Germans love their goose for Christmas. Traditionally, the first are slaughtered for St. Martin's day, 11 November. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, word spread in the village and at the farmer's market that we had geese for sale − if only four. Though not a traditional Irish Christmas dish, there were more people interested in getting these rare birds than we could provide.
This is what you need if you want to pluck a goose: a goose, buckets of scorching hot but not boiling water to dip the bird in head down, and some stamina, i.e. not too delicate a nose. I had practiced before in Germany on one, but to do four was a challenge. Each takes at least 90 minutes to pluck.
So my trusted housekeeper, Pauline, put the kettle on to bring the water to a high temperature. On our cooker, an AGA, that could take an hour. In the meantime, Mac and I chose and caught the poor first victim straight from the goose hut. When we lifted the roof of the hut carefully, Father Goose became extremely aggressive, hissing and nipping at Mac's hands and jeans-clad legs. Their nips hurt! You have to grab the goose by its neck, which pretty much renders it defenseless. On the yard, near the compost heap on the wall, we had a timber block for splitting wood for kindling. Mac carried the goose over there, speaking in soothing tones to it, holding it with one hand and patting it with his second hand. He then put it on the block. I held its neck and Mac grabbed the axe. I didn't really dare to watch, but necessity made me blink and double check that my arm was outstretched far away enough out of the danger zone. With one swift swing, the goose was in goose heaven. In contrast to chickens, you can't wring their necks. They are too strong. But they don't flutter around headless on the yard either as chickens do.
You have to let the blood drip out completely before you can proceed. Now the plucking can begin. We had an enormous double sink that we had bought from a youth hostel and put a big bucket in both basins. Dip the bird into the hot water and you can pluck away. Pauline and I stood side by side and worked on a goose each while having a good chin wag.
Geese are much harder to pluck than chickens because their feathers are stubborn. Soon the feathers were everywhere! The worst are the pin feathers. And geese do smell. Raised on a diet of pure grass, it's surprising how much their intestines stink. After about an hour the feathers were done, and my hands, legs, and feet had gone cold and numb. At this stage, the city girl in me chickened out. My hypersensitive nose couldn’t take it anymore. I volunteered to put the kettle on for a tea break, Elevenses as they call it in Ireland. Pauline was made of tougher material. She didn't mind to keep going and always looked forward to her hot cuppa. Next she cut up the animals and pulled out the entrails, a messy and malodorous job. Then she washed them many times with cold water and neatly presented them on a plate.
Grateful, I had the tea and refreshments ready. Most times we had to remove little hairs that stubbornly stuck to the skin with tweezers without tearing the skin. Then one year, Mac had a brilliant idea: you could actually use a little flame torch like restaurants use for making Crème Brulée and just singe off the remaining fine hairs. Again, one had to be careful not to burn or damage the skin.
Our price per animal was about 30 Irish pounds ($50 today), of which I had to pay Pauline 10 for her work. Every year, I toyed with the idea of collecting the eiderdown and big feathers to fill pillow cases. The thought of cleaning these heaps of feathers, however, sounded like too much work to me. So we never did it. Today I prefer to buy a goose ready for the oven, if I can find them organically grown: plucked and cleaned! Thank goodness, my plucking days are over.
Here’s my favorite recipe handed down from my mother: Stuffed with a mixture of breadcrumbs, apples and onions, the bird requires slow roasting at 180C/375 F under continuous basting with water, its own juices, and occasional turning. 2-3 hours is recommended. Delicious accompaniments are potatoes, red cabbage and apple sauce. Go for a lean bird: geese can be fatty. Ours never were, because they were grass-fed, free-range--the sporty, muscular type.
(Excerpt from my upcoming book I once had Farm in Ireland).