Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat

Please to put a penny in the old man’s hat.

If you haven’t got a penny, a ha’penny will do,

If you haven’t got a ha’penny then God bless you!

~Traditional nursery rhyme

The History of the Eating Goose

The goose has been part of the winter holidays for millennia since the Egyptians first recorded eating them around 2500BC.  It boasts delicious dark meat and what is considered some of the highest quality high temperature cooking fat available.  Charles Dickens wrote that goose’s  “tenderness and flavour, size and cheapness, were the themes of universal admiration.” So why don’t we eat them?

Well Dickens is actually part of the problem.  When Scrooge sent a turkey to Tiny Tim in the Chrismas Carol, he cemented the turkey’s place in history.  Yet there was a trend towards eating turkeys before this so we can’t blame poor Charlie entirely.  Turkeys were introduced to England in about 1540 and quickly gained popularity over geese for a few reasons.

Turkeys are less trouble.  Everyone has been or knows someone who has been chased down and bitten by honking, wing flapping geese.  Turkeys can attack people too, but not as readily as geese.  What most people don’t realize however, is this is a breed characteristic and not a species characteristic. Some breeds of geese like the Chinese or the Embden are very aggressive.  We raise the Cotton Patch Goose and in ten years I’ve never been bitten and they are more likely to crawl into my lap take a nap than chase me.

Geese are more expensive to raise.  This is actually just downright false in my experience.  The reason Scrooge bought a turkey for the Cratchits was because turkeys were the bird of the rich.  Geese can live and fatten on nothing but grass, but a turkey cannot live on grass alone and must have expensive grain.  Cheap turkeys are cheap because have been raised on cheap feeds and have lived a cheap life of confinement, which means the meat will be bland, flavorless and horribly textured.  Good quality meat that tastes good is always going to cost extra.  In today’s market, geese tend to be raised to better standards because they don’t do well in confinement while turkeys do.  That means it’s possible to raise bad quality (aka “cheap) turkeys and much more difficult to raise bad quality geese and thus goose is ‘more expensive.’

Geese are too fatty.  Geese are significantly fattier than turkeys, it’s true.  Especially store bought turkeys as they are butchered young and don’t have time to put on fat.  Many of our turkey customers call us up freaked out over the “greasy yellow stuff” and we now make sure we inform new customers that turkeys are actually supposed to have fat on their bodies.  Fat makes things taste better and fat keeps meat from drying out.  Our culture has a phobia of fat, but health research is showing that fat does not make you fat.  As a matter of fact, it is healthy.  Hence the term “essential fatty acid.”  Your body has to have fat to function (read more about this on the Flip Flop Ranch blog).

Geese are also less fatty depending on how you prepare them and this is the number one reason why people believe goose is too fatty.

Your Goose is Cooked

Goose has traditionally been a Christmas meal because people believed that cold weather really put on that extra layer of fat and for good quality goose, you wouldn’t harvest them until after freezing weather.  Like all animals, the longer it takes to grow, the better it tastes so goose should really be at least 6 months old before harvest.  However, a young goose harvested before it gets cold (usually around 12 weeks) will be lower in fat.

Cooking tips

  1. Rest your goose at room temperature for 30 minutes.
  2. Salt the bird inside and out and stuff it or fill the cavity with herbs such as garlic, rosemary, thyme and sage
  3. This is the key to avoiding a greasy goose.  Prick small holes all over the skin while making sure to not pierce the meat.  The fat can render out during roasting and the extra surface area means the skin will become deliciously crispy!!
  4. Make sure you have a drip pan to catch all the fat. Many people will also spoon the rendered fat over the bird every fifteen minutes or so.
  5. Don’t be in a rush.  Cook at no more than 325 degrees fahrenheit.  Geese are more active than turkeys and the meat needs longer to tenderize in the heat.
  6. Remove the breast part way through roasting.  Since geese are actually red meat, unlike turkeys and chickens, their breast meat should be served medium rare.
  7. For extra crispy skin, take some of the fat drippings and heat it up in a pan.  Take the legs and breast and sauté them skin side down for 3-4 minutes.

Don’t throw all that fat out!

After you have eaten and been converted to the world of goose eaters, don’t just toss all that nice fat out.  Your Christmas goose will yield several pounds of goose fat, which should be dutifully reserved for future use.  Goose fat used to be of huge value and still can be if you know what to do with it.  This type of fat is incredibly smooth and flavorful.  It is amazing for roasting potatoes or making pastries.  Anywhere you would use butter or lard, you can replace it with goose fat.  Scared to eat goose fat on your toast?  Research shows that goose-fat eaters from southwest France have the lowest heart disease levels in France.  Dr. Serge Renaud of the National Institute of Health and Medical Research is researching the composition of goose fat and finding that it is close to olive oil in composition.  So eat away!

We find it useful for rubbing on our goat and cow’s teats to prevent cracking and take advantage of its antimicrobial properties in preventing mastitis.  It’s also useful for stopping hinges from squeaking!

Goose fat has been used as a cure for many ills.  Mothers rubbed it on the chest of coughing children and sore throats were believed to be cured with a spoonful.  Goose fat makes excellent lotions and lip-salves by itself or mixed with flowers or the leaves of watercress.  Mixed with turpentine, horseradish juice, mustard and egg yolk, goose fat can relieve muscle stiffness.  It is also fantastic for a face wash or mask.

The goose is a noble and useful bird with a distinguished history. Will a goose be the on your Christmas table?