Wednesday, October 3, 2007


The Feast of St. Michael and All Angels – called Michaelmas, pronounced “mikkelmus” in England – is one of the “quarter days,” dividing the year into four approximately equal periods. This is a very old division, Medieval or even earlier. The four quarters are Candlemas, Lammas, Michaelmas, and Christmas. Michaelmas is September 29. Close to thirty years ago a friend of ours introduced us to a custom she re-created (or perhaps invented) of eating goose at Michaelmas. Certainly there is the “sickle goose,” a Medieval feast given by the lord of a manor to his villeins (unfree tenants) for helping out at harvest. (Some just gave each family a goose of their own.) Anyway, our friend declared that if you ate goose at Michaelmas you wouldn’t want for money for a year. It wouldn’t make you rich, she declared, it just stopped fiscal emergencies. Example: Before Michaelmas, you had fifty dollars in the bank and your car had a ninety-dollar breakdown. After Michaelmas the breakdown cost forty-seven dollars. Interestingly, it seemed to work!

Anyway, she married and moved to Vermont, and we were glad for her until September rolled around. It’s very hard to find a goose in September – they come in around Thanksgiving – but a butcher found a small forgotten one in the back of his freezer for us. We invited two other couples, each of whom brought a dish to share, and we were off. We’ve done it every year since, and it’s grown into a big party. One year we had forty guests! This year there were about twenty. I buy free-range geese nowadays, which are costly but lower in fat and really delicious, and stuff them with a mix of whole cloves of garlic, tart apples, green grapes, onions and fresh parsley, with savory and poultry seasoning, salt and pepper. My supplier phoned to say she didn’t have two large geese for me and would I take four smaller ones. I said yes, and managed to roast two at a time in my own oven and the oven in the party room.

We sing a song of my own composing, “Amazing Goose,” and say a for-real prayer to St. Michael (“. . . defend us in battle . . . [against] evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the destruction of souls”). Everyone still brings a dish to share and they were all spectacular this year, from a red-cabbage dish made with wine and goose fat to an enormous chocolate cake to popcorn flavored with almond bark. We eat around seven. I will note that somewhere around four, when I was dashing up and down from the first floor (party room) to the third floor (our apartment) to baste the geese every fifteen minutes and burning my fingers (the ovens were set at 425 degrees -- apply ice immediately and there are no blisters), I was swearing off Michaelmas.

But when first-time attendees were asking hopefully if I was going to do this again next year, I blithely said, “Of course!”


Camille Minichino said...

Thanks, Monica. This reminds me so much of feasts in the North End of Boston, when I was a child ... wonderful events that bring people together for other than a sports event.

Deb Baker said...

I never did get around to finding goose pate at the last minute. Next year, it's happening.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Okay, Monica, set a place for me next year! This sounds divine.

Monica Ferris said...

Mark your calendars, people! And if you're in the Twin Cities area, stop by.

I'm in Wisconsin giving my sister Therese a break from caring for my elderly mother, and all they have here is dial-up, which is soooooo slow after broadband! So I'm not checking things as often as I usually do.