Geese used to be no big deal. When Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol, I believe he meant to mock the Cratchit family’s excitement as they sat down to the scrawny goose at the center of their holiday meal:
Such a bustle ensued that you might have thought a goose the rarest of all birds; a feathered phenomenon, to which a black swan was a matter of course — and in truth it was something very like it in that house… Bob took Tiny Tim beside him in a tiny corner at the table; the two young Cratchits set chairs for everybody, not forgetting themselves, and mounting guard upon their posts, crammed spoons into their mouths, lest they should shriek for goose before their turn came to be helped. At last the dishes were set on, and grace was said. It was succeeded by a breathless pause, as Mrs Cratchit, looking slowly all along the carving-knife, prepared to plunge it in the breast; but when she did, and when the long expected gush of stuffing issued forth, one murmur of delight arose all round the board, and even Tiny Tim, excited by the two young Cratchits, beat on the table with the handle of his knife, and feebly cried Hurrah!
Whatever the size of their goose, those enthusiastic Cratchits had me salivating for goose! I don’t know when turkeys took over the market, but geese used to be THE THING for a holiday meal. Okay, maybe a hundred years ago I would have written off the goose, and thanked the New World for providing a superior bird, the turkey. But today – the turkeys you can get in the store don’t have much flavor, though you could lose a knife in that breast. It’s not impossible to find a heritage breed – I’ve seen them at P.C.C. But if you’re going to go old school, why not go REALLY old school? Why not cook up a Christmas goose?
TODAY’S PEST, YESTERDAY’S SYMBOL OF HOPE
In cities we tend to think of geese as a nuisance bird. The USDA killed a large number of them in Seattle a few years ago, a move that angered a lot of animal rights activists. I have a cousin who actually makes his living chasing geese with dogs. It’s easy to forget, when approached by aggressive geese in a public park in the middle of winter, that geese are at heart, migratory birds.
It used to be geese were always coming and going, crossing the sky in their V-shaped formations. For that reason, people once associated geese with seasonal change. Northern Europeans ritually consumed them around the fall equinox. Geese eaten on that date symbolized a descent into winter, much as Persephone of Greek mythology descended temporarily into the underworld. But the bargain Persephone made not only accounted for the injustice that is winter – it also promised spring. And so for many Northern Europeans, a goose eaten in midwinter – especially around the solstice – would have symbolized hope, the distant dream of spring.
WHERE TO GET YOUR GOOSE
Brad Andonian, like most the farmers we love, isn’t perfect, but he grows a fine goose. Brad’s geese are raised on his farm in Toledo, Washington. They live on pasture, which Brad doesn’t spray. Their supplemental grains come from just down the road from his farm. If they were organic grains, we’d be ecstatic. They’re not. But I figure with all that pasture, Brad’s birds are going to be way better, and way better for us, than most turkeys I can find in the store. And because geese haven’t been bred for large-scale feedlot production, they’ve retained most of their foraging instincts. They’ll get more from pasture than a modern broad-breasted turkey.
Buying one of Brad’s geese will make you feel like the poor clerk Bob Cratchit from A Christmas Carol – they can cost over $100. In my family, we can’t really afford birds like that. But when you look at the finances, it ain’t as bad as it seems. The way I figure it, we’ve stopped buying chickens of any kind all year long, eating only the hens and roosters we cull from our flock and the flocks of our friends. So maybe we can afford to spring for a big, expensive bird once a year. Think of Tiny Tim.
If you order goose from Brad, he’ll kill them, dress them and bring them in a cooler to one of his two luxury carpet stores (Bellevue or Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood).
A BEEFY SORT OF BIRD
Geese are fattier than chickens or turkeys. I could not believe the amount of fat that rendered out of my cooked goose. (Incidentally, goose fat is highly prized in the kitchen – try frying potatoes with it). And whereas turkey will give you a large, white breast for grandma and dark thighs for the adventurous uncle, geese are all dark meat, all the time. The flavor is stronger and richly colored – sometimes almost like beef, but still the texture of a bird.
Once I received my goose from Brad, I set it in brine for eight hours (1 c salt, 1/4 c sugar, smashed garlic cloves and enough water to cover my bird), rinsed it (as sugar on the surface can cause the skin to blacken), then let it dry out in the fridge under a towel overnight. I took Brad’s advice and did not pierce the skin to drain fat as advised in many goose recipes. I also roasted the bird upside down, to help keep the temperature down on the breast, which tends to overcook on any kind of bird. It took between two and three hours at 350 (I blasted the bird at 400 for a few minutes in the beginning) to cook the bird. You know it’s done by poking it in the thigh – if the juices run clear, rather than red, it’s done. When you pull the goose out, turn it over and poke it deep in the breast, just to make sure the breast juices run equally clear. If not, cook breast side up a few minutes more.