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.