Lamentations

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doré-jeremiah1 One of my childhood memories towards the end of Lent (which seemed to last forever) was of the services on the  holy days before Easter. The ceremonies called Tenebrae (darkness) featured the extraordinary poetry of the Prophet Jeremiah in the form of his Lamentations. These would be performed on those days by a fairly well-rehearsed choir singing the Gregorian chants. I can’t claim to have been aware of the beauty of the texts back then. Eight years of study of Latin still lay before me. doré-jeremiah2 The Lamentations are one of the most poetic books of the Old Testament, apart from the Song of Songs, the Psalms and Ecclesiastes. Essentially, the prophet Jeremiah sees the destruction and desolation of Jerusalem (before it happens) and laments the inevitable catastrophe. Naturally, this great elegiac poetry was used by the Catholic Church in its Holy Week liturgy, not only because of the sorrow expressed therein but as an allegory. The destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem is seen as the death of Christ, but is also a call to the faithful to repent. The verse “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, convertare ad Dominum Deum tuum.” (Jerusalem, Jerusalem, turn back to the Lord your God,” is often used as a refrain of sorts. I have provided here three related engravings from the Gustave Doré Bible. The original paintings or drawings were by Doré, but the fine engravings were done by various journeymen engravers, as was the practice of the day.doré-jeremiah3 It was natural that great musicians, especially Catholic ones, would set these texts to the music of their time, and today, irrespective of our beliefs, the music continues to inspire us, especially as Easter and spring are upon us. It is the (necessary) darkness before dawn. If you Google “Lamentations,” or search for Lamentations or Tenebrae on YouTube and you will be able to access some of the extraordinary results. Below, is a partial list of the various settings to the Lamentations that I have collected, most of them from the Renaissance and Baroque periods. Many of these recordings are still available. For a good discography summary, click here (texts in French).

I will single out some of the better known settings. There are a number of recordings of the settings by Thomas Tallis (ca. 1505-1585) and the settings are brief enough to provide a good introduction to the genre. There are two sets, and both are presented here.  There are also a couple of very beautiful settings by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (c. 1525-1594) and another by Tomas Luis de Victoria (1548-1611). French Renaissance and Baroque composers seem to have had a particular predilection for the Lamentations texts, and several of them set the words to music. The instrumentation is usually sparse, as befits the Lenten period.

There is one double CD set of Michel Lambert (1610-1696) on Virgin Classics featuring the three days (Wednesday-Thursday-Friday) and their Leçons de ténèbres, for soprano, alto, countertenor and tenor, accompanied by a viola da gamba, a theorbo, and keyboards instruments (harpsichord and positive organ). Well over two hours of sublime music, which you should spread over three days, preferably on quiet reflective evenings, if you still set aside the time to enjoy those. Other settings in that time period are also hauntingly beautiful in their own way. The beauty of the vocal writing, however, overrides the expression of any strong emotion. This was the Age of Reason, after all. And one contemporary cleric bemoaned the fact that the liturgical texts were now being offered as mundane and frivolous entertainment.

There are curiously no Romantic settings of the Lamentations. I am not sure why.  In the 20th century, there were three notable composers inspired by the texts. Ernst Krenek (1900-1991) composed his Lamentations in 1941. I have only heard parts of it. It is a difficult piece, eerily beautiful, returning to the Gregorian now and then but superimposing twelve-tone writing. Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) subtitled his First Symphony “Jeremiah” (1939-42). Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) contributed his Threni (1958) — another bit of difficult twelve-tone writing. Last, but certainly not least is the Canadian composer Peter Anthony Togni’s composition Lamentations (2007). It is essentially a lengthy concerto for Bass Clarinet and Chorus. The bits of it that I have heard are remarkable and the composition has received excellent reviews. There is a recording of it, and this will certainly be my next acquisition, and a wonderful addition to my growing collection of Lamentations.

© Roger H. Boulet, 2015


Some of the composers and their settings of the Lamentations:

  • Thomas Tallis (ca. 1505-1585) Lamentations of Jeremiah, First Set; Lamentations of Jeremiah (second set) probably late works)
  • Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (c. 1525-1594): Lamentations, Book Four  (ca. 1588 or earlier).
  • Carlo Gesualdo (1566-1613) Lamentations.
  • Tomas Luis de Victoria (ca.1548-1611)  Officium Hebdomadae Sanctae (1685)
  • Michel Lambert (1610-1696) Leçons des Ténèbres (1689)
  • Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1645-1704) Leçons de Ténèbres du Mercredi Saint (date?) (one version  for Good Friday also exists)
  • Michel-Richard de Lalande (1657-1726)  (first set 1663; second set 1689)
  • François Couperin (1668-1733)  Leçons de Ténèbres pour le Mercredi Saint (1714).
  • Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679-1745)  Lamentations (for all three days) (1722).

Hunting for the Best Chicken Cacciatore

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Over the many years I have been shuffling around in a kitchen, I have taken considerable delight in perfecting recipes. Many recipes, do not require this treatment, but in my experience in preparing one recipe following different instructions, I inevitably spend an afternoon doing a bit of research, and compiling my own recipe from several sources. It must be the academic in me. I am not good at improvising a recipe… nor am I good at memorizing one either. So it will come as no surprise that I collect recipes on my computer, from my cookbook library and from online sources. I admit that even today when just about everything is available on line, I still like to buy cookbooks.

Take Chicken Cacciatore for instance (or its French derivative Poulet Chasseur). I doubt that hunters in Italy or anywhere else for that matter make sport of shooting chickens in the barnyard, so the Cacciatore recipes were probably intended for rabbit or hare. No doubt the intrepid hunter (think Elmer Fudd) would often come back empty-handed, so a chicken had to do in a pinch.

elmer and bugs

Of course, you can shoot birds too, and I did find a Renaissance recipe for pigeons. It is in Lorenza de’Medici’s Florentines, a lovely little book I previously mentioned (see Food, Music and Silence – 18 January 2015). Given the recipe, I am inclined to see it as a precursor to Chicken Cacciatore. Read on, and you will see why.


Palombe alla Ghiotta (Wild Pigeons Stewed in Red Wine)

3 wild pigeons or squab
1 litre (1 quart) red wine
3½ fl. oz vinegar
4 garlic cloves
1 sprig of fresh rosemary
1 small bunch of fresh sage, tied together
1 small onion, quartered
100 gr prosciutto
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 anchovy fillets in oil
1 tbsp capers in vinegar, rinsed
1 lemon wedge
1 thin slice of bread
salt and pepper

Clean the pigeons, leaving heads and feet on, if still attached.  Place in a flameproof casserole with all the other ingredients and cook over low heat for about 1½ hours.  Take the pigeons from the casserole and discards heads and feet, if necessary. Halve the pigeons lengthwise and reserve. Continue to heat the sauce for about another hour until it thickens. Remove the rosemary and sage and purée the sauce in a food mill or food processor. Return the pigeon halves to the casserole with the sauce, reheat for 10 minutes and serve.


pigeonI assume this would serve 2 or 3 people partial to pigeon. I also assume Signora de’Medici can get pigeons at the market where she lives. Unfortunately, I have never seen a pigeon at the local supermarket, let alone one with its head and feet still attached. Squab (which she suggests as a substitute) is just as difficult to find. In Canada, I suspect grouse could be used. You would have to know how to cook wild meat (it usually has to cook much longer than domestic meat!) as it is  very lean, and might be inclined to be a bit tough if the bird is an older one. The recipe she proposes cooks them for 1½ hours, so that should do for any old bird. Apparently the meat should be falling off the bone.

bewick-cockBack to Chicken Cacciatore. Everyone assumes tomatoes are an essential part of the dish, but since tomatoes (from the Americas) were not commonly used in Italian cooking until the late 18th century, any old and authentic recipe for the dish would not use tomatoes. Knowing this, most sources seem to suggest that the dish is really a hunter’s stew, probably made with hare or rabbit, or some kind of feathered game, using wine or vinegar for a sauce, and herbs one can find in the Italian countryside, such as rosemary, sage and thyme.

In my cookbook collection, there are two notable recipes for Chicken Cacciatore which (almost) eschew tomatoes. The first one, closest in intent is the one provided by Giuliano Bugialli. We have made this one often, and I can vouch that it is delicious. Here it is.


Pollo alla Cacciatore (Tuscan)

1 chicken (3 lbs)
1 Tbs fresh rosemary leaves
10 leaves sage, fresh
2 large cloves of garlic, peeled
½ cup olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
pinch hot pepper flakes
½ cup dry red wine
1 bay leaf
2 Tbs tomato paste (doppo concentrato)
1 ½ cups hot water

1. Cut the chicken into 16 pieces (spezzatini); coarsely chop rosemary, sage and garlic.

2. Heat the olive oil in a large casserole, preferably terra-cotta, and when it is hot, add the chopped ingredients and sauté gently until lightly golden (10 to 12 minutes). Add the chicken pieces and sauté them over moderately high heat until golden all over (about 15 minutes) then add salt, pepper, and hot pepper flakes.

3. Lower the heat and pour in the wine. Let it evaporate very slowly (about 10 minutes), then add the bay leaf, tomato paste, and ½ cup of hot water. Cover and let simmer very slowly for 20 minutes, adding more hot water if needed.

4. At this point, the chicken should be cooked, and there should be a small quantity of thick sauce. Remove the bay leaf and  transfer the chicken pieces and sauce to a serving dish. Serve hot. Serves 4.

(It tastes even better reheated!)

Servings: 4

Nutrition Facts
Nutrition (per serving): 2322 calories, 1718 calories from fat, 193.7g total fat, 679.5mg cholesterol, 6063.4mg sodium, 137.8mg potassium, 16.9g carbohydrates, <1g fiber, <1g sugar, 130.5g protein.

Source
Source: Buggiali, The Fine Art of Italian Cooking

 


chicken1The second recipe is from the venerable Time-Life Foods of the World series, The Cooking of Italy. This particular book was authored by Waverley Root (1903-1982). In it, his recipe for Polla alla Cacciatore is from the south of Italy, and surprisingly still has no tomatoes in it.  I have been making this at least once of month for decades now, and it is still very satisfying.


Pollo alla Cacciatore

2½ lbs. chicken, cut up
salt
Freshly ground pepper
2 Tbs olive oil
1/4 cup finely chopped onions
1 tsp finely chopped garlic
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 Tbs wine vinegar, preferably white
1/2 cup chicken stock, fresh or canned
1/2 tsp dried oregano, crumbled
1 bay leaf
1 Tbs slivered black olives, preferably Mediterranean style
3 flat anchovy fillets, rinsed in cold water, dried and chopped

1. Wash the chicken quickly under cold running water and pat the pieces dry with paper towels. Season the pieces with salt and a few grindings of pepper.

2. In a heavy 10 – 12 inch skillet, heat the olive oil until a haze forms over it.  Brown the chicken a few pieces at a time, starting them skin side down and turning them with tongs. Transfer the browned pieces to a plate.

3. Pour off almost all of the fat from the skillet, leaving just a thin film on the bottom. Add the onions and garlic and cook them over moderate heat, stirring constantly, for 8 to 10 minutes, or until they are lightly coloured.

4. Add the wine and vinegar and boil briskly until the liquid is reduced to about 1/4 cup. Pour in the chicken stock and boil for 1 or 2 minutes, stirring constantly and scraping in any browned bits that cling to the pan. Return the browned chicken to the skillet, add the oregano and bay leaf, and bring to a boil. Cover the skillet, reduce the heat and simmer, basting occasionally. In about 30 minutes, the chicken should be done; its juice will run clear when a thigh is pierced with the tip of a sharp knife.

5. To serve, arrange the pieces of chicken on a heated platter. Discard the bay leaf and boil the stock left in the skillet until it thickens slightly and has the intensity of flavour desired. Stir in the black olives and anchovies and cook the sauce for a minute or so longer. Pour the sauce over the chicken.

Servings: 4

Nutrition Facts
Nutrition (per serving): 147 calories, 78 calories from fat, 8.8g total fat, <1mg cholesterol, 912.7mg sodium, 323.8mg potassium, 4.7g carbohydrates, <1g fibre, 2g sugar, 6.7g protein.


2014-09-13 getting romas in KeremeosThe fact that it uses white wine suggests a northern origin, but then I will not question Mr. Root’s knowledge or authority here. Anchovies and black olives do suggest southern Italian cooking.

I can imagine that even before tomatoes were finally part of everyday cooking in Italy, someone thought of adding that to a Cacciatore dish as well, especially the chicken one. I have tried many, many variations and one day, I just took about half a dozen of the recipes I had tried and concocted a synthesis of them all. It is terrific! Just make sure you have all the ingredients indicated and make no substitutions. Certainly best done in late summer when fresh tomatoes are plentiful, such as Romas or San Marzano.

 


Pollo alla Cacciatore

1 3 lb chicken, cut up, or chicken pieces
salt and pepper
1/4 cup butter
2 Tbs olive oil
2 slices pancetta (or bacon), cut in squares
2 medium onions, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 tsp flour
4 to 5 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
3 Tbs tomato purée (doppo concentrato)
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 Tbs brandy
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 lb mushrooms, whole if small
2 Tbs chopped fresh parsley
2 Tbs chopped fresh basil

1. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Melt the butter and olive oil in a casserole, and brown the chicken over medium heat. Removed when browned on all sides.

2. Add the bacon to the casserole and cook for a minute or two, then add the onions and garlic, and sauté them for 5 minutes. Scrape the bottom for any browned bits. Add the flour and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly. Add the tomatoes, tomato puree, wine and brandy, chicken stock, bringing to a boil. Simmer covered for 10 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and sugar.  Return the chicken to the casserole, and simmer for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. After 20 minutes or so, add the mushrooms.

3. Remove the chicken to a heated platter, check the sauce for seasoning, bring to a vigorous boil and reduce it to a thick consistency.

4. Off the heat, mix half the parsley and basil into the sauce. Pour the sauce over the chicken and sprinkle the remaining parsley and basil over that.

Servings: 4

Nutrition Facts
Nutrition (per serving): 424 calories, 253 calories from fat, 28.6g total fat, 43.4mg cholesterol, 1247mg sodium, 1397.5mg potassium, 30.5g carbohydrates, 7.2g fibre, 16.1g sugar, 11.9g protein.


roosterSome folks who prefer a more authentic chicken cacciatore suggest that the resulting dish (with tomatoes) is best suited as a pasta sauce.  The dish is certainly delicious with pasta, especially large noodles like fettuccine or tagliatelle. A green vegetable, like steamed green beans, add even more colour to the dish.

I am sure I will always read new variations for Chicken Cacciatore with great interest, and they will surely keep coming, many arguing it is the authentic one, but what IS authentic with a dish like this? In the end, it is about flavour, and probably, just as important, good friends to share the meal.

© Roger H. Boulet, 2015

Pea Soup Deconstructed

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whole-yellow-peas

I remember not liking pea soup very much as a child. Maybe it was a texture thing. Maybe it was because we often had it during Lent. I guess for every French Canadian kid growing up in Manitoba, pea soup was almost a weekly thing, so it was very ordinary. But I know my mother made good pea soup because I tried it later in life and it was delicious. She had not changed the way she prepared it. And this was her recipe:


Mom’s Yellow Pea Soup

1 ham bone with a little meat left on it
2 cups yellow whole (or split) peas
3 bay leaves
2 carrots, shredded
salt and pepper to taste
1 large onion, chopped
2 stalks celery with leaves if possible, chopped
1 cup pearl barley

1. Place the hambone in a pot, fill pot about 3/4 full with water. Add peas and onion and barley. Bring to a boil and add bay leaves. Add carrot and celery and simmer until peas and barley are well cooked, about 2 hours.


I must admit I don’t quite get the addition of 1 cup pot barley. It does not add to the flavour, nor is it necessary as a thickening agent. Maybe she preferred the resulting texture. I would be inclined to omit it as I have never seen a recipe for pea soup with barley in it. But I suspect every French Canadian mother had her own way. Some even add a cup of diced potatoes to the recipe.

Madame Jéhane Benoît (1904-1987) is one good authority to consult in matters of French Canadian cuisine. Her La nouvelle encyclopédie de la cuisine contains traditional dishes as well as dishes from elsewhere. One of the recipes in her book is called Soupe aux pois classique, and here is her recipe.


Soupe aux pois classique

1 lb. dried yellow peas
½ lb. salt pork
2 ¾ quarts water
3 medium onions, chopped
2 carrots, diced
2 or 3 bay leaves
a handful  of celery leaves
a few sprigs of parsley, chopped
1 tsp savory

1. Wash and drain the peas. Put them in a large casserole with all the ingredients. Bring to a boil and boil for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and let it rest for 1 hour.

2. Return the casserole to heat and return to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for one hour or until the peas are cooked. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Serve as is, or purée in a blender before serving.


She then goes on to provide some variations, such as making a meatless soup for fasting days. Another variation has the addition of sliced sausages and cooked corn. Yet another adds cheese and crisp bacon. She also suggests that a tbsp of sour cream can be added to each bowl when serving. Finally, she writes that the American version of the classic pea soup uses a ham bone instead of the salt pork.

Mom always used a ham bone for her soup, and I have always done the same. I slowly simmer the ham bone and any meat on it for at least an hour, then refrigerate it until I need it. It will keep like this for abouham bonet a week or so. Another option is to simmer a smoked pork hock in several cups of water. The intensity of the stock increases as it simmers down. The idea of adding a handful of celery leaves is one I heartily subscribe to. Bay leaves are good. Savory is optional. Simmering a ham bone also flavours the stock with whatever spices were used to cook the ham.

Apparently the Pea Soup served on Canadian Pacific Railway passenger trains was really good. I have that recipe too. It is very similar to Madame Benoit’s, with the little flourish of crisping up some of the salt pork (leaner bits) and adding them at the very end. Here is that recipe.


Yellow Pea Soup  (Canadian Pacific)

½ lb whole yellow peas
¼ lb salt pork, thickly sliced
1 large carrot, peeled and sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
2 quarts hot water

1. Wash peas well in cold water. In a pot over medium heat, render some fat from the salt pork and sauté the carrot, onion, and celery until tender. Add hot water, slowly at first, the peas, bring all to a boil, and boil for 1 hour.

2. Remove pork and vegetables and continue boiling until peas are thoroughly cooked, adding water, if necessary, to bring to required consistency.

3. Wash salt pork, allow to cool, then dice small. In a small skillet over medium heat, slowly fry until crisp, drain all fat off, and serve in soup like croutons.


This is a very good recipe, actually. I highly recommend it.

The texture of a good pea soup is a matter of taste. I have never liked it too thick, so don’t always blend them. If it is too thick after cooking, you can add some more stock.  Taste it frequently.  Be sparing with the salt. Pepper is optional too.

When I traveled to Sweden in 1989, I was surprised to learn that Pea Soup is a traditional Thursday night supper in Sweden. Their version certainly reminded me of the French Canadian version, and I can only explain that by the fact that most French Canadians are descended from the Normans, who were Vikings from the Scandinavian countries. Then again, pea soup is such a universal thing, and such an ancient recipe, that the French Canadian version might have come from anywhere.

Pea soup is a very common food in northern countries. German armed forces started eating it during the Franco-Prussian War. It is also a common dish in the Netherlands. It is regular fare for Finnish and Scandinavian armed forces. Naturally, I sought out recipes for the Swedish pea soup and here is one recipe I found at:  (http://scandinavianfood.about.com/od/souprecipes/r/peasouprecipe.htm)


Dried Pea Soup (Ärtsoppa, in Swedish)

This is an immensely gratifying, warming soup traditionally made from dried yellow peas and served on Thursdays in Sweden, followed by crêpe-like pancakes with whipped cream and preserves (Pannkakkor) for dessert. Try swirling a teaspoon of grainy brown mustard on top of each serving to enhance both the presentation and the rich combination of flavors.

1 lb dried yellow or green peas (whole if you can get them, but split ones work just as well)
8 cups water
2 finely chopped onions (2 cups)
1 peeled whole onion studded with 2 cloves
1 large chopped carrot (1/2 cup)
1 meaty ham bone -or- 2 to 3 ham hocks
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1 tsp grainy brown mustard

1. Rinse and pick through 1 lb. dried yellow or green peas. If using whole peas, soak the peas overnight in their soup water (this isn’t necessary if using split peas so long as you can let the soup simmer for 2 to 3 hours).

2. Fill a large pot with 8 cups of water (or 6 if you like a thicker soup. You can always thin it with water as you go along if it looks too dense). Add the peas, 2 finely chopped onions, 1 peeled whole onion studded with two whole cloves, 1 large chopped carrot, and a meaty ham bone (-or- 2 to 3 ham hocks). Bring to a boil, then cover pot and reduce to a simmer over low heat for 90 minutes.

3. If using whole peas, skim off any pea skins that have risen to the surface. Remove 2 to 3 cups of the soup, puree in a blender or food processor, and return puree to the pot (this helps to thicken the soup). Continue to simmer for at least 30 more minutes; another hour or more won’t hurt it.

4. Minutes before serving, remove the studded onion and the meat. Chop the meat (it should amount to about 1 cup) and return to pot. Season the soup with 1 tsp. dried thyme, 1 tsp. ground ginger, 1 tsp. salt, and 1/8 tsp. pepper. Simmer 15 more minutes.  Serve, passing around grainy brown mustard to stir into soup to taste.

Servings: 4

Cooking Times:
Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 17 minutes

Nutrition Facts
Nutrition (per serving): 34 calories, 1 calories from fat, <1g total fat, 0mg cholesterol, 612.3mg sodium, 164.6mg potassium, 8g carbohydrates, 1.8g fiber, 3.6g sugar, <1g protein.


Pea_soup_tube_070508Many variations can be found for that recipe too. Sometimes the pork (or sausage) is served on the side with mustard, and a hearty rye bread. Herbs may vary too. In my cookbook library I have a number of Scandinavian cookbooks, and each one offers a variation. Apparently, in Sweden and Denmark, you can buy pea soup in a tube. I cannot vouch for its flavour.

Curiously, in France, you are more likely to be served Potage Saint-Germain, which is made with fresh green peas. It is quite different, but delicious. I make this one at the time of the year when we can get fresh peas at market. In Italy, they have a Minestra di Piselli. These are very fine soups, and in a very different league than the split-pea soup variations discussed here.

This is a very brief essay on my experience with pea soup. There are thousands of variations, but one thing is for sure, this is comfort food of the highest order, tempered perhaps by memories of boarding school and other cafeteria-like offerings which pale in comparison to the real thing.

© Roger H. Boulet, 2015

Living with Vivaldi

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The first time I heard some music by Vivaldi was when I was about 15 years old. It was his Concerto for Two Trumpets, Strings and Continuo in C major, RV 537. I remember it was on a 10-inch 33 1/3 rpm record with a blue label. That was 56 years ago! Since then, if there has been one composer who has accompanied me all these years, it was Vivaldi (with Tchaikovsky a close second). All the others came later along the way.

MI0003129059When I first started buying records in my teens, I was a member of the Columbia Record Club, and I recall purchasing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons played by Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra. These were a revelation to me, and way back then, Vivaldi was certainly not heard that often. Apparently the recording has been re-issued, but I have moved on since those days, and prefer my baroque music played on instruments true to the period.

leonard_bernstein_vivaldiI think the second Vivaldi recording I bought was one with Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic. It had a concerto for diverse instruments with two mandolins, one  concerto for oboe, one for flute and one for piccolo.  The concerto for diverse instruments was particularly appealing, although by hindsight one shudders at Bernstein’s use of a trumpet in the place of the tromba marina (a stringed instrument).

rca_lsc-2353_smallMy third Vivaldi purchase was an RCA recording of Vivaldi Bassoon Concerti, which I enjoyed tremendously, especially a concerto in F (RV 485) with its little ritornello in the third movement. This was the beginning of a lifelong love for Vivaldi’s Bassoon Concerti. I own a couple of complete sets on CD, and am avidly collecting a third, performed my Sergio Azzolini and  the players of L’Aura Soave on the Naïve label.

Over the past 50 years, Vivaldi has become a household name for classical music lovers, and a great deal of his music has been recorded, including operas, sacred music and many, many, many concerti. It seems that throughout these 50 years, I have bought Vivaldi recordings, especially on CD and especially on instruments authentic to the period. I don’t think a week goes by without some Vivaldi.

As far as the Four Seasons are concerned, I think that the BIS recording with Nils-Erik Sparf and the Drottningholm Baroque Ensemble (BIS CD-275) is one of the best. The playing is delightful, sharp and crisp and the music sounds completely new. Other recordings have since been issued and been critically acclaimed, particularly the recordings by Europa Galante directed by Fabio Biondi, and by Il Giardino Armonico cnducted by Giovanni Antonini.

The Four Seasons are concerti for violin and string orchestra, although you will find them transcribed for almost any instrument now. They were part of the twelve concerti published as Vivaldi’s Il cimento dell’armonia e dell’invenzione, Op. 8. Other published collections were L’estro Armonico (op. 3) La cetra (Op. 9) and La stravaganza (Op. 4). All reward the listener.

But there are other concerti, usually grouped on recordings by the instruments they feature. There are six flute concerti grouped in Op. 10. There are about 25 cello concerti, and 37 bassoon concerti as well. Especially fascinating are the concerti for viola d’amore, for mandolins, and various groupings of instruments. These are best heard played by period instruments.

81iI-gzb0PL._SL1425_The best recording of the concerti for viola d’amore is by Fabio Biondi and Europa Galante. It contains seven concerti as well as the Concerto for viola d’amore and lute in D minor, RV 540. The viola d’amore is very attractive. It has six or seven strings and the sound is slightly nasal, as there are sympathetic strings that add a particular resonance. Also included here is a concerto in  F major (RV 97) for viola d’amore which strangely includes oboes, bassoons and hunting horns in its third movement. The effect is quite astonishing and evocative of a hunt.


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The same forces gives us the concerti for mandolins and concerti ‘con molti stromenti.’  There are two volumes. The first has three concerti for mandolins, and four for various combinations of instruments. The second also has seven concerti, one of them for the strange combination of solo violin, two hunting horns, 2 oboes, 2 violins, alto viola and bass as well as tympani, the latter a most unusual inclusion for Vivaldi. Both these albums are terrific.

Another favourite album is a Warner Bros. Elatus disc which features two trios and five concerti with various instrumental combinations. The players are Il Giardino Armonico, and their interpretations are nuanced and sensitive.

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Finally, a word about the bassoon concerti. At least three complete sets are available, but the best by far are those played by Sergio Azzolini and the ensemble L’aura soave of Cremona. I have always been very fond of the bassoon concerti, and certainly look forward to the remaining two albums to complete the collection. You can hear the complete album of the first set on YouTube.

The series (on Naïve label) also has some striking cover art. I can only suppose that the woodsy quality of the images somehow relates to the woodsy timbre of the baroque bassoon.

0709869022368_600Vivaldi’s spirited music is perfect in the morning, it is cheerful and sunny. There is a life-affirming quality about it which is sure to lift one’s spirits. As a listener of Stingray Music, part of our cable service, I get to hear quite a bit of Vivaldi on their Baroque channel and I continue to discover the music of his contemporaries too. There was something incredibly positive about the Baroque period, and certainly Vivaldi’s music epitomizes the period. I always bring a CD or two of Vivaldi’s music to play in the car when I am travelling. And they are also on my MP3 player. Perfect for the gym, for walking, or doing just about anything.

© Roger H. Boulet, 2015.

Note: The listener will find a lot of Vivaldi’s music on YouTube, and the CD’s are worth purchasing too. The sound is so much better!

Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1527-1593)

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When writing anything about the Seasons, one inevitably encounters the work of Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1527-2593) and his allegorical cycles.

Giuseppe Arcimboldo fits the definition of Mannerism quite wonderfully when one understands the term generally used to describe the painters who fall between the High Renaissance and the Baroque, that is, the period between the death of Raphael (1520) to the advent of the Baroque with the Caravaggio cycle on St. Matthew of 1599-1600 (Church of San Luigi dei Francese, Rome). Mannerism is characterized by highly intellectual or literary content and complex compositions in contrast to the classical stability to be found in the works of Raphael, and the more dramatic and populist approach ushered in by Caravaggio.

Arcimboldo is one of the more interesting of the Mannerist painters and his work is a curious blend of Italian sophistication and a rather painterly technique within a realistic or mimetic approach, mimesis being the art of imitation of reality or nature. He spent most of his life in Northern Italy, Vienna and Prague where he was patronized by three Holy Roman Emperors in succession, namely Ferdinand I, Maximilian II and Rudolf II. It was for Ferdinand I that Arcimboldo first conceived his first cycle of the Four Seasons in about 1563-66. The popularity of these works led Arcimboldo to repeat the cycles a number of times, with minor variations. Some of the individual works are lost, but one can nevertheless form a good idea of the allegories involved.

Arcimboldo -La_Primavera - 1563

Giuseppe Arcimboldo, La Primavera, 1563, oil on canvas,  66 x 50 cm, Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, Madrid.


La Primavera (Spring) sets out the manner in which Arcimboldo will paint his Seasons. Here all the flowers and foliage of spring are used in the format of a formal royal portrait, complete with ruffled collar and crown. But there is more to it than that. Cycles of the Seasons are often allegorical references to the Four Ages of Man, namely Childhood (Spring), Adolescence (Summer), Adulthood (Autumn) and Old Age (Winter).

An interesting little book on Archimboldo by Liana De Girolami Cheney suggests further allegories and associations.(1) She notes that Arcimboldo usually accompanied a Seasons cycle with another depicting the Four Elements, Air (Spring), Fire (Summer), Earth (Autumn) and Water (Winter), and that the cycles were meant to be seen and considered together. Mannerist paintings have complicated allegories and were intended for literate patrons who were familiar with the myths of antiquity, and various classical and symbolic allusions. For instance, as Cheney writes, “Spring and Air are both warm and damp,” while Summer is hot and dry, as is Fire. Autumn and Earth are cold and dry, while Winter is cold and damp, like Water.  We would not necessarily make such associations today.

arcimboldo - air - 1566

Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Air, ca. 1566, oil on canvas,  74.4 x 56.6 cm, Private Collection, Basel.


The depiction of Air, therefore, concentrates on various birds “and their ability to fly without being hindered by atmospheric conditions” while Spring represents “the beginning of knowledge, the rebirth of new flowers, plants and vegetation.” Complementing Spring and Air results in a dialogue between the two works.

Next come Summer and Fire.

Arcimboldo - Summer  - 1572

Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Summer, 1563, oil on panel,  67 x 50.8 cm, Kunsthistorishes Museum, Vienna.


arcimboldo - fire - 1566

Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Fire, 1566, oil on panel,  66.5 x 51 cm, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.


Summer includes a variety of fruits and vegetables associated with the season, while Fire assembles various objects associated with the element. Burning wood, candles, wicks, lamps as well as guns and canons clearly allude also to warfare. The collar is the Order of the Golden Fleece, an exalted Holy Roman Empire honour, itself forged in fire.

Autumn and Earth are next in the cycles.

arcimboldo - 1573 -  autumn

Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Autumn, 1573, oil on canvas,  77 x 63 cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris.


arcimboldon- earth - 1566

Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Earth, ca. 1570, oil on panel,  70.2 x 48.7 cm, Private Collection, Vienna.


Autumn was often associated with the harvest, as well as the hunt, and it is this association which are immediately apparent in these two works. A splendid decorative border surrounds this version of Autumn in the Louvre. Various grapes, squashes and root vegetables are featured, and the torso consists of staves for a wine barrel. As for Earth, all kinds of animals are represented, and the chest consists of a sheep skin, once again a reference to the Golden Fleece.

arcimboldo - winter - 1573

Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Winter, 1563, oil on panel,  66.6 x 50.5 cm, Kunsthistorishes Museum, Vienna.


arcimboldo - water - 1566

Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Water, 1566, oil on panel,  66.5 x 50.5 cm, Kunsthistorishes Museum, Vienna.


The composition for the season of winter is not made up of various elements, but of an old tree trunk, clearly indicating the allegory for old age. The tree is without leaves but the ivy makes up the hair. Some kind of tree fungus seems to form the mouth. Citrus fruit symbolize winter. As for Water, various fish and shellfish are used for the portrait.

A website devoted to the works of Arcimboldo contains many of these works in various versions. There is even a version of the four seasons depicted as four reclining figures, in private collections, in landscape format. Each painting also includes a seasonal landscape in the background. But Cheney’s book does not even mention these intriguing works, and I could find no information on their provenance either.

I will discuss Arcimboldo’s work again, as there are other works that I would like to present here, as they relate to art and food.

© Roger H. Boulet, 2015


Works reproduced are in the public domain, and online publication is covered by Wikimedia Commons licenses.


 

(1) Cheney, Liana de Girolami. Arcimboldo. New York: Parkstone Press, 2013

Book of Hours–January and February

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January

©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. Ojéda

This is a Late Gothic illuminated manuscript page representing January in the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry.  It was commissioned in about 1410-11, and features work by the De Limbourg brothers, Paul, John and Herman.  It is preserved in the Musée Condé in France. It is considered the greatest of illuminated manuscript books.  I never tire of its illustrations. There is another manuscript called the Belles Heures du Duc de Berry in the collection of the Cloisters Museum of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, also by the Limbourg brothers.

For many years, I have marked the seasons and its rhythms, even more so since retirement, and I happen to live in an area where the seasons are fairly well marked, each having its own well defined characteristics.  These of course vary according to where you live. The good duke Jean, Duke of Berry, lived in northern France, and so the tasks and rituals are more applicable to that particular latitude, which happens to be where I also live in  Canada, just above the forty-ninth.

As represented here, January is a time of gift giving and feasting, the scene represented above has the Duke seated to the right (with a fur hat) at a banquet table, suggesting the feasting that took place on New Year’s Day, perhaps, when holiday gift giving took place. It was also a day for the renewal of contracts and expressions of loyalty and fealty. Generally, the time for feasting was from Christmas to Epiphany, the Twelve Days of Christmas. French Canadians still refer to this period as Le Temps des Fêtes. The period actually marks the days following the Winter Solstice, and is also a celebration of the return of light.

©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. Ojéda

The detail above shows the transition from Capricorn to Aquarius above the motif of the sun’s chariot. In the Cloisters manuscript, the month of January is represented by a list of its feast days.

tres belles heures - january

In the quatrefoil on top of the page, the Janus image of an old man sitting back to back with a younger man represents the passing of the old year to the new year. The Aquarius zodiac sign appears at the bottom of page.

tres belles heures - january - detail 2

While most of the calendar pages of the Très Riches Heures feature the labours of particular months, this one seems to commemorate that time in  deepest winter when rest from these labours takes place.


February

©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. Ojéda

The page for the month of February from the Très Riches Heures contains lovely scenes of winter in medieval France. One man is seen chopping down a tree for firewood, while another is blowing warmth in his hands as he prepares to go indoors. A third drives a donkey loaded with firewood towards a little village on top of the picture. Indoors, three people are warming themselves by a fireplace. Smoke comes out of the chimney. Outdoors, the sheep are huddled together in a covered enclosure while birds pick at grain. The beehives are covered with snow. Erwin Panofsky described this as the first winter landscape in the history of painting.

©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. Ojéda

The top of the page shows the two zodiac signs of Aquarius and Pisces as the chariot of the sun moves through the heavens.

tres belles heures - february

The Belles Heures manuscript lists the feast days of February, the principal feast being La Chandeleur, discussed in a previous post. The zodiac sign of Pisces is illustrated in the quatrefoil picture at the bottom of the page.

tres belles heures -february - detail 2

The small picture in the quatrefoil at the top of the page shows a man trying to keep warm by a fireplace. Smoke seems to escape into the room. Something is being grilled close to the fire, perhaps sausages.

Since the manuscript of the Très Riches Heures also contains a terrific illustration of the Presentation of Jesus at the temple, or the Purification of the Virgin (2 February) I feel compelled to present it here, since I did not include it in my previous Candlemas post.

©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. Ojéda

The temple is presented in a high Gothic style. The Virgin approaches with the Christ child (bottom left), followed by Joseph. An attendant on the steps carries the sacrifice of the two doves. Within the temple above awaits Simeon, presented here as a Bishop attended by clergy.

As for music associated with February, I can’t think of anything better than some of Bach’s Cantatas. There are various cantatas for Septuagesima, Sexagesima and Quinquagesima Sundays which inevitably occur in the dead of winter. The magnificent recordings of John Eliot Gardiner’s English Baroque Soloists and Monterverdi Choir present Bach cantata music for the entire year, grouping the cantatas by their feast days and Sundays.

At this particular time, apart from the cantatas written for the aforementioned Sundays, the three cantatas he wrote for the Feast Day of the Purification of Mary (BWV 82, 83 and 125, recording Archiv 463585-2) seem particular appropriate, as they celebrate the coming of light. They also suggest, echoing Simeon’s words, that death is not such a bad thing as it leads to Light. Even for non-believers, this music and and meditation on the sung texts, can stand as metaphors for this particular time of the year, when warmth and light return to our lives.

© Roger H. Boulet, 2015

Candlemas (2 February)

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I still like to look at old calendars where life was regulated by seasons and traditional festivals and labours. The seasons were marked by Solstices and Equinoxes, which are easier to remember today. But in earlier times, when such days were marked by feast days or religious holidays, the celebrations and days had more poetic associations, often based on the Christian calendar, which superimposed itself on pagan festivals. For instance, the festivals which marked the beginning of the seasons were known as “quarter days.” These were “Lady Day” (25 March) the feast day of the Annunciation, then Midsummer Day (or St. John’s day) on 24 June, then Michaelmas Day, or the feast day of St. Michael (29 September) and finally Christmas Day on the 25th of December. wheel of the year

The pagan calendar was often represented by the Wheel of the Year, and it identified these special times or days. (I found this particular one online with no source or credit noted.)

The “cross-quarter days”  were the days at the mid-point between the quarter days. So one celebrated Candlemas on 2 February, May Day on 1st May, Lammas on the 1st of August and Hallowmas on 1st November. There were other days, such as Martinmas celebrated on the 11th of November, as well as others, too numerous to mention.  These festivals punctuated human activities throughout the year. Many of these old festivals have been superseded by secular observances. For instance, the obscure Candlemas is also known as Ground Hog Day, and much of the lore associated with weather predictions on Candlemas are now attributed to the ground hog and whether or not he sees his shadow. Curiously, Candlemas was also the last day to clean out the greenery of Christmas decorations and anything associated with Christmas. They must have been pretty dry by then!

Candlemas, refers to candles, of course. It was also the feast day of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple and the Purification of Mary. A marvelous woodcut (1503-05) by Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) illustrates the event.

durer - presentation of christAccording to Hebraic tradition, a woman who had given birth to a son would present herself and the child at the temple forty days after the birth for purification.  This was accompanied with the sacrifice of a lamb, but for poorer folk, such as Mary and Joseph, a pair or turtledoves stood in for the lamb. In Dürer’s print, the holy man Simeon receives the child, recognizes him as the Messiah, and sings a marvelous canticle, usually referred to as the Nunc Dimittis (Luke 2: 29-32). The traditional Gregorian chant is presented here preceded by the Antiphon, Salva Nos.

So what about the candles? Well, there is more to Candlemas than one could write about in a short blog. It seems that the day’s association with fire goes back to pre-Christian days, and is also associated with the coming of spring, even if the equinox occurs a month and a half later. It might have to do with the recognition of light as the advent of Jesus. But it seems the old pagan festival also featured fire, and the return of warmth to the earth. Candles were blessed at church on Candlemas day. I remember we brought the blessed  candles home. They were lit during fierce summer thunderstorms to protect the house. In some cultures, it was also traditional to clean the hearth and light a new fire in it. It seems that rituals associated with St. Bridgid’s day (1st February) became conflated with Candlemas.

Crepes_dsc07085

“Crepes dsc07085” by David Monniaux – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Now for the pancakes. These are also associated with Candlemas, and may have to do with the golden disc representing the sun, or with the bread left for St. Bridgid on her feast day. At any rate, pancakes or crêpes have long been associated with the day. Folklore held that the woman would hold a coin in her left hand while handling the griddle for the crêpes in the right hand.  When she flipped the crêpe successfully with that one hand, good fortune would come to her.

So here is the Basic Recipe for Crêpes that I use. (Source: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/basic-crepes/) A recipe for crêpes using buckwheat flour (equally delicious) can be found here.


Basic Crêpes

Here is a simple but delicious crepe batter which can be made in minutes. It’s made from ingredients that everyone has on hand

1 cup all-purpose flour
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1/4 tsp salt
2 Tbsp butter, melted

1. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour and the eggs. Gradually add in the milk and water, stirring to combine. Add the salt and butter; beat until smooth.

2. Heat a lightly oiled griddle or frying pan over medium high heat. Pour or scoop the batter onto the griddle, using approximately 1/4 cup for each crepe. Tilt the pan with a circular motion so that the batter coats the surface evenly.

3. Cook the crepe for about 2 minutes, until the bottom is light brown. Loosen with a spatula, turn and cook the other side. Serve hot.

Yield: 8 crepes


The crêpes can either be stuffed with fruit, or with a savoury mixture of some kind. The buckwheat crêpes go beautifully with ham or mushrooms, or something like that. In Canada, maple syrup is de rigueur, especially if you are French Canadian.

I remember my grandmother made a kind of crêpe that was cooked in about half an inch of sizzling lard. No doubt she had learned this method from her mother.  It is this kind of crêpe that was traditionally cooked in sugar shacks, although another version uses rendered salt pork.

My mother compiled a book of the (extended)  Boulet family recipes in about 1983-84, and my aunt Claire provided grandmother’s crêpe recipe. The recipe does not specify the amount of lard used. I remember there was always a container of it on the back of the wooden stoves they used back then. Because the lard was at a high temperature, the crêpe absorbed very little of it. Here is that recipe (translated by me).


Crêpes

8 eggs, lightly beaten
½ tsp salt
4 cups of milk
2 cups of flour

Sift the flour and salt into a mixing bowl. Make a well in the middle. Put the slightly beaten eggs in that well. Add the liquid and whisk everything together. Use lard for frying.

Put ¼ cup of the batter in a the preheated skillet with the sizzling lard, spreading it evenly and quickly.

Serves 8.

Note: During the course of the day, the leftover crêpes were left to cool. When we got hungry, we still went for the crêpes. We would take a crêpe, and we would spread white or brown sugar on it, and rolled it up. This was a delicious snack for us! When I think of that today, I admire the great patience my mother had to make piles of crêpes for our breakfasts on certain days.


We don’t eat like that anymore, but there was no crêpe quite like it! My mother preferred to make regular pancakes, but grandmother’s crêpes are still fondly remembered.

© Roger H. Boulet, 2015

Viewing “Mr. Turner”

I had the privilege of seeing on the 1st of February “Mr. Turner,” the wonderful film directed by  Mike Leigh and featuring Timothy Spall in the title role. It is an extraordinary film, and if you know the artist’s work, you will enjoy it as much as I did. I was totally drawn into it and when it ended, after two and a half hours, I thought the time had gone by very quickly. Others might find it a bit dreary, certainly not action-packed, and with no violence nor explosions. Even the burning of the British Houses of Parliament in 1834, which he witnessed and painted, is not featured at all.

I have always loved Turner’s work. I remember as an art student spending hours at the Tate Gallery in the Turner Rooms. The last time I visited the Tate Britain and its Clore Galery where the Turner collection is now displayed, was on Sunday, 19th May, 2002. I was in Great Britain to do some research on the etcher Ernest Stephen Lumdsen  (1883-1948) for an exhibition at the Burnaby Art Gallery and its attendant publication (2003).

I had flown into Manchester that weekend, and having noted that Sunday was the last day to see The American Sublime exhibition at the Tate Britain, I took a train to London from Manchester in the early morning and spent the entire day at the Tate before returning that evening, and then going on to Edinburgh the following day. I did spend several hours in The American Sublime exhibition. It is probably the most I have ever spent to see an exhibition, including train fare and exhibition catalogue, but it was worth every penny. To gild the lily, I spent the couple of hours I had left looking at Turner’s work again in the Clore Gallery. At that time I was also a sessional teacher at Okanagan University College (now University of British Columbia Okanagan) teaching art history, including 19th century art history.

Of course, the idea of the Sublime was an important aspect of 19th century art, and this was an opportunity to see what it was all about, in its American incarnation. Many American artists inspired by the Sublime knew and admired Turner’s work.

Turner’s Sublime is summed up in his early painting, Snowstorm: Hannibal Crossing the Alps (1812).

snow-storm-hannibal-and-his-army-crossing-the-alps-1812

J.M.W. Turner, Snowstorm: Hannibal and His Army Crossing the Alps, 1812, oil on canvas, 144.7 x 236 cm, Tate Britain.


The work was done during the long period when British artists could not travel to the Continent because of the ongoing war with France (1792-1815). The painting is a veiled allusion to the crossing of the Alps by Napoleon in 1800, and suggests that, like the Carthaginian Empire, his dreams of empire are doomed. The cataclysm depicted here, a stormy vortex, is a powerful expression of the sublime forces of nature, and it is really this depiction of nature that would be the key to Turner’s paintings in the years to come, though many works also alluded to Britain’s own imperial power, especially the power of its Navy.

This painting was not the first nor the last time Turner used the vortex as a dominant compositional device. In 1800, at the age of 24, he submitted his Fifth Plague of Egypt, which inspired the appropriate awe.

Joseph_Mallord_William_Turner_-_The_Fifth_Plague_of_Egypt_-_Google_Art_Project 

J.M.W. Turner, The Fifth Plague of Egypt, 1800, oil on canvas, 120 x 180 cm, Indianapolis Museum of Art.


Turner was not the only painter working in the Sublime manner, but he gained prestige by adapting his primary interests as a landscape painter to some kind of myth, Biblical or poetic, and many of his paintings would include a narrative pretext, but it was always about nature, light and darkness.

The movie focuses on the last three decades of Turner’s life and presumably begins in about 1825 or so when he is seen sketching a sunset in the Netherlands. (His first trip to the Netherlands dates from 1817). He is already famous and his house also contains his own gallery. Typical of Turner’s work at that time was his Dido Building Carthage (1815) and in that painting and many others, he shows the influence of the French painter Claude Lorrain (1600-1682) who was held in such high esteem by British collectors.

Claude_Lorrain_embarkation of the queen of sheba - 1648

Claude Lorrain (1600-1682) The Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba, 1648, oil on canvas, 149 x 194 cm, National Gallery, London.


Turner considered the Lorrain painting his masterpiece and painted his Dido Building Carthage in 1815, as an homage to it. He would eventually bequeath it to the British nation with the proviso that it be exhibited alongside the Lorrain in the National Gallery. And that is where you can see it to this day.

dido-building-carthage - 1815

J.M.W. Turner, Dido Building Carthage, 1815, oil on canvas, 155.5 x 230 cm, National Gallery, London.


Turner was not afraid to be compared to Claude Lorrain, which indicates how highly he thought of his own work. He revisited stories from the Carthaginian Empire, with a Decline of the Carthaginian Empire (1817), also in the National Gallery. How well I remember the occasions I stood in that room contemplating these extraordinary works!

Another work is his Regulus. This painting is a key to Turner’s work I think, although certainly not one of his best known.  The story is that of the Roman general Regulus, captured by the Carthaginians, and sent to Rome to negotiate a peace treaty. He instead convinces the Romans to reject the terms, and true to his word, he returns to Carthage to face a certain death. Among his tortures was to have his eyelids cut so he would be blinded by the sun.

regulus-1826-37

J.M.W. Turner, Regulus, 1828, reworked in 1837, oil on canvas, 89.5 x 123.8 cm, Tate Gallery.


The painting shows Regulus leaving Rome for Carthage as he had promised. His eventual blinding is foreshadowed in this painting. I was reminded of this painting recently when I visited an ophthalmologist and had some of those pupil dilating eye drops. They make you see light in all its intensity for a few hours. I could not help thinking of Turner!

Gradually, it is the intensity of light that comes to dominate Turner’s work, not to mention an intensity of colour. The subject becomes a pretext for Turner’s abiding interest in the effects of sunlight. The movie, “Mr. Turner” often shows Turner sketching in the landscape with low sun, fog, clouds and even steam belching from steamboats or steam locomotives.

JMW Turner - The fighting Temeraire 1839

J.M.W. Turner, The Fighting Téméraire tugged to her last berth to be broken up, 1838, 1839, oil on canvas,   90.7 x 121.6 cm, National Gallery, London


An example is the painting of the Téméraire (above), and the movie, “Mr. Turner,” re-enacts the scene where the artist and some of his friends are witnessing the event from the water. It is one example of an event shown in the movie to great effect. The juxtaposition of a sailing man-o-war being towed to be scrapped by a small steam tug is poignant. It is the passing of an era. Apparently Turner, in fact, did not witness the event, but was very eager to make this contemporary event the subject of a painting. The ship had been dismasted at Trafalgar, but Turner depicts her with all her rigging.

turner-slave-ship - 1840

J.M.W. Turner, The Slave Ship (Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying, Typhoon Coming On), 1840, oil on canvas, 90.8 x 122.6 cm, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.


The same can be said for his painting of the Slave Ship. In the movie, this painting is owned by the critic John Ruskin’s father, and it is worth reading Ruskin’s description of it in Modern Painters. The characterization of Ruskin in the movie is priceless, and although Ruskin was one of Turner’s great champions, he did not like paintings where Turner included contemporary subject matter, such as steamboats, in his work. The movie also shows Ruskin being very critical of Claude Lorrain, an opinion which Turner certainly did not share.

turner - snowstorm-1842

J.M.W. Turner, Snow Storm – Steam Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth making signals in Shallow Water, and going by the Lead. The Author was in this Storm on the Night the Ariel left Harwich, 1842, oil on canvas, 91.4 x 121.9 cm, Tate Gallery.


Turner’s life-long admiration of Lorrain did not prevent him from depicting contemporary events. In his Snow Storm, he gives heroic treatment to an unnamed steam boat tossed about in a turbulent sea, a scene he observed himself. Once again, the vortex dominates the chilling composition of a steam boat in distress, with lights, clouds and rain drawing in the viewer.

Rain_Steam_and_Speed_the_Great_Western_Railway-1844

J.M.W. Turner, Rain, Steam and Speed – the Great Western Railway, 1844, oil on canvas, 91 x 121.8 cm, National Gallery, London.


Turner’s use of contemporary subject matter, such as steam locomotives, astonished his viewers. Such subject matter was usually shunned by Turner’s colleagues of the Royal Academy, but Turner who witnessed the transformation of Britain as a result of the Industrial Revolution, was fascinated by the visual effects.  This painting too is re-enacted in the film to great effect.

turner-angel standing in the sun -1846

J.M.W. Turner, The Angel Standing in the Sun, 1846, oil on canvas, 78.7 x 78.7 cm, Tate Gallery.


In addition to his fascination with the scenes of modern life, Turner often turned to literature for his inspiration. The Angel Standing in the Sun is inspired by the Apocalypse, and the extraordinary images conjured up by John the Evangelist (Revelation 19:17) must have enthralled Turner, although he was not a religious man. The key to Turner’s beliefs are expressed by his last words, “The sun is God, ha-ha-ha.” Certainly his paintings had expressed these beliefs throughout his life.  

 

© Roger H. Boulet, 2015.

 

Bibliography:

Brown, David B., ed. J.M.W. Turner – Painting Set Free. Los Angeles: The John Paul Getty Museum, 2014.

Venning, Barry.  Turner. London: Phaidon Press, 2003.

 

Works reproduced here are in the public domain.

On the Colours of Vegetables and Fruit…

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produce department

Sometimes, especially in the grey winter, I love to go to produce stores and supermarkets just to look at the colours of vegetables of various kinds. Even an interest in textures is rewarded, and the offerings can vary from season to season.  As I live in an area of orchards and vineyards, different seasons bring fruits of different colours, from the dark red of the cherries, to the peaches, pears and plums. All of them delight me, as do the light brown walnuts at the end harvest season. Then everything goes dormant, the foliage falls to the earth and we can rest too…  The landscape is a bit dreary during these months, and that is why I like to visit stores to see bright colours, and I get a bit of exercise while doing that too.

For various reasons, now retired, we have probably cut down our meat consumption by at least 60%… It helps to live in an area where produce is so abundant, thanks also to local greenhouses that keep us nourished in the winter.  While the 100 mile (or 160 km) diet is quiet impractical in Canada, I do try to source things as close to home as I can.  Just the other day, I saw at a supermarket some summer fruit or vegetable imported from New Zealand, and it was not a kiwi. I wasn’t even tempted.  To the extent that I can, I do like fruits and vegetables in season, and am prepared to wait (with a few exceptions)…  When spring is at hand, it is hard to resist those reasonably-priced imported bunches of of asparagus, but when the local asparagus finally arrives, it is so much more flavourful!

At this time of the year as we increase the number of vegetables we eat, winter vegetables take pride of place. Lots of root vegetables are in that category, such as carrots, beets, not to mention potatoes, some turnips, squash, etc.

This passion for the look of vegetables and fruit has made me explore different ways of preparing them, beyond steaming and stir-frying. Preserving that colour is important. By some chance, I happened to come across a marvelous blog called Inspiralized created by Ali Maffucci. This led me to a kitchen gadget called a spiralizer or Spriral Slicer.  I’m a sucker for kitchen gadgets, but I tend to be cautious now.  Many of them have been relegated to storage. Two weeks of exploring and researching, including reading the recipes on Ms. Malffucci’s blog, and I decided to order a Paderno Spiral Slicer. It arrived yesterday, and I tried it last night for the first time, a simple recipe of spiralized zucchini noodles with garlic and parmesan. Simple and terrific!!

My research has also led me to the idea that I could convert a number of my recipes to incorporate the spiralizing method of cutting vegetables. It means they are more lightly cooked, and presumably retain more of their nutrients.  As we tend to have a vegetarian meal in the evening (stir-fry, soup or salad) and the main meal at mid-day, the spiralizer provides lots of new possibilities.  I admit that once I picked up my spiralizer from the Post Office, I went shopping and purchased just about every vegetable that can be spiralized. We are now happily eating through the contents of the vegetable crisper.

2015-01-23 18.00.58Tonight, feeling a little ambitious, I decided to convert a wonderful recipe for Roasted Beet Salad with Oranges and Gorgonzola with Truffle Honey Vinaigrette. Now I did not invent this one, but the gift some years ago of a small jar of truffle honey had me searching for recipes calling for it.  So I came upon this recipe by Robyn Webb. I have enjoyed it a couple of times, and I still have some truffle honey, so I decided to amend the recipe to take advantage of my new gadget. So I spiralized one yellow beet and one red beet! Visually, that was quite stunning!

The full recipe, as amended, is as follows:


Salad with Greens, Spiralized Beets, Walnuts  and Honey Truffle Dressing
Serves 2

2 beets, peeled and spiralized with blade C (smallest)
2 small oranges, peeled, sliced to remove all the pith
steamed green beans (a generous handful)
blue cheese
½ cup walnuts

Dressing:
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp white  wine vinegar
1 tbsp truffle honey
¼ tsp Dijon mustard
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1.  Prepare the dressing by combining all the ingredients in a small container. Stir well.
2.  Put the spiralized beets on a cooking sheet sprayed with olive oil cooking spray.
2.  Cook beets in a 400° oven for 5 minutes. Let cool.
3.  In a bowl combine the beets, greens, orange slices. Pour the dressing over the salad and top with crumbled blue cheese and walnuts on top of the salad.  Serve.


2015-01-23 18.36.13This was the result. A few comments are in order. First, I had two large oranges. One would have sufficed, but two small navel oranges would also be fine. I substituted steamed green beans, still crunchy, for the mixed greens in Robyn Webb’s original recipe. Very good.  If I made this in the summer time, I would use peaches or pears instead of the oranges. And rather than ordinary Danish blue cheese, which I had on hand, Gorgonzola would be my first choice. If using peaches or pears, I would use a milder cheese, such as goat cheese or brie, both of which are great with truffle honey.  The dressing recipe above is exactly that suggested by Robyn Webb.

The salad could also be individually plated and the ingredients kept separate, no doubt providing a better aesthetic. There is much to be said for individual flavours linked by a common vinaigrette… I think I will try that next time.

© Roger H. Boulet, 2015

Agliata, (…or more on garlic sauces…)

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2015-01-21 12.03.27In my last post, I mentioned a garlic sauce that was served with cucumbers in Cetrioli alle Noci. This sauce is very similar to Agliata which Giacomo Castelvetro describes in his The Fruits, Herbs and Vegetables of Italy (1614).

Dried walnuts are used in a garlic sauce called agliata, and this is how you make it: first take the best and whitest walnut kernels [the thin brown skin removed], in the quantity you need, a ladleful should be enough for eight people, and pound them in a really clean stone mortar (not a metal one) in which you have first crushed two or three cloves of garlic. When they are all well mixed, take three slices of stale white bread, well soaked in a good meat broth that is not too fatty, and pound them with the nuts. When everything is well mixed thin the sauce out with some of the same warm meat broth until you have a liquid like the pap they give to little babies, and send it to the table tepid, with a little crushed pepper. Prudent folk eat this sauce with fresh pork as an antidote to its harmful qualities, or with boiled goose, an equally unhealthy food. Serious pasta eaters even enjoy agliata with macaroni and lasagne. It is also good with boletus mushrooms…

Modern cookbooks still provide very similar instructions for this sauce to be served with pasta. This one from BigOven seems to be very close to Castelvetro’s original instructions. The BigOven author mentions eating this sauce on spinach artichoke ravioli, but I think it could also be served on a good quality tagliatelle or fettuccine as well.


Agliata Per Pasta (Garlic and Walnut Sauce For Pasta)

Ingredients

1 cup walnuts, toasted
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
2 tbsp stock; warmed
1/2 cup parsley; stems trimmed
6 tbsp olive oil
2 slices bread; stale, crusts removed
3 medium cloves garlic; chopped

Preparation

Soak the bread in the stock and then squeeze out any excess moisture. Combine the bread with the walnuts, parsley, garlic, salt and pepper in a food processor. Process, adding the olive oil in a very slow stream until you have a thick paste. Toss with your favourite pasta & serve hot.


Another recipe substitutes a half cup of basil instead of the parsley, and adds half a cup of grated parmesan cheese, with a flourish of shaved parmesan when served. (That is pesto, isn’! it?) Elizabeth David, in her Italian Cooking (Penguin Books, 1969) has an interesting recipe for Pasta Shells with Cream Cheese and Walnuts or Chiocciole al Mascherpone e Noce, but is without garlic. while her Salsa di Noci is yet another variation on walnuts and garlic. I reproduce it here as it also gives the directions are sample of Ms. David’s wonderful prose.


Salsa di Noci (Walnut Sauce)

2 oz. of shelled walnuts
1 coffee cupful of oil
2 tbsp breadcrumbs
1 ½ oz. of butter
1 large bunch of parsley
salt and pepper
2 tbsp of cream or milk

Take the skins off the shelled walnuts after pouring boiling water over them. Pound them in a mortar. Add the parsley, after having picked off all the large and coarse stalks. Put a little coarse salt with the parsley in the mortar – this will make it easier to pound. While reducing the parsley and the walnuts to a paste add from time to time some of the butter, softened or just melted by the side of the fire. Stir in the breadcrumbs, and, gradually, the oil.  The result should be a thick paste, very green; it need not be absolutely smooth, but it must be well amalgamated. Stir in the cream or milk. Season with a little more salt and ground black pepper. A bizarre sauce, but excellent with tagliatelle, or with fish, or as a filling for sandwiches.


Carla Capalbo in The Ultimate Italian Cookbook (ISBN 1-85967-013-X),  uses butter instead of oil, as well as some cream, for a rich sauce, but my preference would be for the more basic Agliata recipe above.

Quite possibly, the origin of these sauces combining garlic and walnuts could be the Turkish recipe called Tarator. The one given below is in Ghillie Basan’s The Complete Book of Turkish Cooking (ISBN 978-1846811760). The sauce is apparently served in Turkey with deep fried fish and steamed vegetables.  Tarator is a name given to a number of concoctions in the Middle East (see Wikipedia article) formerly all part of the Ottoman Empire. What they all have in common is garlic, and usually nuts.  Interestingly enough, Tarator also describes a soup in Bulgaria which combines yoghurt, walnuts and cucumbers as well as garlic, which would relate it to the Cetrioli alle Noci mentioned at the beginning of this post.  In Turkey and Syria, the yoghurt would be substituted with tahini paste. It seems to be a relative of the Greek Tzatziki and Skordalia sauces. Modern cookbooks suggest using a food processor rather than a mortar and pestle.  The wonderful Turkish dish called Circassian Chicken and its sauce seem to be part of this large family.


Garlic and Walnut Sauce (Tarator)

6 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
salt
50 gr walnuts, roughly chopped
2-3 slices day-0od bread, soaked in water and squeezed dry
3-4 tbsp olive oil
juice of half a lemon
ground black pepper

1. Using a mortar and pestle, pound the garlic to a paste with a little salt. Add the walnuts and pound them to a coarse paste.

2. Add the soaked bread and slowly pour in the olive oil, beating all the time to form a thick pulpy mixture. Beat in the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Serves 4-6


Even more basic is the Ailade aux Noix (Garlic-Walnut Sauce) to be found in Jean-Luc Toussaint’s The Walnut Cookbook (ISBN 0-89815-948-2).  This is a terrific cookbook entirely devoted to the walnut as a culinary ingredient in French country cooking.

Aillade de Noix (Garlic-Walnut Sauce)

½ cup walnut pieces
6 garlic cloves, peeled
¼ cup walnut oil
salt and freshly ground pepper

Place the walnuts and peeled garlic in  a food processor and mix to a paste, Little by little, add the walnut oil to the mixture in the food processor, pulsing to mix until you have a smooth mayonnaise-like sauce. (Purists would not use the food processor for this last step but would whip the mixture with a fork.) Add salt and pepper to taste.

Yield: : 2/3 to 3/4 cup


And, of course, many recipes for pesto use walnuts and garlic combined with various herbs.  Here is one with walnuts, garlic and sage, courtesy of Not Without Salt.


Sage Walnut Pesto

¼ cup Italian parsley
¼ cup tablespoons mint
1 cup (2 ½ oz.) sage, packed
2 garlic cloves
½ cup (2 oz.) walnuts, toasted
½ cup (1/2 oz.) grated Parmesan
½ cup (3 ¾ oz.) extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
salt

Combine first six ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and blend to a rough purée. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. With the machine running stream in the olive oil. Add the zest, lemon juice, then taste and add salt to taste. Adjust seasonings to your preference.


Jean_Siméon_Chardin_-_Pears,_Walnuts_and_Glass_of_Wine_-_WGA04784I mentioned the wonderful still-life paintings of Giovanna Garzoni (1600-1670) in a previous post. About a century later, in France, the painter Jean-Baptiste Chardin (1699-1779) created a number of still-life paintings which were highly praised in their day, and are revered today.  Here is his Pears, Walnuts and a Glass of Wine, ca. 1768 (oil on canvas, 33 x 41 cm, Musée du Louvre).  Pears, walnuts and a glass of wine are worthy of a simple meal in themselves. We are blessed to have a couple of pear trees and a walnut tree in our yard.

About Chardin’s work in his review of the 1763 Salon, Diderot would exclaim: “O Chardin! You no longer grind white, red or black pigments on your palette, but the very substance of the objects themselves, it is air and light that you capture on the tip of your brush and that you set on your canvas.” [my translation]

The humility of this simple fare, exemplified in the recipes I have copied above, are within reach of most folks I know, while the blue cheese is an option, as is a good piece of home-made bread.

© Roger H. Boulet, 2015. (Excepting actual recipes)