Christmas Goose

I’m cooking  goose this year in true Hiller tradition.

Like my father before me, and my godfather and namesake, James Alexander, every year I gather my  sons around to slice off  the fat on the goose’s back and stuff a succulent bird with apples and prunes.

When I was a boy, I stood beside my father, absorbing the cadence of banter between Dad and his dearest friend and life mentor, James  Alexander.  He was a proper British gentleman who oversaw the preparation of our holiday goose and did the same for my father’s career.

Then, as now, it was an event for the men of the house. Being among the generations,  it was a time when we exercised our belief in trimming the fat, seasoning the bird just right so that it would roast slowly toward proper moistness and flavor.

Roasting the holiday goose has become a spiritual endeavor. It’s a time when I hear the subtle drip and sizzle emanating from the oven, when I smell the fragrances of the hearth as they envelop my home.

It is a time of men, showing strength in a way you might not expect, in the kitchen– Feeding our family– Sustaining those we love in a most fundamental way.

Every year, as I prepare the ceremonial goose, I am reminded of the Charles Dickens tale, A Christmas Carol. In the homes of England’s Victorian poor, there were open fireplaces but no ovens for roasting.

Bob Cratchit’s children ran to the baker’s shop to retrieve their Christmas goose. It was a silky-tasting luxury to celebrate the finest day of the year, and nary one that a family would pass up simply because they did not have the means to cook it themselves. The baker collected a fee to roast the bird for those who could not.

Working-class Dickensian families like the Cratchits belonged to Goose Clubs, sharing in the festivities of a stuffed bird. In literature and in life, a Christmas goose was tradition through the 19th century.

Few Americans eat goose to celebrate the holidays now. For one, it’s hard to find – though Hiller’s sells Young North American Geese in the meat freezer, 12-14 pounds apiece at $4.79 per pound.

We all connect to loved ones and traditions through food. The goose was always the standard ritual feast of the winter solstice, Michaelmas. Its migratory patterns symbolized the transition of the seasons, and people ate this rich bird to connect with the patterns of the sun and moon and crops.

A goose was also a thank-offering for the harvest. Eating its flesh represented the belief that nature would return after harsh winter. We used to believe everything would regain vigor and health, leaves would sprout, temperatures warm.

As I command this family of men, I am bolstered by the simple satisfaction of a goose well-cooked with thin-sliced meat to serve to all, with which I can sustain those I love. By my own belief that simple celebrations among family ensure the continuation of a legacy started long before me and which will continue after I am gone.

You don’t have to remove the fat. You could raise the goose off the bottom of the pan and let the juices drip down.

Yet, I like the metaphor inherent in tearing away a thick layer of fat and cooking my goose slowly. Patience cooks a healthier goose that is still full of flavor.


Comments

Christmas Goose — 3 Comments

  1. Jim,
    Really enjoyed this story- first time I’ve read your blog. My father, a Czech immigrant, cooked a goose every New Year’s Day. He accompanied it with Moravian style cabbage, dumplings, cucumber salad, mashed potatoes and a vegetable. For New Year’s Day 2007, Mary and I bought a goose at Hillers and cooked it for him and my Mom- it was delicious. Sadly, that was his last New Year’s Day as he died that April. I plan to carry on his tradition and will be in some time soon to purchase one of your geese.
    Larry Machacek
    ps- we recently moved from W. Bloomfield to Dearborn and I really miss Hiller’s. Appreciate getting the email and will be in to shop for our Christmas party next week. Hiller’s was one of the highlights of living in West Bloomfield- you and your team really run a good shop! I strongly recommended the people who bought our home to patronize Hillers. Happy Holidays and best wishes.

  2. I lloved the article about buying US made cars. Virtually every industrial nation protects it’s own turf….except the US. We not only allow competition, we reward it. In at least one competitor countries, one of the best way to get a tax audit is to buy a foreign car. For the past several years, I have been telling my neighbors the economy will trickle down. Even if they didn’t work for the big three, or one of their suppliers, it will trickle down. Many didn’t believe me. Now, many do. If you lived in Hershey, Pa, would you buy Godiva chocolate and wonder why your economy was drying up? If you aren’t part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. I don’t shop at big box mart and I don’t buy foreign cars. I want my money to stay in the US, in Michigan, in my local community. My 2002 Impala has over 100,000 miles on it and gets 24 mpg. I love it. My wife is on her 3rd Cadillac, a world class CTS made in Lansing, Michigan. When the economy improves, I will likely trade my Impala in on a world class Malibu (made in Orion, Michigan). We are in this together. And, by we, I mean Americans, and Michiganders. I will not send the profits on my car purchases to Japan, Korea or Germany. Speaking of which, you won’t find cheaper Korean, Chinese or Indian auto plants in Japan. The Japanese government would never allow foreign competitiors to do the same thing to their home auto companies that the US government has encouraged others to do to GM, Ford and Chrysler. I choose to put my money where my flag lapel pin is. We’re all in this together. If you live in Michigan and the domestic auto firms suffer, your customers will have less money with which to patronize your businesses. We’re all in this together.

  3. Jim – I’m the finnan haddie guy from Grosse Ile. Your blog really got me thinking about a goose for Christmas. I’ve never had goose, so I have no idea what it tastes like compared to turkey or chicken or duck. I have to work Christmas day when we usually have a potluck dinner at the office. I’m wondering how people would react if I brought one. What has been your experience in people’s reaction to it? When would I have to put in in the oven to leave by 2 p.m. — and do you have a recipe? (Good blog on your car)

    regards, Matt

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