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Catholic Recipe: Roast Goose

The Feast of St. Michael on September 29 has become a combined feast for the archangels Michael, Raphael and Gabriel. This feast was formerly called Michaelmas.

England long observed Michaelmas with many special ceremonies and customs. The Michaelmas daisy was named in the saint's honor, and village maidens in other days gathered crab apples on his feast. These were carried home and put into a loft, so arranged as to form the initials of their supposed lovers. The initials that were still perfect on old Michaelmas Day (October 11) were supposed to show where true love was. Another curious belief was that it was unlucky to gather blackberries on the feast of Saint Michael.

The outstanding and most persistent custom connected with Michaelmas was the eating of a goose at dinner. This seems to have originated with the practice of presenting a goose to the landlord when paying the rent. According to a sixteenth-century poet:

And when the tenants come to pay their quarter's rent, They bring some fowl at Midsummer, a dish of fish in Lent, At Christmas a capon, at Michaelmas a goose And somewhat else at New-year's tide, for fear their lease fly loose.
We read that Queen Elizabeth was eating her Michaelmas goose when she received the news of the defeat of the Spanish Armada. Obviously, this is apocryphal, for the "invincible" Armada was defeated in July and the news reached Elizabeth long before Michaelmas. But certainly the custom persisted in high places and low throughout Britain.

The Michaelmas goose was eaten in other places besides the British Isles, although in most countries of the Continent this custom was more apt to be connected with the celebration of Saint Martin's Day (November 11th). The Germans believed they could foretell the weather from the breastbones of the Michaelmas goose — a belief that traveled to America with immigrants of German stock, and which still exists today among the Pennsylvania Dutch.


No doubt the very best way to cook a goose is the English way. The old recipes speak of roasting it before an open fire, and we may assume that the fat would then be in the fire and the goose flesh free of it. (However, they did have pans underneath to catch the drippings.) For modern cookery, the stuffed goose should be pricked all over; then put in the oven; after an hour drain off the fat, prick it again, and after a while again drain off the fat. Today there are still many too many who throw away the goose grease, and any housewife of ye olde dayes reading of this would surely recommend that those who do so should be hung high on Tyburn. In the olden days it was carefully kept and used for a variety of purposes. In fact, even in the United States oldsters will tell you what a wonderful relief was goose grease for chilblains in their own young days — an injury far more prevalent when children plowed through wet snow to school than today when they ride royally in busses. Roast in an uncovered pan at 325° F., allowing twenty-five minutes to the pound.

Recipe Source: Feast Day Cookbook by Katherine Burton and Helmut Ripperger, David McKay Company, Inc., New York, 1951
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