Mort Berenson insists his geese are superior because he feeds them "bagel, pumpernickel, loads of lettuce, honeydew, cantaloupe and watermelon rinds and pineapple tops, too."
There are other reasons Berenson's geese may taste better than most geese sold in this country. His are fresh; almost all the others are frozen : his are relative lean; the otehrs are fat. His geese are so "slim" that the posh New York restaurants where has sold his first ones have asked to have theirs fattened up.
Easy enough to do, according to Berenson, a butcher in the Quincy Market "since the old days" before it was refurbished. The Quincy Market, the core of which is fanueil Hall, has became the heart of Boston's successful restoration of its old market area and waterfront. It draws hundreds of thousands of tourists each year and, apparently, enough serious-and affluent-customers who want fresh goose.
Berenson was there when the rent was $75.06 a month. Now it's $1,600. But he's making money. In addition to his local trade, he has mail-order customers all over the country: prime meats, fresh turkeys and ducks and some foods which border on being illegal, such as chicken feet and unhatched geese, which he advertised in gourmet and New York magazines this year.
"A goose," Berenson explained, "is basically not a fat animal. You have to fatten them up, so I segregated the New York geese, fed them Fat and Finish for three weeks and it worked." Fat and Finish is a feed whose name describes its function accurately.
Ironically, "Joy of Cooking," that bible of American culinary knowledge, says among the reasons "for the decline in the popularity of goose are its high fat content and the toughness of a fully matured bird." Not to mention the high cost.
Goose consumption declined steadily in this country until the end of the 1960's . Since then consumption has registered a slow but steady increase. According to the National Goose Council, a very loose association of some, but not all, of the country's geese producers, about half a million frozen birds were sold last year, up almost 100,000 from 1964. In 1976 there was actually a shortage and geese had to be imported from Canada.
In 19th-century England, goose was poor manhs Christmas dinner. Goose clubs, sprang up to help the poor save a little money each week in order to buy a goose for the holiday. "Dickens is the greatest seller of fresh geese everm," Berenson said. But today turkey and duck are cheaper than geese. Frozen geese sell for $1.69 a pound and up; Berenson's fresh ones are $35 for 12 pounds and over, plus shipping if you can't pick it up yourself. (That doesn't include the goose liver. Goose liver sells for $6.50 a pound, or is turned into pate at $7.50.)
"Never year they willprobably be less." Berenson sai. "I'm probably the only person who an make that statement." As Berenson's production increases, he expects his cost per goose to decline.
Berenson is a gambler. No one has tried ilarge-scale marketing of fesh geese in this country. The high cost of shipping and the extremely short season for both fresh and frozen-from Thank-giving to New Year's-is obviously a factor. A few speciality stores have some fresh geese in the larger cities. Some farmers will sell fresh geest in their immediate neighbourhood. Berenson wants to sell fresh geese from October through February. "They make just as good a festive dinner in January as they do at Christmas," he explained. "A lot of Middle Europeans, like Germans and Hungarians, are used to eating them in the winter." Those are the people Berenson hopes will be buying his fresh geese when the holiday season is past. He has a lot to sell-2,800. "The most I can have leftover is 1,000 come Jan. 1," he said optimistically.
He's already figured out what to do with a few of leftovers.
"I may have a few geese left over and how can I sell them at my little stand?" Then he answered his own question. "No one in the whole solar system sells goose sandwiches." Berenson said, taking a swipe at other stall owners in the market who have copied his sausage on a stick. "Since I'm the only guy with frsh geese, they can't copy that." Golden Geese Samplers, made with mashed potatoes,onions, goose fat and goose meat will sell for about $2.50 each.
Berenson got into the fresh goose business because he had orders for them, "but no souce, so I made a deal with a farmer to raise them for me. In April I bought 550 day-old goslings. By August I had orders for 850 geese and I knew I was in trouble. So then I decided to buy 2,300 geese from the West."
But the public has to be educated about geese. Most people don't know how to cook them, or if they do, think what really killed the goose business-it accounts for only a small fraction of the poultry sold in the United States each year-is frozen geese.
"There are no dates on frozen geese. It could be a year old and you wouldn't know it." Berenson explained: "What do you thik they do with the geese they don't sell in December" They keep them and sell them the next year.A goose that old tastes terrible."
The Goose Council acknowledges that holdovers are recycled.
cEverything printed about geese," Berenson continued, "is based on frozen geese. It's all different with fresh geese: the cooking times, juiciness, flavor , the moisture that stays in . It couldn't possibly be in a frozen goose." Warming to his subject, Berenson said, "You better believe it. There's more meat and less fat on my geese...But I can't prove itb"
That's why Berenson thinks people are willing to pay the difference in price. Boston's best restaurants apparently agree. They buy Berenson's geese. So do some of New Yorkspriciest spots: Lutece, the Palace, Four Seasons, La Folie, Cafe des Artistes. But the executive secretary of the National Goose Council, who has never eaten a fresh goose, "doesn't think fresh geese would taste better." He acknowledged that, "there is a difference of opinion." The man who handles public relations for the council said: "Honesty and truly anything fresh tastes better."
Berenson has worked out his own method for cooking fresh goose.
"Even a fresh goose cooked at high heat won't get tender," he says. He also prefers unstuffed poultry. "Poultry should be cooked unstuffed because you are blocking the heat. Stuffing was invented by poor people who wanted something else on the plate, logic tells me. Stuffing should be made in a casserole dish and the dripplings put in after," he says.
Here are Berenson's directions, which have been adapted:
ROAST FRESH GOOSE
(8 to 10 servings) 12 pounds or larger fresh goose
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Remove as much fat as possible from inside the goose, especially the heavy fat near the openings. Save the fat and render for use in other cooking. Rinse well inside and out and rub the bird inside and out with salt and pepper.
Truss the goose and place, breast side down directly in roasting pan. Do not place on a rack and do not prick.* Roast at 400 degrees for 30 minutes; reduce heat to 350 degrees. After 20 minutes drain off fat, using some of it to baste breast of bird. Roast at 300 degrees a total of 1 hour 20 minutes, or longer, until juice runs clear, not pink, when goose is cut where the drumstick is attached to the body. Allow to rest 20 minutes before carving.
*Note: To remove as much fat as possible, you may prefer to prick the bird with a sharp tined fork at its fattest points-where the drumstick meets the body, etc.
To roast a frozen goose, follow these directions:
Remove excess fat. Stuff goose or not, as desired. Season eith salt and pepper inside uand out. Truss. Place goose, breast side up, on rack in shallow roasting pan. Prick all over with fork. Roast at 400 degrees for 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on size of bird. During roasting, spoon off accumulated fat.
Reduce temperature to 325 degreees and continue roasting. When bird is done, juices hould run-clear in color, not pink. Skin should be golden brown and crisp. See chart for roasting time.
If bird has been stuffed, remove stuffing immediately.
GOOSE JEWISH STYLE
(6 servings) 10 pound goose 6 onions, cut into 1/4 inch slice 3 cloves garlic, mashed 2 1/2 tablespoons flour 1 bottle white wine (Sylvaner or Riesling) Chicken stock Bouquet garni 1 teaspoons coriander seeds 3 boiling potatoes Chopped parsley
Remove the fat pads of the goose. Put them in a pot containing 2 cups water. Heat slsowly and let cook until the water has evaporated, the fat has melted and only the cracklings are left floating in the liquid fat. Remove the cracklings and reserve them.
Cut the goose into 12 pieces. Heat some goose fat in a large cocotte and brown the onions and garlic well, but do not let them burn or fall apart. Remove them to a plate.
In same pot, brown the pieces of goose on all sides until the skin is nice and crisp. Sprinkle with the flour and turn often to brown the flour as evenly as possible. Add the wine and enough chicken stock to cover the pieces of meat, then add a bouquet garni and the coriander seeds. Place a piece of foil flush against the surface of the meat and form an inverted lid to catch the condensation. Cover with the pot lid and bake in a preheated 325 degree oven for 1 1/2 hours.
Peel the potatoes, cut them into 3/4 inch wide strips. Pare the strips to obtain elongated olive-shaped chunks with no sharp angles. Uncover the pot, add the potatoes, cover the pot again and continue baking another 1/2 to 3/4 hour. When both mets and potatoes are done, remove them to a heated casserole and defatten the gravy by separating the lean gravy from the fat with a baster. Spoon or pour the defattened gravy over the meat and potatoes. Correct the seasoning. Brown the parsley in 1/2 tablespoon of goose fat, mix in the reserved cracklings and sprinkle over the meat. Serve very hot on very hot plates.
From Madeleine Kamman's "When French Women Cook"