Mar 132019
 

Today is the birthday (1593) of Georges de La Tour, a French Baroque painter, who spent most of his working life in the Duchy of Lorraine, which was temporarily absorbed into France between 1641 and 1648. He painted mostly religious chiaroscuro scenes lit by candlelight. His style is reminiscent of Caravaggio, whose chiaroscuro paintings I particularly like, and try to replicate the feeling sometimes in my photography.

Georges de La Tour was born in the town of Vic-sur-Seille in the diocese of Metz, which was technically part of the Holy Roman Empire, but had been ruled by France since 1552. Baptismal records show that he was the son of Jean de La Tour, a baker, and Sybille de La Tour, née Molian. La Tour’s educational background is unclear, but it is assumed that he traveled either to Italy or the Netherlands early in his career. He may possibly have trained under Jacques Bellange in Nancy, the capital of Lorraine, although their styles are very different. Although his paintings reflect the Baroque naturalism of Caravaggio, the ideas probably reached him through the Dutch Caravaggisti of the Utrecht School and other Northern (French and Dutch) contemporaries.

In 1617 he married Diane Le Nerf, from a minor noble family, and in 1620 he established his studio in her quiet provincial home-town of Lunéville, part of the independent Duchy of Lorraine which was occupied by France, during his lifetime, in the period 1641–1648. He painted mainly religious and some genre scenes. He was given the title “Painter to the King” (of France) in 1638, and he also worked for the dukes of Lorraine in 1623–4, but the local bourgeoisie was his main market. He is not recorded in Lunéville between 1639 and 1642, and may have traveled again at this point. He was involved in a Franciscan-led religious revival in Lorraine, and over the course of his career he moved to painting almost entirely religious subjects, but in treatments with influence from genre painting. The entire de La Tour family died in 1652 in an epidemic in Lunéville.

La Tour is best known for the nocturnal light effects which he developed much further than his artistic predecessors had done, and transferred their use in the genre subjects in the paintings of the Dutch Caravaggisti to religious painting in his. Unlike Caravaggio his religious paintings lack dramatic effects. He painted these in a second phase of his style, perhaps beginning in the 1640s, using chiaroscuro, careful geometrical compositions, and very simplified painting of forms. His work moves during his career towards greater simplicity and stillness—taking from Caravaggio very different qualities than Jusepe de Ribera and his Tenebrist followers did.

He often painted several variations on the same subjects, and his surviving output is relatively small. His son Étienne was his pupil, and distinguishing between their work is difficult. The version of the Education of the Virgin in the Frick Collection in New York is an example, as the Museum itself admits. Another group of paintings (example left), of great skill but claimed to be different in style to those of La Tour, have been attributed to an unknown “Hurdy-gurdy Master”. All show older male figures (one group in Malibu includes a female), mostly solitary, either beggars or saints.

After his death at Lunéville in 1652, La Tour’s work was forgotten until rediscovered by Hermann Voss, a German scholar, in 1915; some of La Tour’s work had in fact been confused with Vermeer, who underwent his own rediscovery in the nineteenth century.

Here is your gallery:

The cooking of Lorraine is akin to neighboring Alsace, and, of course, is well known for quiche Lorraine which I have given a recipe for already. There are also posts with recipes for other Lorraine specialties. Here, instead, is a video focusing on the wine making region of the Moselle valley (with some hokey stuff about Roman times). At around 9:20 is a section on making various kinds of flammkuchen, a Moselle regional specialty.

 

Nov 102018
 

Today is the birthday (1668) of François Couperin, a French Baroque composer, organist and harpsichordist. who was known as Couperin le Grand to distinguish him from other members of the musically able Couperin family.

Couperin was born into one of the best-known musical families of Europe. His father Charles was organist at Church Saint-Gervais in Paris, a position previously occupied by Charles’s brother Louis Couperin, a highly regarded keyboard virtuoso and composer whose career was cut short by an early death. As a boy, François must have received his first music lessons from his father. Unfortunately, Charles died in 1679. The church council at Saint-Gervais hired Michel Richard Delalande to serve as new organist, on the condition that François would replace him at age 18. Meanwhile, the boy was taken care of and taught by organist Jacques-Denis Thomelin, who served both at the court and at the famous church of St Jacques-de-la-Boucherie.

In 1689 Couperin married Marie-Anne Ansault,  and the next year he published  Pieces d’orgue, a collection of organ masses that was praised by Delalande (who may have assisted with both composition and publication). In three more years Couperin succeeded his former teacher Thomelin at the court. The new appointment was extremely prestigious and brought Couperin in contact with some of the finest composers of his time, as well as numerous members of the aristocracy. His earliest chamber music dates from around that time. The numerous duties Couperin carried out at the court were accompanied by duties as organist at Saint Gervais, and also by the composition and publication of new music. He obtained a 20-year royal privilege to publish in 1713 and used it immediately to issue the first volume (out of four) of his harpsichord works, Pieces de clavecin. A harpsichord playing manual followed in 1716, as well as other collections of keyboard and chamber music. In 1717 Couperin succeeded one of his most eminent colleagues, Jean-Baptiste-Henry d’Anglebert, as ordinaire de la musique de la chambre du roi pour le clavecin, one of the highest possible appointments for a court musician. However, his involvement in the musical activities at the court may have diminished after Louis XIV’s death in 1715.

Couperin’s health declined steadily throughout the 1720s. The services of a cousin were required by 1723 at Saint Gervais, and in 1730 Couperin’s position as court harpsichordist was taken up by his daughter Marguerite-Antoinette. Couperin’s final publications were Pièces de violes (1728) and the fourth volume of harpsichord pieces (1730). He died in 1733. The building where Couperin and his family lived from 1724 still stands and is located at the corner of the rue Radziwill and the rue des Petits Champs. The composer was survived by at least three of his children: Marguerite-Antoinette, who continued working as court harpsichordist until 1741, Marie-Madeleine (Marie-Cécile), who became a nun and may have worked as organist at the Maubuisson Abbey, and François-Laurent, who according to contemporary sources left the family after François died.

Couperin acknowledged his debt to the Italian composer Corelli. He introduced Corelli’s trio sonata form to France, for example. Couperin’s grand trio sonata was subtitled Le Parnasse, ou L’apothéose de Corelli (“Parnassus, or the Apotheosis of Corelli”). In it he blended the Italian and French styles of music in a set of pieces which he called Les goûts réunis (“Styles Reunited”).

His most famous book, L’art de toucher le clavecin (“The Art of Harpsichord Playing”, published in 1716), contains suggestions for fingerings, touch, ornamentation and other features of keyboard technique. This link has dozens of Couperin’s pieces on it:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gm3Ep0_-cpc

Couperin’s four volumes of harpsichord music, published in Paris in 1713, 1717, 1722, and 1730, contain over 230 individual pieces, and he also published a book of Concerts Royaux which can be played as solo harpsichord pieces or as small chamber works. The four collections for harpsichord alone are grouped into ordres, a synonym of suites, containing traditional dances as well as pieces with descriptive titles. They are notable for Couperin’s detailed indication of ornaments, which in most harpsichord music of the period was left to the discretion of the player. The first and last pieces in an ordre were of the same tonality, but the middle pieces could be in other closely related tonalities. These volumes were admired by Johann Sebastian Bach, who exchanged letters with Couperin, and later by Brahms and by Ravel, who memorialized their composer in Le tombeau de Couperin (Couperin’s Memorial).

Many of Couperin’s keyboard pieces have evocative, picturesque titles (such as “The little windmills” and “The mysterious barricades”) and express a mood through key choices, adventurous harmonies and (resolved) discords. They have been likened to miniature tone poems. These features attracted Richard Strauss, who orchestrated some of them.

I have taken a recipe for a venison stew with beetroots from the 1674 classic, The English and French Cook, to commemorate Couperin. In the 17th and 18th centuries, there were a great many recipes shared by English and French cooks before the cordon bleu school put its stamp on French cooking. The recipe is straightforward except noting that “sweet spices” could be thyme, sage, parsley, rosemary, etc., and Saunders is red sandalwood (Pterocarpus santalinus) that was used in Medieval cooking to give a red color to dishes.

Potage of Venison

Take a Haunch of Venison, and cut it into six pieces, and place them in the bottom of a Pan or Pot, then put in no more Water than will cover it, let it boil, then scum it, after that add to it a good quantity of whole Pepper; when it is half boiled, put in four whole Onions, Cloves, and large Mace, some sliced Ginger, Nutmeg, three or four faggots of sweet Herbs, let it boil till the Venison be very tender, and a good part of the broth be wasted; after this pour out the broth from the meat into a Pipkin, keep your Venison hot in the same Pot by adding other hot broth unto it; then take a couple of red-Beet roots, having very well parboil’d them before, cut them into square pieces as big as a shilling, and put them into the broth which is in your Pipkin, and let them boil till they are very tender, add unto the boiling four Anchovies minced, then dish up your Venison on Sippets of French-bread, then pour on your broth, so much as will near-upon fill the Dish, then take your roots by themselves, and toss them in a little drawn Butter, and lay them all over the Venison; if the Beets be good, it will make the broth red enough, which you must have visible round about the Dish sides, but if it prove pale, put to it some Saunders: This is a very savory Potage.

May 022016
 

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Today is the birthday (1660) of Alessandro Scarlatti, a Sicilian Baroque composer, especially famous for his operas and chamber cantatas. He is generally considered the founder of the Neapolitan school of opera. He was the father of two other composers, Domenico Scarlatti and Pietro Filippo Scarlatti.

Scarlatti was born in Palermo, then part of the Kingdom of Sicily. He is generally said to have been a pupil of Giacomo Carissimi in Rome, and some theorize that he had some connexion with northern Italy because his early works seem to show the influence of Stradella and Legrenzi. The production in Rome of his opera Gli Equivoci nell sembiante (1679) gained him the support of Queen Christina of Sweden (who at the time was living in Rome), and he became her maestro di cappella (choirmaster). In February 1684 he became maestro di cappella to the viceroy of Naples, perhaps through the influence of his sister, an opera singer, who might have been the mistress of an influential Neapolitan noble. In Naples he produced a long series of operas as well as music for state occasions.

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In 1702 Scarlatti left Naples and did not return until the Spanish domination had been superseded by that of the Austrians. In the interval he enjoyed the patronage of Ferdinando de’ Medici, for whose private theater near Florence he composed operas, and of Cardinal Ottoboni, who made him his maestro di cappella, and procured him a similar post at the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome in 1703.

After visiting Venice and Urbino in 1707, Scarlatti took up his duties in Naples again in 1708, and remained there until 1717. By this time Naples seems to have become tired of his music. The Romans, however, appreciated it better, and it was at the Teatro Capranica in Rome that he produced some of his best-known operas (Telemaco, 1718; Marco Attilio Regolò, 1719; La Griselda, 1721), as well as some well-received church music, including a mass for chorus and orchestra, composed in honor of Saint Cecilia for Cardinal Acquaviva in 1721. His last work on a large scale appears to have been the unfinished serenata for the marriage of the prince of Stigliano in 1723. He died in Naples in 1725.

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Scarlatti’s music forms an important link between the early Baroque Italian vocal styles of the 17th century, with their centers in Florence, Venice and Rome, and the classical school of the 18th century. Scarlatti’s style, however, is more than a transitional element in Western music. He has tended to be forgotten by modern audiences, and many of his pieces exist in manuscript only. But I have always enjoyed his harpsichord compositions in their own right. For example:

Scarlatti composed upwards of 500 chamber-cantatas for solo voice. These represent the most intellectual type of chamber-music of their period, and it is regrettable that they have remained almost entirely in manuscript. His few remaining Masses, are generally not deemed important enough to rival those of Bach or Beethoven  So much for the experts.

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Sicilian cuisine shows influences from the Italian mainland, but is definitely different from what outsiders normally perceive of as Italian food. In particular maccu, (also known as maccu di fave, and sometimes referred to as macco), is a favorite of mine even though it is now hard to find. In its most basic form, maccu is a Sicilian soup that is prepared with dried and crushed fava beans (known in Britain as broad beans) and fennel as primary ingredients. It can be very hard to find the right kind of fava beans outside of Sicily. I can get them in northern Italy, but I have never seen them elsewhere.

Before the European exploration of the Americas, fava beans and lentils were the primary legumes used in cooking in the Mediterranean. The best fava beans for maccu are hulled and split before they are dried.

Maccu is known to have been made in some form by ancient Romans but is now rare to in Sicily, although it occasionally appears on restaurant menus there. There are also several Sicialian dishes that use maccu as an ingredient, such as Bruschetta al maccú and Maccu di San Giuseppe. The maccu is traditionally dried and sliced as a preparatory step. It can then be breaded and deep fried.

Classic maccu is very easy to make if you have the right ingredients. I made it for lunch today.

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Maccu

Cover the right kind of split fava beans (that is, hulled) with broth in a large saucepan. Add a splash of extra virgin olive oil, along with some crushed fennel seeds and fresh fennel fronds, chopped, and simmer gently for about 2 hours. That’s all there is to it. You can mash up a few beans to thicken the broth if you like, and serve in deep bowls with crusty bread.

There are limitless variations, however. Many Sicilians add small pasta to the broth about 20 minutes before serving time. Some add tomatoes or other vegetables, such as zucchini. It’s really cook’s choice.  Just be sure that the flavors or fava beans, fennel, and olive oil predominate. This is not a generic vegetable soup.

Feb 152016
 

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Today is presumed to be the birthday of the composer normally called Michael Praetorius. He was born Michael Schultze, the youngest son of a Lutheran pastor, in Creuzburg, in present-day Thuringia. His family name in German appears in various forms including Schultze, Schulte, Schultheiss, Schulz and Schulteis. Praetorius was the conventional Latinized form of this family name.

After attending school in Torgau and Zerbst, he studied divinity and philosophy at the University of Frankfurt (Oder). He was fluent in a number of languages. After receiving his musical education, from 1587 he served as organist at the Marienkirche in Frankfurt. From 1592/3 he served at the court in Wolfenbüttel, under the employ of Henry Julius, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg. He served in the duke’s State Orchestra, first as organist and later (from 1604) as Kapellmeister.

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His first compositions appeared around 1602/3. The motets of this collection were the first in Germany to make use of the new Italian performance practices, and as a result, they established him as a proficient composer.

His “middle creative period” is marked by the nine parts of his Musae Sioniae (1605–10) and the 1611 published collections of liturgical music (masses, hymns, magnificats) which follow the German Protestant chorale style. He created these at the behest of a circle of orthodox Lutherans as well as the Duchess Elizabeth, who ruled the duchy in the duke’s absence. Henceforth Praetorius was known as a composer of sacred music.

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When the duke died in 1613 and was succeeded by Frederick Ulrich, Praetorius retained his employment. From 1613 he also worked at the court of John George I, Elector of Saxony at Dresden, where he was responsible for festive music. He was exposed to the latest Italian music, including the polychoral works of the Venetian School. His subsequent development of the form of the chorale concerto, particularly the polychoral variety, resulted directly from his familiarity with the music of such Venetians as Giovanni Gabrieli. The solo-voice, polychoral, and instrumental compositions Praetorius prepared for these events mark the high period of his artistic creativity. Until his death, Praetorius stayed at the court in Dresden, where he was made Kapellmeister von Haus aus and worked with Heinrich Schütz.

Praetorius died on his 50th birthday, in Wolfenbüttel, Germany and is entombed in a vault beneath the organ of the Marienkirche there.

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Praetorius was a prolific composer; his compositions show the influence of Italian composers and his younger contemporary Heinrich Schütz. His works include the nine volume Musae Sioniae (1605–10), a collection of more than twelve hundred (ca. 1244) chorale and song arrangements; many other works for the Lutheran church; and Terpsichore (1612), a compendium of more than 300 instrumental dances, which is both his most widely known work, and his sole surviving secular work. Many of Praetorius’ choral compositions were scored for several mini-choirs situated in several locations in the church for multi-phonic effect, with the conductor standing in the center of the church, visible to all the mini-choirs.

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Praetorius was the greatest musical academic of his day and the Germanic writer of music best known to other 17th-century musicians. Although his original theoretical contributions were relatively few, with nowhere near the long-range impact of other 17th-century German writers, like Johannes Lippius, Christoph Bernhard or Joachim Burmeister, he compiled an encyclopedic record of contemporary musical practices. While Praetorius made some refinements to figured-bass practice and to tuning practice, his importance to scholars of the 17th century derives from his discussions of the normal use of instruments and voices in ensembles, the standard pitch of the time, and the state of modal, metrical, and fugal theory. His meticulous documentation of 17th-century practice was of inestimable value to the early-music revival of the 20th century.

Praetorius wrote in a flowery manner (in German rather than the usual Latin) with long asides, polemics, and word-puzzles – all typical of 17th-century scholarly prose. As a lifelong committed Christian, he often regretted not taking holy orders but did write several theological tracts, which are now lost. As a Lutheran from a militantly Protestant family, he contributed greatly to the development of the vernacular liturgy, but also favored Italian compositional methods, performance practice and figured-bass notation.

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I always think of Praetorius at Christmas time because of his settings of many well-known Christmas works. His setting of “Es ist ein Ros entsprungen” is undoubtedly the best known and used.

He also wrote settings for In Dulci Jubilo, Quem Pastores, and Puer Natus. It is important to note that he did not compose any of these pieces, yet his settings have remained popular.

For a celebration I have chosen Thuringian potato dumplings. From the list of ingredients alone you would be forgiven for thinking that they are simple to make. They are not. In Germany you can buy mixes that simplify the process.

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Thuringian Potato Dumplings

Ingredients:

3-4 lbs starchy potatoes
vinegar
salt
1 dry bread roll
1 tablespoon butter

Instructions

Wash and peel the potatoes. Fill a large bowl with lukewarm water and add a splash of vinegar. Grate 2/3 of the potatoes into the vinegar water. Carefully pour out the water and add new water and vinegar. Repeat. Transfer the grated potato to a cloth dish towel and squeeze out the liquid over the bowl. Reserve the liquid. The starch will settle on the bottom of the bowl and will be used later. Leave the potatoes in the dish towel until needed.

Remove the crust from the bread, cut it into small cubes and sauté the cubes in the butter until golden brown.

Boil the remaining 1/3 of the potatoes in lightly salted water until tender. Drain the potatoes but not completely. Leave some liquid in the pot and mash the potatoes until they form a moist purée. Bring the purée to a boil.

Carefully drain the vinegar water from the bowl leaving only the settled starch. Add the grated raw potatoes and a pinch of salt. Combine the ingredients well. Using a hand-held electric mixer, gradually incorporate the boiling potato purée. Beat the mixture until it readily comes off the sides of the bowl.

Wet your hands and shape the potato mixture into even-sized round dumplings. Press 2-3 croutons into the center of each dumpling. Using a slotted spoon, carefully lower the dumplings into gently simmering water (rapidly boiling water will cause the dumplings to disintegrate) and cook on low heat for about 20 minutes.

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Sep 292015
 

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Today is the birthday (1571) of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, an Italian painter active in Rome, Naples, Malta, and Sicily between c.1592 and 1610. Caravaggio’s family name was Merisi (or Merigi or Amerighi) and da Caravaggio means “from Caravaggio.” His given name comes from the fact that his birthday is the Feast of Michael, the archangel, known in English as Michaelmas — http://www.bookofdaystales.com/michaelmas/ Caravaggio was born in Milan where his father, Fermo Merixio, was a household administrator and architect-decorator to the Marchese of Caravaggio, a town not far from the city of Bergamo. His mother, Lucia Aratori (Lutia de Oratoribus), came from a propertied family of the same district. In 1576 the family moved to Caravaggio (Caravaggius) to escape a plague which ravaged Milan, and Caravaggio’s father died there in 1577. It is assumed that the artist grew up in Caravaggio, but his family kept up connections with the Sforzas and with the powerful Colonna family, who were allied by marriage with the Sforzas and destined to play a major role later in Caravaggio’s life.

Caravaggio’s paintings, which combine a realistic observation of the human state, both physical and emotional, with a dramatic use of lighting, had a profound influence on the development of Baroque painting. It’s perhaps shallow of me to say Caravaggio is my “favorite” painter; I like dozens of painters and works of art. But if for some reason I were forced to make a choice I’d probably place Caravaggio above all others.

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Caravaggio trained as a painter in Milan under Simone Peterzano who had himself trained under Titian. In his 20s Caravaggio moved to Rome where there was a demand for paintings to fill the many huge new churches and palazzos being built at the time. It was also a period when the Church was searching for a stylistic alternative to Mannerism in religious art which evolved in the late Renaissance. Caravaggio’s innovation was a radical naturalism that combined close physical observation with a dramatic, even theatrical, use of chiaroscuro (light-dark) which came to be known as tenebrism (the shift from light to dark with little intermediate value). It is sometimes said that Caravaggio “put the oscuro in chiaroscuro,” that is, his paintings are noted as much for the darkly shadowed passages, which seem to make brighter the illuminated sections.

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He burst upon the Rome art scene in 1600 with the success of his first public commissions, the Martyrdom of Saint Matthew and Calling of Saint Matthew. Thereafter he never lacked commissions or patrons, yet he handled his success poorly. He was jailed on several occasions, vandalized his own apartment, and ultimately had a death warrant issued for him by the Pope after killing a young man, possibly unintentionally, on May 29, 1606.

An early published notice on him, dating from 1604 and describing his lifestyle three years previously, recounts that “after a fortnight’s work he will swagger about for a month or two with a sword at his side and a servant following him, from one ball-court to the next, ever ready to engage in a fight or an argument, so that it is most awkward to get along with him.” In 1606 he killed a young man in a brawl and fled from Rome with a price on his head. He was involved in a brawl in Malta in 1608, and another in Naples in 1609, possibly a deliberate attempt on his life by unidentified enemies. This encounter left him severely injured. A year later, at the age of 38, he died under mysterious circumstances in Porto Ercole in Tuscany, reportedly from a fever while on his way to Rome to receive a pardon.

Caravaggio was famous while he lived, but was forgotten almost immediately after his death. It was only in the 20th century that his importance to the development of Western art was rediscovered. His influence on the new Baroque style that eventually emerged from the ruins of Mannerism was profound. It can be seen directly or indirectly in the work of Rubens, Jusepe de Ribera, Bernini, and Rembrandt, and artists in the following generation heavily under his influence were called the “Caravaggisti” or “Caravagesques”, as well as tenebrists or tenebrosi (“shadowists”). I can think of no better tribute to the master than to present a gallery of my favorites.

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My inspiration for a recipe comes from Caravaggio’s painting The Road to Emmaus. First, here is the tale from Luke 24:

13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.

17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

19 “What things?” he asked.

“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.

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Caravaggio took many of his themes from gospel stories. This one is a great favorite of mine because it underscores the importance of fellowship over a meal in the gospels and in the life of Jesus (for which he was regularly berated by the authorities). Caravaggio’s painting shows bread and a roast fowl along with a basket of assorted fruit. It is at the same time both plain and elegant. Well, today being Michaelmas, you should probably have roast goose (as per my post linked above), but I won’t be a stickler. I can’t readily get goose in China, so I’m going to roast a duck. But go ahead and roast anything you want. I have three rules:

  1. I don’t ever stuff a bird. With very fatty birds, such as goose and duck, the stuffing usually ends up soggy. I make up a “stuffing,” because I like the flavors that contrast with the meat. But I prepare it separately in a skillet, wrap it loosely in foil, and bake it beside the bird for about 30 minutes.
  2. I don’t ever baste a bird. I stick it in the oven and forget about it. I rub most (non-fatty) birds with fat of some sort before I put them in the oven. For fatty birds I use a sharp fork to deeply prick the skin all over so that the fat seeps out as the bird cooks – creating a self basting action.
  3. I roast on the highest heat possible. For me that’s 260°C/500° I think that the high heat is the absolute key. In my (long) experience, slow roasting dries out a bird, while high heat/quick roasting keeps the meat – especially the breast – moist. People always complain about dry tasteless turkey breast because they roast the bird for hour upon hour at low heat. On the rare occasion when I roast a turkey, I do it on high heat, and no one ever complains that the breast meat is dry.

I also always carve at the table and not in the kitchen. I used to be scared of doing this when I was younger, but now carving at the table is an essential part of the meal, to my mind. Have a warmed serving platter beside you to fill and pass around whilst you are carving. Separate the legs from the body by severing the skin around the thigh/body area, then simply snap off the leg, followed by cutting through the joint. For most birds I then snap the thigh and drumstick and then cut through the joint, keeping the pieces whole. Let the diners strip the meat on their plates or just pick the pieces up and gnaw. For a turkey I do strip and slice the meat. For ALL birds, big and small, slice the entire breast off by cutting down the base of the breast from the keel. That way you end up with two large breast pieces. Then cut vertically through the meat in thick slices. This is by far the best and most efficient way to carve a turkey breast.

Caravaggio’s painting is more a symbolic image than a realistic portrayal of a meal in Jesus’ time or his own. The bread is obviously crucial. Jesus “took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them” and at that point their eyes were opened. That’s how we get the idiom that “breaking bread” means eating together. Breaking bread is an act of communion, literally and figuratively. Break bread with you friends and family today.