Vincent Van Gogh ”Still Life with Mackerels, Lemons and Tomatoes”

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Vincent Van Gogh

Vincent Van Gogh was born near Brabant in Southern Holland on March 30, 1853, the oldest son of a Dutch minister, he grew to become one of the most well-known and influential artists of the 19th century.  Van Gogh tried his hand at several different vocations including working for Goupil& Co., an art dealer, at the age of 16 with his 4 years younger brother Theo, teaching as an assistant in Ramsgate, and acting as a layman preacher in a poor coal mining district in Belgium, before finally deciding to become an artist at the age of twenty-seven.  His early works are dark portraying downtrodden city dwellers as well as Dutch peasants at work.

In 1886, Van Gogh moved to Paris where he lived with his brother, now the manager of Goupil’s, who financially supported the artist.  In Paris Van Gogh became familiar with the work of the Impressionists and Neo-Impressionists.Van Gogh began to lighten his color palette and experimented with different shorter brushstrokes.  His works changed from peasant workers to images of Paris, portraits, self-portraits, and images of flowers.In 1888, at the age of 35, Van Gogh moved from Paris to Arles where he had dreams of starting a community of artists.  Theo continued to support him financially and tried to sell his artwork.In 1890 Van Gogh was averaging a painting a day.At the age of 37, Van Gogh attempted suicide, while in a wheat field he shot himself in the chest.  He died two days later with his brother at his side.  Six months later Theo died as well and was buried next to his brother in the small church at Auvers-sur-Oise.

Still Life with Mackerels, Lemons and Tomatoes

This fine work of art is one of the many spectacular still life paintings Van Gogh produced during his lifetime. It is rather simple, involving only two mackerels, a few tomatoes, and a couple of lemons as well as a can of what appears to be either milk or butter in the background and a knife and fork casually lying in the foreground. Like most impressionist paintings, not much can be seen if one gets close to it. However, once the viewer is standing a couple of metres from it, everything immediately starts to make more sense – the objects are more clearly defined and the colours are better distinguishable.

The colour scheme itself is both cold and warm with no clear division. Though, it seems as if the upper half of the painting is somewhat of a contrast for the lower one, with colder and warmer tonality, respectively. The biggest mix and concentration of different colours is in the middle where everything seems to be piled together. The painting manages to seem both light and dark at the same time, with all objects being clearly visible but appearing a little darkened. Regardless, the light falls directly onto the centre of the piece, thus drawing the viewers’ attention towards the still life itself.


Capon à la braise with caper sauce

1 poularde, rubbed with salt
To do the braising
150 gram (1/3 pound) lard or bacon in 6 slices
some extra, thin slices bacon
100 gram (1/2 cup) chopped suet
15 black peppercorns
8 cloves
5 slices of ginger root
1 onion, sliced
some sprigs of estragon
some roots of parsley
some chicken broth (optional)
To make the sauce
40 gram (2 1/2 Tbsp.) butter or chicken-dripping
40 gram (1/3 cup) flour
1/2 litre (2 cups/1 pint) chicken broth
lemon peel, white pepper, 3 cloves, 1 bayleaf
2 finely chopped shallots
100 gram (1/2 cup) capers with the vinegar
1 decilitre (1/2 cup) white wine
pinch of ground mace
2 egg yolks
small lump of cold butter

Preparation in advance
Cover the bottom of a heavy casserole with a layer of thick slices of bacon or lard. Cover this with the suet, herbs and spices. Place the chicken on top of this, and cover the bird with thin slices of bacon (optional). Close the lid, continue with the recipe or keep in the refrigerator until you are ready.
Simmer the broth for the sauce with lemon peel, pepper, cloves and bayleafs for twenty minutes. Strain the liquid.

Braise the chicken
 – Place the casserole on a slow fire to melt the fat, then put it in the oven (150 dgC/300 oF). Let the chicken simmer for an hour to 90 minutes, basting it now and then with the melted fat. If the contents of the casserole are too dry, add some chicken broth.
Prepare the sauce – Make a roux: melt the butter, or use three tablespoons of the dripping fat of the chicken (only when no broth was added). Sauté the shallots, add the flour in one go. Stir with a flat wooden spatula, let simmer on a very slow fire for five minutes. Keep stirring. Now add the strained broth, starting with a small amount. Keep stirring until all the liquid has been absorbed by the roux. Add the next amount of liquid when the roux starts bubbling again (keep stirring …). When all the broth is used, add wine, mace, capers and caper liquid.
This is the sauce. Henriette Davidis made a more luxurious sauce by finishing it off with two eggyolks and some cold butter. The yolks are mixed with a little of the warm sauce. Then more sauce is added, until the yolks are warm themselves. Then you can add them to the sauce without danger of curdling. Keep the sauce from boiling, for then it will curdle after all. The cold butter stirred in gives the sauce a nice velvety shine.

To serve
Remove the chicken from the casserole, remove the bacon from the bird. Have a nice serving dish ready to put the chicken on. Surround it with slices of lemon and/or lime. Show it to your guests at the dinner-table, then take it back to the kitchen to cut the chicken in portions. Arrange the chicken pieces on the serving-dish and pour some sauce over them. Use a saucier for the rest of the sauce.
In the nineteenth century the capon was cut at the table by the host. To know how to cut various kinds of roasts, fowl et cetera was part of a gentleman’s education, just astossing the salad in front of the guests belonged to the expertise of the lady of the house.

If you want to prepare a real capon, you have to double the other ingredients, and put the bird into the oven for one and a half to two and a half hours (depending on the weight of the beast). However, a quality, free range chicken will taste just as well.

Red cabbage with apples and apple syrup

1 red cabbage (after paring about 2.25 pounds/1 kilo)
3 tart apples
3 Tbsp thick apple syrup or molasses
about 1/2 cup vinegar (from cider or wine, or use neutral vinegar)
3/4 cup (2 deciliter) water
pepper to taste
A large dash of nutmeg, freshly grated
optionally some cornflour or other starch
salt to taste (added after cooking)

Preparation in advance
Cut the head in four parts, remove the white stem. Shred the cabbage or cut in thin strips, and rinse.
Core the apples and chop them in large pieces. Whether you leave them with skin or peel them is up to you.

Put everything except cornflour and salt in a pan. Bring to a boil, put a lid on it, and lower the heat. Let simmer for at least an hour and a half on very low heat. Betje even prescribes four hours of simmering the cabbage. In that case use a paraffin stove or a heat-diffuser. If you want to, you can thicken the remaining liquid with cornflour or some other starch. Salt is added after cooking. As you can see higher on this page, salt will lessen the reddening effect of the vinegar.

To serve
Red cabbage with apples is delicious with Hachee (a Dutch beef stew) and all kinds of dishes with game (like this pepper sauce), and particularly hare.
This dish will keep at least three days in the refrigerator, and can be reheated or frozen quite well.


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