Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Medieval Goose - two ways over an open fire

You remember Henry and William?  Two lovely geese I raised by hand from (not so) tiny eggs.

Maybe squeamish people should click away now, as this post involves processing and consuming my lovely boys.  But in a good way.  A very good and fulfilling way, with friends and free flowing mead.  It's been difficult gathering my feelings and thoughts to write about it, but I want to share the experience with you, if you'll let me.

Once a year I travel to the 14th Century for, what passes as a vacation.  A wonderful week or two among friends, dressed in funny clothes, eating medieval food, doing medieval things.  Living life just as they would in the year 1371, only we do it with potable water.

Things are never quite that simple, because while we are living a medieval life, we are also an interactive display for the public.  Visitors wander in and out of our camp while we cook, eat, spin yarn, weave, cast metals, practice combat... and all the regular day to day tasks correct for our period.  It's great fun interacting with them and showing off what we are doing.

A setting with good friends and a chance to educate random people about food and food choices - what  Pastafarian could pass up an opportunity like that?  So I brought my geese to the park, early one morning.  While The Captain and I hugged our feathered friends, they met their end.  I cried.  A lot.  But their end was just the beginning.

Plucking pheasants geese

As the day progressed a whole host of helpers plucked the larger of the two birds as we prepared him for roasting on the spit.  The smaller fella we skinned.  That took most of the morning, and some fun rhymes about pheasant pluckers and their sons.

With the smaller goose, we made a soup.  I carved off the meat and put to one side.  A broth was made from the bones, onions, carrot leaves and a few other tidbits that were kicking about.  After a few hours, we strained the broth, added it to some lightly fried veg, spices and the rest of the goose meat.  Delicious.


Not the most appetizing of photos, but very interesting for someone like me who hasn't worked with goose before.  First thing I noticed is how colourful the bird is under it's skin.  The yellow chunky bits are fat.

Fats of all kinds were highly prized in the middle ages, especially in Northern climes where there were very few sources of vegetable oils.  Fat was used to make soap, lotions, lighting, cooking, lubrication for wagon wheels, and many other things.  As we know now, fat is essential not just to make you feel full when eating, but also for brain development, skin, Vit D processing, and so many other things.  I had often read that goose fat was the most valued fat of all, but I never realized why before.

Unlike lard or tallow, when rendered, goose fat is liquid at room temperature.  It was quick and easy to render, especially because it's easy to see and trim the fat thanks to the natural colour coding inside the goose.  There is a lot of fat inside a goose!  It's also quite a mild taste, a lot like olive oil with a slight meaty undertone.  Very neutral flavour.

The roasted goose was much easier to process.  Just clean out the innards, trim some of the fat from the cavity, stick a stick in it and put it in front of the fire, turning from time to time.

"Is that a real goose?"

While we are working with the geese, the public flows in and out of the kitchen area and I talked with them about what we were cooking.  This probably the best part of the week for me.  I love hearing people's questions and listening to their stories.  Although, while working with the goose... things were a bit different.

The most common question of the day was, "Is that a real bird?"

The first few times I heard someone ask that, I wondered why we would be plucking an unreal bird?  What would an unreal bird look like?  How would it taste?

After a while, I decided (or at the very least hoped) they meant was, is it something that comes wrapped in plastic from a store or a bird we were in the process of transforming from live to dinner.  

Not surprisingly, many of the people were taken aback when they discovered what we were doing.  They had never seen anything like it before.  Even avid meat eaters didn't know what to make of it.

So I told them the story of the geese and how they came to be there.  I described how I hatched the eggs, raised the geese by hand, loved them and gave them a fulfilling life.  I shared how honoured I was that these geese would provide sustenance for us, and how we would honour them by making certain not a scrap would be wasted.  And most importantly, I talked about the difference between modern day methods of raising meat and the way it was done in the Middle Ages.  In the past meat was an infrequent luxury - and still is for most people who live on this planet today - so no part would go unused.  If we are going to eat meat, in our society today, we have the luxury of choice - we can choose to eat an animal who lived a miserable confined forcefed existence, or we can choose to eat fewer animals; ones who lived in a manner most true to their nature.  Why is it so many people proclaim they care about animals, but still buy miserable-meat?

I like to believe I got people thinking about what they eat when they eat meat.

Chowing Down (as in goose down... well, I tried)

Goose soup, goose livers and hearts fried in goose fat, and roast goose.  Add rice and a few veg to the mix and ring the dinner bell.

Everything was delicious.  We toasted the geese with homemade mead.

I don't know how to say this but while I ate, I was both incredibly sad and unbelievably joyful.  I was sad (and still am a little inside) because I'm always sad when one of my animals comes to an end - be it for food reasons or others.  These animals become my friends, even though I know that they will be food some day - I'm determined to give them the best life I know how.

But like I said, I was also joyful.  Amazingly so.  Enjoying the meal with my medieval friends was uplifting. I felt they honoured the lives of my animals - that it wasn't just meat to them.  It was sustenance, both of body and soul.

I'm losing the thread of what I was saying, but I doubt many people read to the end of a post this long.  Basically, what I am looking to say is: despite my conflicting emotional state, I am glad this happened.  I would do it all again  if it meant sharing a meal with these lovely people.  In fact, I already have a flock of replacement geese.  Between educating the public, learning new skills, and enjoying time with my friends, it was a very successful day.

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