Yesterday's Magazette

8 – A Holiday Feathered Phenomenon

“Such a bustle ensued that you might have thought a goose the rarest of all birds; a feathered phenomenon.”

—A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens


By Terri Elders


“I’m tired of turkey,” I announced as we spooned up the last of the soup I’d assembled from the Thanksgiving leftovers. “I’m going to roast a goose for Christmas.”

“But, why?” chorused my husband and son.

“We’ve fallen into such dull holiday dining habits. We always eat ham at Easter. We barbecue burgers on the Fourth of July. Then it seems as if it’s just turkey, turkey, gobble, gobble for the rest of the year. I actually end up cooking Thanksgiving dinner twice, just a month apart. Besides, a goose is traditional for Christmas. Remember the Cratchits?”

Since son Steve was no bigger himself than Tiny Tim, Bob and I would let him stay up late to watch Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” with us on Christmas Eve.

scrooge

It didn’t matter which version. We’d watch Alastair Sim or Reginald Owen portray Scrooge, and commiserate over the plight of the Cratchit family.

Then we’d open one present each before hitting our beds to await Santa. Or in my case, Father Christmas. An Anglophile ever since I’d taken a graduate course in the English novel, I’d longed to celebrate a Victorian Christmas, goose and all. My little family, though, seemed rigid with routine, as committed to feasting on turkey as Scrooge was to squirreling away his shillings.

“It’s not as if I’m roasting a peacock or a swan,” I continued, as I began to clear away our bowls and spoons.

Both husband and son stared up at me, eyes round with horror, mouths hanging open.

Finally Steve sputtered, “Peacock? Like the ones at the Arboretum with the beautiful blue and green feathers? People ate them? And swans, too? Like the ones in El Dorado Park?”

“Yes! That’s what the nobility ate in Medieval England,” I said, happy to have a chance to show off my knowledge. “Everybody else had to settle for goose or chicken.”

Bob finally spoke up. “I’m not Bob Cratchit,” he said, “but whatever you cook, we’ll be happy to eat it and God bless us.”

Steve shook his head. “A goose maybe, but I draw the line at peacock.”

“A goose it shall be,” I said.

As I washed the dishes I overheard Bob in the living room. “At least she didn’t remind us that Little Jack Horner ate blackbird pie.”

As Christmas neared I dragged my well-thumbed “A Christmas Carol” from the shelf, and scanned it for that jolly supper. Oh, yes. Mrs. Cratchit had served apple sauce, mashed potatoes and for dessert, a steamed Christmas pudding. Dickens had neglected to mention what else went into the stuffing, other than sage and onions, but then I spied the passage where the family shoveled chestnuts into the fireplace. Mrs. Cratchit probably put chestnuts in the stuffing, I concluded.

I rose early on Christmas morning to prepare the goose for roasting before Bob and Steve stumbled downstairs. I’d no idea it would take half the morning to slit, bake, peel and boil the chestnuts. I took a break while we munched donuts and opened presents. Then I went back to the kitchen to sieve the chestnuts and mix them with the sage and onions I remembered the Cratchit kids sniffing as they passed the baker’s shop.

“Dinner will be a little late today,” I mentioned, returning to the living room. “I just got the goose in the oven. It should be done by five.”

We usually ate our Christmas dinner around two, but I hoped that this Victorian feast would prove to be worth the wait. All afternoon we flipped from one television channel to another, watching “Miracle on 42nd Street” and other holiday specials.

“Doesn’t the goose smell wonderful? I’ll put out some raisins and nuts,” I finally said. “That’s in keeping with true English custom, and should keep us going until dinner’s ready.”

“Did you make any wassail?” Bob asked.

“No, dear. But the Victorians liked their port.” I rummaged in the cupboard and found a dusty bottle in the back. “Have a glass.” I poured one for each of us.

Steve accepted a glass of apple cider, and we continued to watch the Mayberry marathon, having run out of Christmas movies as twilight neared.

Finally by seven, I peered into the oven again. This time when I poked a fork into the goose, it at last looked as if it were cooked.  I was beginning to think mine was, too, over the past hour when all of our tummies began to rumble.

Just like Mrs. Cratchit, I’d prepared applesauce and mashed potatoes and gravy. I now proudly set the dishes on the table. It all looked perfectly inviting, but just a little pale. I kind of missed the bright color the cranberry sauce usually brought to the table. The olives and pickles, too. But never mind. This Dickensian meal was a dream come true.

Bob agreed to carve the goose. With the first slice, grease spurted out and onto his shirt. He bravely continued, and deposited a slice on every plate. I scooped out mounds of chestnut dressing.

“Where’s the cranberry sauce?” Steve asked, glancing around the table.

“Mrs. Cratchit made applesauce,” I said. “I don’t know that they had cranberries in England in those days. Those are more American.”

“Earth to Mom,” Steve said, “Haven’t you noticed that we’re, ummm, American?”

I took my first bite of goose. So did Bob and Steve. Then, simultaneously, we all set down our forks.

“It’s a bit gamey,” Bob said.

“Mom, it’s really greasy.”

“Well, I’m going to try the stuffing. And I think I’ll just heap a little gravy over the meat,” Bob said gamely.

I sampled a bite of chestnut stuffing myself. It was so sweet I nearly gagged.

In silence we polished off the mashed potatoes, gravy and apple sauce, and had seconds on the fragrant steamed plum pudding I’d bought at the Broadway department store gourmet department. I’d heated up a can of hard sauce to pour over it, and we all agreed that it, too, was delicious.

The remainder of the goose and its accompanying stuffing sat in the refrigerator for several days until I mustered the courage to wrap it all up in newspaper and dump it in the trash.  I wouldn’t be making soup from the bones of the bird this year.

The next Thanksgiving we fell upon our traditional turkey like a pack of starving ragamuffins.

“Did you know that people in Shakespeare’s day ate boiled mutton or baked rabbit for Christmas?” I offered, as I started to clear the table.

“Aren’t we glad we’re Americans?” Steve responded. “Remember, Mom, that Scrooge bought a turkey at the end of ‘A Christmas Carol.’ A turkey. And don’t forget that even Fezziwig served mince pie.”

“If we had an open fire, we could roast some chestnuts,” Bob said, working the wishbone free from the turkey carcass. “Who wants to join me in wishing us all a traditional merry Christmas next month?”

At dinner, December 25, I mentioned that Martha Washington had served spiced cranberries at Mount Vernon. I’d recently completed an American history course.

“God bless her,” chorused Bob and Steve, helping themselves to more turkey.

Vol. 37 No. 4 – Yesterday’s Magazette – Winter- 2010/11

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