I was driving down a familiar country road on Friday, after a visit to one of the high schools my daughter is considering.

I say familiar, because I drove my son down that road daily during his high school years, reveling (yes, reveling), in the small, stone villages, the brick farmhouses, the expanses of waving grain and blue-green leeks, the trim forest that disgorged, every now and then, a bulky wild boar.

As we approached the center of Martot, a small village, I looked forward to peering in the windows of an old-fashioned épicerie, or grocery that I had once visited.  It was truly a throwback, one of those dark little poorly lit spots that was also a café, and practically sat right in the farmer’s kitchen. To my dismay, it was closed. Oh, the winds of progress and time.

I stopped dead in my tracks at the next farmhouse, though, where I often bought Halloween pumpkins from a rickety old carriage that leaned against one of the farmhouse walls.  I remember carefully choosing my pumpkin then greeting the young farmer who emerged as if by magic from the house, to take my money.

This time, there was no carriage and no young farmer but, instead, tacked to the farmhouse wall, a sign reading: Distributeur de légumes frais, vending machine of fresh vegetables.

I parked and went inside the open door. I couldn’t believe my eyes.  On one whole wall were automat-like windows which revealed, inside, wooden crates filled with vegetables. In one crate were leeks, cabbage, and celery root; in another cauliflower and potatoes. In still another carrots, leeks and onions.  At the corner of each window was the price, ranging from 2€50 to 7€50.

Farm automat
Farm automat

I didn’t try to buy any vegetables – my larder was full. Instead, I stood there open-mouthed. Here we were in the miniscule hamlet of Martot, somewhere near Louviers, Rouen, Elbeuf, on a narrow country road where an enterprising farmer had figured out a different way to sell his wares.  “Clever,” I thought, surmising much. “No early morning markets, no employee charges, no change to make.”

I drove away.  “How do people decide which batch of vegetables to buy?” I wondered. It must depend on the menu.  That combination of cauliflower and potato would make one delicious gratin.

Yes, the winds of time and progress sweep away, but so they usher in.

Potato and Cauliflower Gratin

I didn’t buy any vegetables from the ‘farm-o-mat”, but if I had I would have chosen cauliflower and potatoes, and made this wonderful gratin.  Bon Appétit!

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

2 pounds (1kg) potatoes, such as Yukon gold, peeled and thinly sliced

1 small head cauliflower, stem trimmed, cut into thin slices

1 cup (250ml) milk

2 cups (500ml) heavy, non ultra-pasteurized cream

Fine sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Scant ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

3 ounces (90g) Gruyère, grated

1.  Preheat the oven to 400F (200C).  Prepare a 17 x 7-inch baking dish by generously buttering it with the butter.

2. Place the potatoes and the cauliflower in a large bowl.

3.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the milk and the cream. Whisk in a generous amount of salt and pepper, then whisk in the nutmeg.   Pour the mixture over the potatoes and cauliflower.  Carefully mix the vegetables together until they are coated with the milk and cream mixture, then put them into the prepared baking dish.  Pour any residual milk mixture over all.

4.  Bake for 20 minutes, then carefully stir the vegetables. Sprinkle them with the cheese then continue baking until the potatoes are tender and the dish is golden on top, an additional 30 to 35 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let cool for about 10 minutes before serving.

Serves 8 to 10



This Post Has 14 Comments

  1. katemai

    Wow. I am blown away. Here I am in Houston, Tx and I can’t find such fresh veggies!

    1. Susan


      Well, of course you can’t. Which is exactly why you need to return! Slam-dunk….!

  2. cathy bennett

    Wow Susan…….should we be sad??? why does it make me feel that way? nostalgic……

    1. Susan

      Cathy, Well, yes, I felt very sad that the epicerie had disappeared, because it was such a holdover from yesteryear. I am conservative in that way – don’t like those kinds of changes. And I was enthralled with the farm-o-mat idea. Do I love the automatic aspect of it? No, I’d much rather talk with the farmer, but to do that I go to the market. Here, someone had an idea and is trying to make a living on several fronts so I think it’s great. The point being, keep the farmer on the land. If this is the way it will happen, then I can only be for it!

  3. I love the concept. I wonder also how you can judge the freshness of the produce. Here in rural Massachusetts we have a few roadside stands (fresh eggs, produce in summer) that use the honor system, and for the most part people are honest, I think.

    1. Susan

      Those vegetables were just-picked. I don’t know if you can tell from the photo, but it was so easy to see them. I could practically smell them. It is the honor system, a la Normand! No one is there, but you don’t get any vegetables if you don’t stick your money in the slot. It’s an idea…

  4. Fascinating idea. Did they put the date that the vegetables were picked? Or where they were picked from?

    1. Susan

      No date at all. And they came from the field right behind the farm. I think it’s brilliant, and completely unexpected in such a rural environment. I didn’t even know such automats existed. May have to see if I can talk to the farmer…

  5. Gina Legalle

    I love it! France is so dedicated to fresh vegetables that one would even think of creating a vending machine. This and the fresh bread/baguette machine I saw two blocks from the beach in Courcelles Sur Mer in Normandy just make me love France a little bit more sometimes. It’s all about freshness and quality…Vive les Farmers!

    1. Susan

      Vive les farmers is right. We’ve got this big law suit going on right now with a farmer who refuses to treat his vines. It’s a complex issue, but we’ve got to keep our farmers on the land.

  6. Laura in Texas

    I keep coming back to this post and marveling about this farm-o-mat idea. Did you ever get a chance to speak with the farmer about it? Where would you buy something like this? Can you get ones that are cooled (think hot Texas weather). So interesting and if you find out more, please share. This may be something I need to consider as we grow more…

    1. Susan


      I never did speak with the farmer, but will put that on my list! It’s a GREAT idea.

      1. Laura in Texas

        Thanks Susan! I appreciate it and look forward to hearing what you find out.

        1. Susan

          I’ll let you know!

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