Saint-Omer and the Audomarois marshes, vegetable capital?

Le audomarois marshes is recognized for its natural heritage, its significant dimensions (3700 hectares, 700 km of rivers including 170 navigable…), but also for its vegetables.
Indeed, this natural space shaped by man is now recognized as the last cultivated marsh in France. Admittedly, other marshes also allow the cultivation of vegetables, such as the hortillonnages cultivated by the hortillons. It is, however, a rather food-producing agriculture that feeds a few families and provides a few good restaurants.

On the contrary, the Audomarois marsh still holds the status of regional pantry with its hundreds of hectares dedicated to vegetables, including cauliflower, endive, Tilques carrots… And much more!

Saint-Omer summer cauliflower

The successive drainage works and the reclamation of the marsh made agriculture possible from the Middle Ages. The production of cauliflower did not begin until the 1750s and did not really take off until 1850. The freshly laid railway lines and the brand new station installed in 1848 in the suburbs of Saint-Omer granted new outlets for market gardeners. The latter could, for example, transport the productions to Paris, where the "first of Saint-Omer" were impatiently awaited!
The damp and peaty soils of the Audomarois easily yield beautiful cauliflowers with certain taste qualities, and the reputation of the product was indeed quickly acquired in the capital and elsewhere.

Since that time, the profession of market gardener has evolved a lot, but daily life is still just as hectic! Between the plantations starting in mid-March, the maintenance of the fields, the harvests and deliveries from May to November, the direct sale and the management of the company, it is impossible to rest! Not to mention that summer is the so-called "full" (or crowd) period. By the end of June, the majority of the cauliflowers planted for the summer reach maturity. So it's time to cut and the work is not lacking. In order to deliver a beautiful, fresh product to the cooperative or the clock market before noon, the market gardener must therefore be in his fields in the cool. From 5 o'clock in the morning.

Cauliflower – Hans – Pixabay

Endive or chicory from Saint-Omer

Do you know the origin of endive? According to La Chesnaye, who published his universal dictionary of agriculture in 1751, this is due to a particular method of growing Barbe-de-Capucin chicory in cellars.

A legend also claims that a peasant, a bit fraudulent, would have hidden his chicories in his cellar in 1830 to escape the harvest tax. He would then have forgotten them for a month before worrying about them. After thirty days, he found himself in his cellar facing real endives, the taste of which he appreciated!

There are two processes giving rise to the famous winter vegetable that is the "chicon": the traditional technique consisting in covering the replanted chicories for 25 days in earthy and heated soil, or that of forcing requiring a room whose humidity , the temperature and the lighting are conducive to the hatching of the precious little white leaves which are harvested mainly from October to March.

Tilques carrot

Another local vegetable that is the pride of our territory: the famous Tilques carrot! This large carrot loves the loamy and sandy soils found in Tilques, a small village bordering the Audomarois marsh. The Tilques carrot is sown in May and harvested from September to October before being stored in sheltered "silos", under layers of earth and straw. Its consumption can then extend until April of the following year.

The Tilques carrot is distinguished by its large size (about thirty centimeters) and its very straight shape (the sandy soil allows the vegetable to grow in a straight line, without making a "fork"). The vegetable is particularly appreciated by gourmets for Flemish carbonnades, broths and stews.

…And many other vegetables

In the Audomarois marshes, nearly fifty different vegetables are grown there, including beans, cabbage, leeks, Gros Verts-de-Laon artichokes, celeriac, etc. Not to mention old varieties such as Martinet cauliflower, the Leblond leek…
Note also the cultivation of watercress (cf the Tilques watercress) as well as strawberries which delight consumers on the Saint-Omer market on Saturday mornings or the Arques market on Tuesday mornings.

Loic Boulier, for his part, grows around our quays organically some forty different vegetables and plants, including peppers, butternut squash, Jerusalem artichokes, but also mustard and edible flowers.

Loic Boulier organic market gardener in the marsh of Saint-Omer ©P HUDELLE – SPL TOURISME

In short, the audomarois provides year-round fresh seasonal produce for the whole year!

To learn more about the advantages of consuming seasonal products.

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