the end of December 1972, Jean Shepherd devoted one of his
radio programs to, as he termed it, “The Majestic Goose.”
Best known as the author of the tales that formed the basis
of the movie A Christmas Story, Shepherd held forth
for many years on WOR in Manhattan every weeknight with a
45-minute show. He was a master monologuist with an incisive
view of American life; on this particular program, he lamented
the fact the roasted goose plays so small a part in the otherwise
large realm of the domestic palate.
pointed out, this is “the only time of year when you can get
one of my absolutely favorite—well, it’s a sensual experience,
is all I can say—one of my favorite items of food.” Before
launching into an overview of the goose in history (from which
I’ve drawn several elements of this piece), he termed it “one
of the truly exquisite taste pleasures. If there’s any food
I enjoy better than roast goose, I don’t know what it is.”
opinion has been extensively shared throughout history. Goose
has long been a Christmas meal staple, with some incursions
(notably in my house) at Thanksgiving. Tracing it as a foodstuff
back through history, we find it as a staple of a Celtic Hallowe’en
(Samhain), which, for a mighty conflation of holidays,
was also New Year’s Eve.
is part of the traditional Hanukkah meal. It was the symbol
of Amen, the Egyptian god who was the source of all creation—and
you’ll find gooseheads on many other ancient deities. It’s
a staple of Michaelmas, the winter solstice feast. The animal’s
migratory patterns coincided with key agricultural moments,
so the beast was seen as magical, even godlike. Thus, the
ritual of dining on goose was performed as a gesture of gratitude
for a good harvest.
of sacred geese were kept in the Roman Capitol at a time (about
400 B.C.) when that city was under siege by the Gauls; when
Gallic forces attempted a surprise predawn rout of the Roman
army, the birds were awakened by the clanking armor and raised
enough of a clamor to alert the soldier Manlius to the incursion—and
the Romans thus had time to drive back and eventually defeat
incident inspired Gen. Sir Gerald Templar when he was appointed
high commissioner of the British forces during the “Malayan
Emergency” of the 1950s. Templar was curious to see if geese
could warn of the approach of terrorist forces, and commissioned
an in-field study, the result of which was successful only
insofar as it provided an exotic dinner once it was understood
that the taciturn birds showed no interest in the approach
sufficient training, however, watch-geese have been successfully
used by the German and American armies. As Shepherd pointed
out, urban apartment dwellers might be able to make use of
them as well, as you’ll rarely find in your lease a proscription
are we in this country so turkey-centric in our ritual dining?
Turkeys are creatures of the New World, and were introduced
to Europe only later. Even then, it was an expensive bird.
(That’s why Scrooge buys the Cratchits a turkey.) We’re just,
as the saying goes, lousy with turkeys.
in mind that turkeys are flops, while geese lay golden eggs.
Of course, a goose egg is the most onerous form of nothing—but
that’s a term that originated in baseball, a sport that colored
the language like no other. Things are going well when the
goose hangs high, but we’d rather never more encounter a battalion
goose someone with a jab to the butt, but don’t do it to a
stranger in pursuit of intimacy: that would be a wild goose
chase. (Geese are notoriously difficult to catch but are partial
to liquor, so savvy farmers would tip some booze into the
mash and thus render their quarry more compliant.)
your goose is cooked, you’re done for, but if it’s your holiday
dinner, you’re in for a treat. Move beyond the turkeys, cast
aside the ducks, and grab one of those lone geese off to the
side of the meat display. And here’s what you’ll do with it.
are thick-skinned and fat-filled. They have an unfairly earned
reputation as being greasy, which is only a reflection of
improper cooking. It’s an excellent bird to stuff; the best
way to do so is by removing the wishbone, stuffing the cavity,
and trussing shut the opening.
the bird above the roasting pan so it won’t simmer in its
fat. Cook a 10-pound goose for half an hour at 425 degrees;
then continue at 350 degrees for another 90 minutes to two
hours. Let it rest for a while before carving— then enjoy
the luscious dark meat you’ll find in all parts of the bird.
options are legion. Apples and onions are always good; the
Scandinavian recipe calls for apples and prunes. To get even
fancier, marinate the bird overnight in a combination of citrus
juice and wine.
you’ll want to take a gander at the sauce for the goose, which
need be no more than what you make for your turkey but seasoned
to suit the richer, deeper flavor of the meat. I try to work
a good Burgundy in there, offset with a little fruit.
roasted goose to the holiday table is a welcome alternative
to turkey and ham, and I’ve already assured my family that,
yes, we can have it for Christmas, too.