There’s no denying the numbers – the turkey really does rule the roost when it comes to Christmas dinner. But that wasn’t always the story. Although turkey put in its first appearance in the first half of the sixteenth century, it wasn’t until the 1960s that it started to gain real traction as a bird-for-all-tables. Before industrial farming and effective refrigeration, what appeared on the Christmas table was dictated by what could be afforded, what was local and what was seasonal. So through the years, pork, beef, game and chicken have all been popular. As, of course, has goose.
After a fairly dramatic fall from glory through the second half of the twentieth century, recent years have seen the quiet growth of a goosey revolution as people have rediscovered the joys of this most traditional of table birds. In Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, it’s a goose that the Cratchits are tucking into with delight as Scrooge looks on, accompanied by the Ghost of Christmas Present. It wasn’t an everyday bird, it was marked out as being special: a celebratory centrepiece that everyone considered a treat. And this remains true today.
Here at Pipers Farm, we love a bit of turkey and our free-range birds are packed with flavour and delicious texture, but we also love the tradition of the goose. Our flock of free-range geese have plenty of room to roam and eat a wholly natural diet meaning their meat packs a massive flavour punch. It's tender and succulent, provides in abundance the best fat for cooking roast veg and works perfectly with the robust fruits and spices we love so much at Christmas. So why as a nation have we fallen out of the habit of having a festive goose? Probably for a few simple reasons: turkey has taken over because it’s abundant (therefore less expensive), it comes in a vast range of sizes and it yields a lot of meat. Plus, we’ve collectively become a little bit scared of cooking a goose. Which is wholly reasonable: it’s become unfamiliar, there’s lots of talk about all that fat and with a lot of pressure riding on the shoulders of the Christmas cook, no-one wants to take a risk on the big day.
In reality, cooking a goose is arguably easier than cooking a turkey. With more even distribution of meat over the carcase, all parts of a goose cook in pretty much the same time, so there are no worries about any bits drying out or being underdone. And as for the fat, only if your bird sits directly in its own juices will you have a problem with sogginess. So set the bird directly onto the bars of an oven rack, prick all over with a fork, place a deep roasting tin underneath and as your goose cooks let the liquid-gold fat drip through. Then ladle it over your potatoes as they roast to sublime crispy perfection.
So why not ring the changes this year and serve up a slice of Christmas past? Push the boat out and cook a whole goose for a real Dickensian feast, or experiment with some breast or leg alongside your turkey. We’re certain you’ll be won over.