"Yet my wife would persuade me (as I am a sinner)
"To have a fat goose on St. Michael for dinner
"And then all the year round, I pray you would mind it,
"I shall not want money -- oh! grant I may find it."
The poem, written in the early 18th century, alludes to a tradition which holds that anyone eating goose on Michaelmas Day -- tomorrow -- will have plenty of money the rest of the year.
With the brokers and stokers of finance singing songs of gloom, putting a goose on the table may be wiser than putting a bond in the vault.
It's certainly more sociable, and goose, like turkey, is too often relegated to a lone holiday appearance, then forgotten the rest of the year. Like duck, it is a fatty bird. Farmers of an earlier time referred to a goose that was satisfactorily fattened up and ready for the table as being "in good grease," and unfortunately, that is exactly what you get if the bird is not properly cooked.
It is a simple matter to prick the skin (but not the flesh) lightly before arranging the goose breast side up on the rack of a roasting pan. Roast in a preheated 400-degree oven for 20 minutes, then reduce the heat to 325 degrees and continue to cook until a meat thermometer inserted in the fleshly part of the thigh reaches 185 degrees (about 25 minutes a pound for a smaller bird, 15 minutes for a larger). The goose will give off a lot of fat, and this should be removed from the pan as it accumulates. Save it and use it to flavor red cabbage or sauerkraut, or, more ambitiously, to turn your next goose into confit d'oie.
To keep in the Michaelmas tradition your goose should be served in the English fashion -- with an onion and sage stuffing and a tart, sugarless applesauce into which 20 raisins have been stirred. The Larousse Gastronomique gives the following recipe for onion and sage stuffing:
Bake 2 1/4 lbs. unpeeled onions in the oven and allow to cool. Peel and chop, adding to them an equal weight of soaked and pressed crustless bread. Season with 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, a pinch of pepper, a little grated nutmeg and 3 tablespoons chopped sage. Stuff and truss the bird and roast.
In the days when no one dared to let Michaelmas pass without dining on goose, there were green geese and stubble geese, the former fed on grass, the latter given a last-minute fattening on corn stubble and apples. And there was also the young goose of spring, the fatty goose of Michaelmas, and the venerable Christmas goose.
But we have lost touch with the seasons and are lucky to find a store that carries any geese at all. The breeds most often available are Toulouse and Emden, tasty birds both, and usually sold at around six to eight months of age.
Some stores that do carry geese:
Arrow Live Poultry, 919 5th St. NW, 789-9422.
French Market, 1632 Wisconsin Ave. NW, 338-4828.
Georgetown Market Poultry, in the Georgetown Market, 3206 Grace St. NW, 337-4217.
Market Poultry, 225 7th St. SE, inside the Eastern Market, 543-7470. Plans to have geese beginning the last week in September, but call and check first.
Neam's, 3217 P St. NW, 338-4694.
Wm Pence Co., 523 Morse NE, 547-4447, can't provide a Michaelmas goose, but will begin stocking them just before Thanksgiving.