16 January 2018

More Cunault images

Sometimes it's just photos and I don't have a lot to say about them. That describes today.

The author of the Cadogan Loire guidebook says that it has been claimed that there are more than 200 carved capitals like this in the church at Cunault. Somewhere I read that most of them are perched so high up that you need binoculars to get a good look at them. I wonder if my longest zoom camera might let me get more photos.

This is a shot I took in the year 2000 with the Kodak camera I was using back then.

The church at Cunault seems alive and well-cared for nowadays compared to many I've seen in rural France. It's not dark and dank but bright and full of light.

A tile floor in the church

Many of the old churches around here have rows of chairs instead of pews, so this shot surprised me when I saw it again. The poster in this shot is announcing that a concert is being given in another local church on this day.

15 January 2018

Cunault : peintures murales

The Michelin Guide Vert mentions that there are a few 15th century wall paintings remaining in the church at Cunault. Here are some I took photos of on my last visit there.

I don't really know anything about these paintings, but there must have been many more of them decorating the walls and columns of the church all those centuries ago.

In the mid-19th century the church was classified as a monument historique by the French government. A report from that time describes the church as privately owned and in pitiful condition.

A famously miserly and wealthy man named Mr. Dupuis-Charlemagne, who lived in nearby Saumur, owned the church building, which he used as a warehouse to store wood and other stuff. He had two "doors" — crude openings, really — cut through the north and south walls of the church for the convenience of his workers.

It's amazing that any of these paintings survived the neglect and mistreatment the church suffered over the centuries. The so-called "restorations" of the nineteenth-century often did much damage to churches like Notre-Dame de Cunault as well.

14 January 2018

L'Église de Cunault : ampleur et hauteur

Of the Église priorale de Notre-Dame de Cunault, the Michelin Guide Vert says that from the outside, the church offers the eye nothing noticeably extraordinary (« n'offre rien qui retienne véritablement l'attention »). It goes on to mention the "massive" bell tower with its stone steeple and the church's "wide and flat" façade.

So what you see once you go inside is almost astonishing. You might be amazed by the breadth and height of the columns holding up the vaulted ceiling and roof. Quoting the Guide Vert, « on reste saisi par l'ampleur et la hauteur des piliers... » Cunault is "one of the largest Romanesque edifices in western France," according to the Cadogan Loire guidebook.

Monks fleeing the 9th-century Norsemen who invaded their island, Noirmoutier, off France's Atlantic coast, founded the abbey at Cunault further inland in the year 847 of our era. Only 15 years later, the invading Norsemen forced the religious community to move much farther east, all the way to Burgundy.

Decades later, the monks returned to Cunault and built an abbey church in the style of the Benedictine churches of Burgundy. It was designed to accommodate large crowds and processions of the faithful on annual pilgrimages to the site. Of the monastery, only the church built in the 11th to 13th centuries survives.

In medieval times, Cunault was  a prosperous river port on the Loire. It's not far from the town of Saumur, and the city of Angers less than an hour away by car. The author of the Cadogan guidebook describes the surrounding area along the south bank of the river as "a string of utterly charming Loire-side old villages" with several beautiful churches and the ruins of an old fortress set in "delightfully wooded" countryside with nice river views.

All these photos date back to July 2006. I took them with a Canon Pro90 IS digital camera that I'd been using since the year 2000.

13 January 2018

Notre-Dame de Cunault, near Saumur

There's a church called Notre-Dame de Cunault near the banks of the Loire River just west of the town of Saumur, a couple of hours from Saint-Aignan by car. I've visited it at least twice, once in the year 2000 when Walt and I were here from California on vacation, staying in a gîte rural in Vouvray with a friend, and again in 2006 with CHM, who was visiting from Paris.

July 2006

I want to thank CHM for telling me about Cunault and about so many other places of interest and beauty in France that I've been able to visit over the past 25 years. He and I have done a lot of touring around together since I moved to France 15 years ago. He's a Parisian d'un certain âge who divides his time between Washington DC and Paris. Knowing him and his sharing of so much information and advice has greatly enhanced my experience of France. We've been friends for more than 30 years.

Oct. 2000

For some reason, I don't think I've ever posted on this blog any of the photos I took at Cunault in 2000 or 2006. I found them a few days ago when I was looking for photos of other sights and monuments I've visited in France, and I was pleasantly surprised how beautiful Cunault is. This is the first installment of another multi-post photo tour.

July 2006

The first Christian edifice built at Cunault was a monastery founded in the 4th century by a disciple of saint Martin de Tours who evangelized the region back then. In the 9th century, the monks of Cunault were forced to decamp when Vikings invaded the region. Monks returned a century or so later and benefited from the support of the local ducs d'Anjou, including the fierce Foulques Nerra...

12 January 2018

Turkey... façon coq au vin (5)

Here's a recipe. The Larousse Gastronomique food and cooking encyclopedia explains that the French term coq (rooster or cockerel) is synonymous with poulet (chicken) in culinary terminology. You can make Coq au vin with a young chicken, but the original idea behind the dish is to make it with an old rooster or roasting chicken that would be tough unless slowly cooked for a long time. I think turkey is the right kind of bird for this use. Coq au vin would be a good slow-cooker or crock pot dish. This is my adaptation of a fairly sketchy French recipe described as traditionnel that I found on the internet. There's also a good recipe in the American Joy of Cooking book.

Coq au vin
(Chicken — or turkey — braised in red wine)

1 large roasting chicken or small turkey, 6 to 8 lbs.
2 onions, sliced or diced
4 carrots, sliced
1 bottle red wine
3 cloves garlic, chopped
3 sprigs thyme
3 bay leaves
salt and pepper
3 Tbsp. olive oil
2 or 3 fl. oz. cognac
2 Tbsp. flour
1¾ cups (14 fl. oz.) chicken broth
2 or 3 Tbsp. tomato paste or sauce
½ lb. (or more) smoked pork lardons (or bacon)
½ lb. button mushrooms

The day before cooking the coq au vin, cut the chicken or turkey into serving-size pieces (disjoint it) and put the pieces in a large bowl with the onions, carrots, red wine, garlic, herbs, and salt and pepper. (You could also use about 5 lbs. pre-cut chicken or turkey parts.) Let it marinate for 24 hours or longer.

Pour the marinade through a strainer, saving all the ingredients. Heat up some oil in a big pot and brown the lardons or bacon. Take the bacon out of the pot and brown the chicken or turkey pieces in the fat, in a couple of batches as necessary.

With all the pieces of poultry in the pot, pour on the cognac and (optionally) flame it or just let it boil away. Take the poultry pieces out of the pot and reserve.

Put in all the vegetables from the marinade into the pot and brown them lightly. Add the flour and stir the vegetables to completely moisten the flour. Add the herbs, the marinating liquid, and the the broth and bring it to the boil to thicken it. 

Put the chicken or turkey pieces back in the pot and set it on medium heat, or put it all into a baking dish and set in in a medium oven. Let it simmer for 2½ to 4 hours, lowering the heat as necessary.

Toward the end of the cooking time, slice the mushrooms and sauté them in a skillet. Add them to the pot with the chicken and vegetables and let them cook in the liquid for 20 to 30 minutes.

Cooking time will vary depending on the age, the size, and the type of bird you're cooking. Don't hesitate to stop the cooking, let the dish cool down, and reheat it before serving. Coq au vin can benefit from being reheated.

Here's what the Joy of Cooking says about the color of Coq au vin sauce:

"We are often asked why this recipe turns out a rich medium brown rather that the very dark brown sometimes served in restaurants. Abroad, in country places where chickens are locally butchered,the blood is often kept and added to the gravy at the last minute as a thickener... After this addition, it is not allowed to boil. Here in America, this effect is often imitated by adding caramel coloring."

I remember being served Coq au vin that had a sauce that was almost black in Paris restaurants. My home-cooked version has the more medium brown color — no blood or caramel coloring added.