation – and they are French-made.)  

The Apt market also has a great selection of artisanal products – preserved lemons, herbed olives, marinated garlic, fruit pates, sausages, cheeses – and one guy we found selling million dollar bread.  The vendor, a chatty young guy, baited the hook with a sample. His stall sold only two things – several varieties of his special bread, baked in long, wide mahogany-colored loaves about two feet by three feet, and several varieties of nougat, another Provencal favorite, also sold in massive loaves.  In truth, it is amazing bread – an ancient recipe for a very dense bread  using lots of spices, honey, figs, raisin and ginger.  The guy rambled on about the bread’s many uses – we should have gotten wise when he told us it was perfect with foie gras.  After sampling two varieties and having him cut off a hunk of each, he weighed it, wrapped it carefully, and tallied up the bill, all the while continuing his chatter.  “Vingt quatre euros, s’il vous plait.”  I had one of those frantic moments thinking I was not understanding numbers in French.  (Which wouldn’t be too surprising, as numbers challenge  me in English as well.)  “Pardonnez-moi, monsieur?”  “Vingt quatre euros, madame.”  By this time, RC, who speaks a bit of French, understood the final number.  Twenty four euros for two mini (mini!) loaves of bread.  We looked at each other, aghast.  We looked at the vendor, whose chatter had screeched to a halt.  We looked at the bread, sliced and beautifully packaged, laying on the counter in front of us.  We pulled out the wallet.  There was nothing else to do – we had both seen the sign right on the front of the vendor’s stall – twenty something euros a kilogram.  I guess we should figure out what a kilogram of bread looks like before we go to the market again.  (We did, however, very much enjoy every bite of that lovely bread for our lunch that day, and figured each crumb that fell to the floor of the car was in fact worth its weight in gold.)

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