Caravaggio’s The Supper at Emmaus (1601) is a religious history painting, painted at the height of Caravaggio’s fame. There is a lot going on in this painting (it’s one of my favourites, I could seriously talk about it for hours, if anyone wants…), so I am going to concentrate on the still life within it, or try to, at least: the bowl of fruit.
Caravaggio’s composition and verisimilitude are (in my opinion) unmatched. In this painting, depicting the moment that Christ is revealed to the two apostles at the inn in Emmaus, is like a photograph with the intensity of action that is being displayed. Even the way the scene is cropped at ¾ length feels like a zoomed in cinema shot, and we’re just waiting to move onto the next frame.
The way the apostle in the chair is jumping out of his seat, which is disappearing out of the frame, pushing the scene out further than we can see. The way the second apostle is throwing his arms out in a crucifixion position, reaching out of the frame to us the audience. It’s dynamic and active and so deeply contrasted with the peaceful pose of Christ, blessing the bread. It's also contrasted with the rather befuddled innkeeper staring at the scene with no idea what is going on but casting a halo shadow behind Christ’s head.
Caravaggio loved a good contrast, whether it was with light, being a master of chiaroscuro (my favourite word), or action, to highlight the focus point of his scene. In this case, the focus of the painting of unquestionably Christ.
With all this movement (and contrasting stillness) it is easy to overlook the bowl of fruit, perched rather precariously on the edge of the table. Caravaggio was a master of still lives, having made his bread and butter (literally) in his early career churning out still lives for sale. Maybe he just added the fruit to show off. He was a master of realism after all, and even at the time critics (wealthy patrons) commented on how astonishing it was to see a painting of fruit that looked like you could pluck it straight out of the bowl and eat. Even the spots on the apple add to the realism. This fruit exists in our space.
However, nothing about this painting was unplanned. There is only evidence of one change to the composition of this painting (the placement of a knee), which was incredibly rare for the time and meant that Caravaggio knew exactly what he wanted to paint and why. The fruit bowl is of compositional significance.
First of all, the placement of the bowl. As I said earlier, it is a rather precarious placement, hanging over the edge of the table, with a shadow of the protruding base clearly visible. As with other framing devices in this painting, this is designed to draw the viewer in. The bowl is entering the audience’s space and serves as a bridge between us and the scene.
It is slightly funny that the inclusion of the still life aspect of this painting was a point of praise at the time of its painting, because it was also one of the few points of criticism: there is no way all these fruits could have been in season at the same time! Apples and grapes at once? Never! Bellori, a relatively contemporaneous biographer of Caravaggio, highly criticised this supposed goof, as it took away from the immersive realism that the verisimilitude of structure evoked (sorry for all those words – I did Art History at university and haven’t been able to show off in a while).
But, the whole point of this moment caught in Caravaggio’s imagination is that it is timeless. The biblical scene exists in its moment, true, but it also exists throughout time and is relevant throughout the year. Again, it doesn’t matter what time of year it is, the fruit provides a bridge between the past and now. There is a tangible connection between the scene and us, the viewers.
There is a more literal meaning behind the fruit being caught between the image of Christ after the resurrection and us the audience (Caravaggio painted this with a Christian (Catholic) audience in mind) and that is the connection with first fruits. First fruit is a religious offering of harvest produce to a deity. References to First fruits appear throughout the Old Testament – people were instructed to give the first fruits of the harvest to God, to honour that God had made the harvest possible, but also people (people of Israel) were the first fruit devoted to God. This was taken up by early Christian writers who referred to Christ as ‘the first fruit of the dead’.
So, the meaning here is manifold: the fruit, sitting between the audience and Christ serves as an offering to God (Christ); is thanks to God’s abundance and benevolence; is a symbol of Christ himself and his sacrifice on the cross; and is a representation of Christians offering themselves to God (again, it was painted for 17th century Catholics), which is highlighted by the ignorant innkeeper, who should be shrouded in darkness, but is still illuminated by the light being reflected off Christ.
And speaking of light in this painting, there is a lot going on. There is no tangible or singular light source, which is slightly unusual in a Caravaggio painting, and instead light and shadow is used to highlight what Caravaggio wanted it to highlight. This could be seen as a metaphor for ‘the light of recognition’, which is the direct theme of this scene (the apostles recognising Christ after the journey on the road to Emmaus). One of the little easter eggs, for want of a better term and pardon the reference, is that the shadow from the apples and pear leaves hanging above them form a fish (a symbol of Christ) on the tablecloth!
(Answer: b) England. The first recorded Apple Pie is from 1381 and includes figs, raisins, pears, apples and spices and was served in an inedible pastry known as ‘coffin’ pastry, which meant you could walk around with it and eat the filling as street food.)
(Answer: a) Yes. Proper Cider is always gluten free and is suitable for a gluten free or paleo diet.)
(Answer: d) Go on, have another! Splicing the mainbrace (repairing the ship’s main mast rigging) was a particularly onerous task, so sailors were given an extra dram of rum as a reward whenever they had to do it.)
(Answer: b) It helped prevent scurvy. Tangentially, at least. The English Navy developed the gimlet, a lime and gin cocktail, as a means of getting the sailors to get their daily lime juice (and prevent scurvy) and stop complaints. It worked. It also had the effect of ‘fortifying their spirit’.
There are very few I crave consistently, but this is one of them. I make it at least once a month. There is no way to describe the texture to you. It’s smooth and ‘creamy’ and kind of like a cross between a jelly and a custard... maybe like a panna cotta…? It’s really nice, but I can’t really think of a modern equivalent.
This recipe is adapted from Chireseye, recipe XVIII in The Forme of Cury, a recipe book from the Court of King Richard II. I’ll leave the original recipe down below for nerd points, but very basically, it’s a cherry and red wine dessert, thickened with breadcrumbs. It’s incredibly easy to make, very quick and very cheap!
It’s one of those desserts that is easy enough that you can whip it up as a mid-week treat, or make for a fancy dinner party and it would be equally appropriate. Seriously, people think you’re really cool when you tell them they’re having a 600+ year old recipe fit for a king.
Onto the adaptation and reasons behind it: I wanted to stick to the original when I first started making the recipe about 5 years ago. The cherry tree in our garden is laden every year with wonderful looking cherries. Wonderful looking, I say? Yes, because every year it keeps getting raided by a greedy little blackbird, who lies in wait and just as they’re ready to pick, he stares me straight in the eye and eats every. last. one. in a single sitting.
Other birds try and get a look in and he chases them off. Even magpies!
He sits there for two weeks before and just challenges me to a race, which he knows I have no chance of winning. Mrs Blackbird (they’ve been a couple for years and are a very entertaining duo, who have dates in the dog-rose tree, where they take it in turns swinging the branches for each other) always has to come and find that her partner has eaten so many cherries in one sitting, he turns completely round… and then gets drunk as they all ferment in his gut… then has a hangover for two days afterwards. Have you ever seen a blackbird with a hangover? It’s a mess, every year.
Anyway, with no access to the cherries that are rightfully mine, I went to the shops to get some cherry juice and the result was absolutely spectacular.
But, cherry juice is quite expensive, which I could not justify as a regular occurrence (as this recipe deserves) so I decided to figure out some substitutions. Plum and red wine was very decadent. Orange and white wine went down very well (orange and red wine at Christmas is very good). That was a favourite for a while, but I did want to figure out what to do with apple juice, since apples is what we usually have in.
Please feel free to judge me, but the first time I tried it, I stuck too close to the recipe and did it with white wine. Big mistake. Huge. The entire thing came out too acidic and the flavour of the fruit was lost entirely. It even put me off this dessert for a whole 2 months.
Then I remembered that I am an idiot and made it with cider instead. Gamechanger, obviously. The flavours balance out perfectly and it is now my go to.
Nothing more to say. On to the recipe.
Tak Chiryes at the Fest of Seynt John the Baptist and do away the stonys grynd hem in a morter and after frot hem wel in a seve so that the Jus be wel comyn owt and do than in a pot and do ther'in feyr gres or Boter and bred of wastrel ymyid  and of sugur a god party and a porcioun of wyn and wan it is wel ysodyn and ydressyd in Dyschis stik ther'in clowis of Gilofr' and strew ther'on sugur.
Take Cherries at the time of the Feast of Saint John the Baptist (24 June), stone them, grind them up and sieve them, so that you are just left with the juice and add them to a pot with butter or grease and breadcrumbs and a good amount of sugar and wine and when it is well cooked serve it in dishes and stick on cloves of gillyflowers and sprinkle with sugar.
(makes 4 servings)
Note: The ratios of ingredients are 180ml juice, 60ml alcohol, 1oz butter and 1 slice of bread per 2 servings. The sugar and spices can be added to taste.
Silly Cow Cider
My sister has serious allergies and while we were sorting out what was causing her more extreme problems, turkey became essential to her diet. It’s a low-fat meat, but exceptionally high in protein and takes spices well, which can make a very simple meal feel quite gourmet. This is one of the simple recipes that made my sister’s life easier and has stuck around in our family repertoire, because it honestly tastes fab.
These burgers can be made with your choice of minced meat and spice/herb additions. Grate apple or onion and ground mushrooms will let down the meat content and make your meat go further. The more you add, the more need there will be to add a beaten egg to bind your mixture. The recipe below is the most pared back, basic version of this meal, making it the most allergen friendly, if you don't have a problem with turkey.
These burgers are simple turkey with coriander and carraway. They take very little time to make, and in the air fryer, very little time to cook.
If you don’t have an air fryer, you can cook them in a conventional oven or fry.
Basic recipe: makes 3 medium or 2 larger burgers.
Whimple Orchards Cider
I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.
I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls’ cry.
I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.
The wind is raging outside, rain is lashing at the windows, and I could not get this poem out of my head.
There are moments when I listen to the wind and remember when I was eight years old and had a recurring daydream that I was on a Tudor ship (I have no idea where this fantasy came from, but it was very vivid) and would imagine climbing up the rigging, standing in the sails and staring out to the wide sea, hanging off the ropes with careless abandon and my entire body taut with a feeling of adventure. I think it was to do with reading a children’s book about Francis Drake once too often, or my brain finally catching up to the possibilities that life brought and all the directions I could go in the future, both scary and spectacular.
The future is now here, and I am curled up under a blanket, the scent of salt in my mind and a wonder where my wanderlust went. Certainly, as the rain rages outside, I am very happy to be in. I have no desire to be up any rigging and my hot toddy is the closest I am going to get to vagabonding.
But this poem fills my head.
John Masefield’s ode to the sea and all the promises, dangers and potentials it brings and the desire to go out and try to tame the wild ocean.
Tomorrow I will take the dogs on their walk, in the inland whetted knife-like wind heralding the coming of winter, and feel the spray of mist, hear the running tide of the streams, and the chatter of robins in place of seagulls and share many a merry yarn with my intrepid fellow-rover, as we question our choices of pet ownership.
But tonight, just tonight, I will let my mind wonder down to the sea again and the impossible dreams of my eight year old self, sip my hot toddy and imagine my life as a pirate on the waves.
Rum Hot Toddy
(Makes 2 glasses)
(Answer: b) a white wine. Apples are to cider what grapes are to wine, so cider is classified as a white wine in America)
(Answer: d) 25%. This is why you can float apple in water!)
(Answer: c) Cone. A juniper ‘berry’ is a seed cone)
(Answer: a) Australia. In the 1790s, Australia was not in the most stable condition as a British Colony and rum was used to trade for goods and services. Rum also served as currency on pirate ships, but that is a possibly a bit less surprising.)
You know when you’re staring round your kitchen, trying to come up with anything to eat to ring the changes from egg on toast, but nothing that requires more than 10 minutes thought because anything hard can get in the bin!? Yes? Probably. I think we’ve all had days like that. Well, that was me a couple of days ago and it happened to coincide with a desperate need to go shopping (the horror!).
Let me set the scene.
What do we have? Eggs? No. Not again. I love you eggs, but three days for both lunch and dinner is too much.
Potatoes! Excellent. Now, what to do with them? Oh well, bung ‘em in to bake while you decide. There must be something.
Potatoes are done!
And there’s… nothing. Beans? No. Tuna? No. Leftovers? If we had those, why would we be panicking? How did this happen!?!? Laziness.
WELL WHAT DO WE HAVE???
In total? Some roast diced hazelnuts, a couple of apples that need using up… oh! And cheese. Cheesy baked potato it is! We’re saved!
Give me a minute!
OK, so here’s what we’re going to do...
All of that was just me, by the way. I am not that aggressive with my family, promise. So, as you can see things were a bit less than ideal, but something incredible came out of it.
Wanting something a bit more exciting than cheesy baked potato (although it has served me very well over the years) or just because I was feeling awkward, I decided to experiment (there were always eggs as a back-up) and something incredible was born. Filled potato skins with hazelnuts, apple and cheese.
It’s salty, sweet, nutty, filling, potato goodness. You can eat it with your hands, which is perfect for Bonfire Night, if you are going to treat this dish with the respect it deserves, rather than the hunger-panic that induced it. I mean… it’s potato skins. They’re never bad. But these are excellent. After everyone was persuaded to try them, repeat orders were put in immediately.
Seriously. These are good.
And they are vegetarian!
Quantities vary according to how many you are making, so the instructions will be a bit vague (hunger-panic, remember)
Mango Frapple. I grabbed it and it went really well. The taste fairies were on my side
Does anyone else find that the run-up Bonfire Night smells amazing? I don’t know if it’s just around my house, but there always seems to be a smell of bonfires (possibly obviously, but there never seems to be one on the go) spice and leaves cutting through the air.
My dogs bullied me into taking them for their bedtime walk in the pouring rain and even then, the air was filled with that gunpowder smell which never seems to be around at any other time of the year.
For me, that smell is very comforting, even if it does mean I will shortly have to reassure my big bad wolf that the big bangs are not trying to kill him (please be pet aware when using fireworks). That October/November aroma is a consistency that has always come back every year and wrapped me up, letting me know that the year is tipping into the build-up for Christmas and all the joy that brings.
When that scent descends on the valley, it feels like the world telling me it’s time to go into hibernation. That everything is safe and will be all right when I wake up.
Unfortunately, no matter how magnificent a blanket tower I make, I have yet to achieve human hibernation (although not for lack of trying), so to do homage to my favourite smell, I made a Parkin, with a Gin, Ginger and Lime cocktail.
I was reading a recipe book of regional cakes and it mentioned a Grasmere Gingerbread, which included lime to cut through the ginger. Since there was already a Parkin in the house and I have been instructed by my family that I can ‘only bake one cake at a time or there will be consequences’, I decided to try a cocktail version of this idea and it holds up incredibly well. The lime adds a freshness to the ginger and really brings out the botanicals in The Exe Gin beautifully.
I’m not going to give quantities here, because everyone likes their cocktails a little different, in my experience (except Cosmos… then my way is the only way), in terms of strength, or what flavour they want to be dominant. I prefer things sourer than my mum, for example.
The ingredients for this recipe are simple, though.
Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) is often credited as the artist who served as the transition from 19th century style painting to more radical 20th century styles. That is an incredibly sweeping statement with boatloads of nuance missing, but it serves as a good ta-da opener, so I’ll quote it anyway.
Cézanne is mainly credited with influencing early Cubism, invented by Picasso and Braque around 1906-07. Cézanne didn’t directly take part in this movement (he is not a Cubist), but the basic idea that Picasso masterfully built on was the concept of taking a three dimensional object or image and presenting it on a two dimensional plane, which Cézanne often explored in his later works.
As was the habit for most 19th century artists in Paris, Cézanne often visited the Salons and Galleries to study the Old Masters – as artists before 1800 were collectively known. Through studying the Old Masters, their subject matter and techniques, Cézanne created a bridge between the old and the new/yet to be invented. Cézanne took on traditional subject matter, traditional composition, and applied new techniques to these subjects.
Let’s look at Cézanne's ‘Basket of Apples’ (1893) as an example.
Paintings of still lives were popular in 17th century Northern Europe (mainly the Netherlands), where post-Reformation laws made it difficult for artists to paint religious scenes or scenes containing religious (Catholic) imagery. Still life subjects allowed artists to showcase their technique, perspective and artistic eye. The most important thing in 17th century still lives was verisimilitude: the painting’s audience should feel that they could reach into the painting and feel the texture of the petals of the flowers in a vase; feel the slipperiness of the fish on a slab; grab the apple from a bowl and take a bite.
When neo-classicism came into style in the 18th century and brought with it a fascination for Roman and Greek styles and interests, the still life was relegated to a lower art form (literally) and forgotten, in favour of now possible religious, historic or contemporary subject matter.
Because so few artists were interested in Still Life, this gave a ‘blank canvas’ for Cezanne and innovation.
Fine Art, since the 15th century in Italy (I’ve seen a lot of very compelling arguments for earlier dates, but can’t find my notes now, so am going with the general consensus) had been based on the use of single-point perspective – the idea that things get smaller the further away they are, eventually resulting in a vanishing point. This created depth, three-dimensionality, realism: all the things that artists had been chasing since the Romanesque period.
Verisimilitude was not Cezanne’s objective.
Cezanne took the concept of the still life, but painted the subject with disjointed perspective. Rather than viewing a static object at a single moment in time, Cezanne painted it as a human seeing the scene from multiple places at once in a single frame. This leads to some compositional anomalies: the angle of the bottle, the tilt of the basket, the fall of the shadows, the foreshortening of the tablecloth. They are painted from multiple perspectives at once and we can never quite be sure where the individual objects are in relation to one another.
Cezanne also experimented with stripping the scene back to the barest essentials to communicate the image. Red and green circles clearly portray apples, even without the exhaustive detail of, say, Caravaggio or Rembrandt. Through our own associations and knowledge of the composition, our brains fill in the basic information Cezanne has given us, to complete the image of a basket of apples spilling over the table.
Because of these changes in technique, Cezanne is called the Father of Modern Art. His flattening, multi-perspective experiment directly influenced Picasso and Braque in their creation of Cubism and catapulted 20th century fine art into a new dimension. His interest in stripping images back to their barest shapes and colour, devoid of projected context could be argued to have led to the Expressionist movement.
Cezanne and his little bowl of apples on a rainy day did quite a lot, really.
(Answer: b. Rome. Apple Bobbing was a courting ritual during the celebrations to the goddess Pomona at the end of October. If two youths bit the same apple, they were destined to have a long and fruitful marriage)
(Answer: d. 56%)
(Answer: b. Sweeter)
(Answer: d. The Philippines. Apparently they consume 25 million cases of gin annually)