11 Groceries French Grandmas Always Have on Hand

published Jul 14, 2021
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Grandma and girl holding grocery shopping bag.
Credit: Getty Images/ Ridofranz

Life goal: Move to France and spend the rest of my days relaxing between meals in a kindly grandmère’s kitchen. The French are masters at the art of eating well, and perhaps no one is better at feeding people than grandmas. So a French grandma? C’mon! Take it from Daniel Boulud, one of the most successful French chefs working in America: “A memory etched in my mind of my grandmother Francine is how she never ran out of her baking staples of flour, butter, and sugar to make her wonderful biscuits.” He recently told me this over email, proving that the French excel in delicious food and the fine art of making everyone else feel a smidge jealous.

We already know that the French shop at markets regularly, rather than doing monthly summits to big-box stores. “Think [about] French produce, and you probably immediately call to mind earthy, savory vegetables, like locally foraged mushrooms. We will never forget these because we hated them,” say Alex Durand and Tom Carles, the duo behind the popular TikTok account ATfrenchies, recalling the abundance of cèpes (‘shrooms), as well as choufleur (cauliflower). Another memory from their visits to Grandmère’s? Like many French grandmothers, she kept a spotless kitchen: “She was spending her days cleaning after us … even when it was already clean.”

Related: 10 Brilliant Cleaning Tips You Should Steal from These French Grandmas

To recreate the cozy, abundant atmosphere of these matriarch’s kitchens, we asked Normandy-born French food blogger Helene Skantzikas to help us do a little sleuthing. Helene lives with her mother (a bonafide French grandmother herself), and she also surveyed a variety of her friends about their own grandmothers. Beyond the basics, here are the groceries French grandmas tend to always have on hand.

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn

1. Shallots and Leeks

While many of us stock up on onions, French grandmothers also add shallots and leeks to the mix. They’re all essentially interchangeable, but both leeks and shallots are sweeter and milder than onions.

2. Cloves

You’d be hard-pressed to find a French grandma who didn’t start a batch of broth or stew without a clove-studded onion; it adds aromatic richness to whatever you’re cooking. A bay leaf is often added between the clove and onion — that’s called an onion cloute.

Buy: Whole Cloves, $5.95 for 3.5 ounces

3. Walnut Oil

Walnut oil is very fragrant and rich-tasting, so the French grandmas we surveyed used it sparingly. A few drops, when combined with a neutral oil like sunflower, make the base for delicious salad dressings and vinaigrettes.

Buy: La Tourangelle Roasted Walnut Oil, $7.46 for 16.9 fluid ounces

4. Raspberry Vinegar

It’s not surprising that red and white wine vinegars are staples for French grannies, but raspberry vinegar was a popular choice, too. It’s frequently mixed with a little cream and salt and used as a surprisingly light dressing for lettuce or asparagus.

Buy: A L’Olivier Raspberry Fruit Vinegar, $13.99 for 200 ml

5. Verbena or Lime Blossom Tea

You won’t have to look hard to find these tea options in French grandmothers’ pantries: It’s often sipped after dinner as a digestive aid.

Buy: Organic Linden Blossoms de Provence — Lime Flower Herbal Tea, $20.17 for 100g

6. Bouillon Cubes

Largely of “an era past,” these flavor-packed cubes of dehydrated aromatics and flavorings are good for a quick “homemade” stock or broth. Skantzikas admitted that they’re falling out of favor with a younger generation of home cooks, but they still lurk in the cupboards of French grandmas.

Buy: Herb-Ox Sodium Free Bouillon, $18.10 for 100 packs

7. Sugar Cubes

A favorite for sweetening coffee and tea, many French grandmas keep these well-stocked. But there’s another reason why: They’re an easy snack for visiting grandkids, who like to dunk them in tea or cocoa, then eat them as a treat. (One of Skantzikas’s friends had memories of their grandmother hiding one in an orange at snacktime.)

Buy: La Perruche White Sugar Cubes, $13.85 for 10.5 ounces

8. Fromage Blanc

Is it cheese or is it yogurt? Both? Fromage blanc contains rennet, like cheese, but is processed as a yogurt. It’s simple-ish to make, but luckily American retailers are starting to sell a few options. Skantzikas recalls it fondly as a breakfast option at her grandmother’s in Normandy, where it was mixed with jam or fruit.

Buy: Honey Lavender Fromage Blanc Cheese, $34.98 for 4

9. Whole-Grain Mustard

Dijon mustard is great for emulsifying salad dressings, but French grandmas also keep a jar of whole-grain mustard on hand. It’ll often appear as an accompaniment to cornichons (also a staple!), or get mixed with cream for a sauce or spread.

Buy: Maille Wholegrain Mustard, $11.90 for 210g

10. Chestnut Flour

This was a particular favorite among Corsican grandmothers, where chestnuts are abundant — but it’s definitely more popular in France than it is the U.S. Which is a shame, because it’s super flavorful, and makes for a great gluten-free baking option!

Buy: Fresh & Wild Chestnut Flour, $26.50 for 16 ounces

11. Two Types of Butter

Okay, obviously French grandmothers have butter in abundance. But, as Skantzikas explained to me, most keep a clear distinction between sweet and savory foods, and would never dream of putting a salted butter on their morning toast and jam. Salted butter is more often used in savory cooking, although Skantzikas did mention that butter with large, crunchy salt crystals is coming back in favor for that morning toast (because salty-sweet things are really good!).

Buy: Isigny Butter with Coarse Rock Salt, $9.99 for 250g at igourmet
Buy: Banner Butter, $44 for three 5-ounce rounds at Food52

Do you already stock these items in your pantry? If not, which ones are you excited to try? Tell us in the comments.