A few Maine farmers (and one Down East editor) hope the age-old tradition still has wings.
By Brian Kevin Photographed by Tristan Spinski
My family started roasting a Christmas goose a few years ago for lack of any other Yuletide food tradition. On Thanksgiving, it’s turkey. On Hanukkah, latkes. On New Year’s, chocolate mousse. But when it came to Christmas, we were uncommitted, with nothing to consistently look forward to. So, we figured, why not get all Dickensian?
The Old World tradition of the holiday goose once had as much purchase in New England as anyplace on this side of the pond, but it’s lost a lot of cachet. “They’re the hardest thing that we market,” says Abby Sadauckas, who runs Apple Creek Farm, in Bowdoinham, with her husband, Jake Galle. Sadauckas and Galle have raised Emden geese off and on throughout their farming career. At Apple Creek, they also raise cows, goats, lambs, chickens, and turkeys, and they initially brought geese into the fold thinking the feisty birds might help guard other poultry — Galle remembers the gander on his parents’ farm chasing off a fox once.
They’ve sold them to restaurants, wholesale to grocery markets, and direct to consumers, but Sadauckas says would-be goose eaters are often scared off by unfamiliarity and the price point — she and Galle sell theirs for $12 per pound, while non-locally raised geese are available for half that. Because of this — and a paucity of processors handling waterfowl — Apple Creek is one of just a handful of Maine farms to raise them.
Hank the goose, half of Apple Creek Farm’s breeding pair. His partner is TW, or Third Wheel — so named because Sadauckas and Galle (above) originally kept three adult geese and thought TW was their auxiliary female. Turns out they’d accidentally kept two ganders, making TW their only layer.
This year, in fact, Sadauckas and Galle were going to take a break on geese, after their usual processor said it would no longer accept them. The farmers keep a pair of breeding birds but buy goslings each year from a hatchery. They tried to cancel their order, but the shipment showed up anyway. “And when you get 50 goslings in the mail, you have to deal with the situation,” Sadauckas says. “They are very charming.”
So the geese got one more year at Apple Creek Farm.
But hear me out: It’d be a honking shame if holiday geese phase out of Maine farms altogether, because they make for an excellent dinner-table splurge. All dark meat, geese are luscious, richer and gamier than turkey. They’re also trickier to cook and a real bear to carve, on account of the absolute parka of fat the birds are swaddled in. But this is a selling point: Much of that fat comes streaming out while the bird cooks. Slurp it up with a baster, filter it, and stick it in the fridge in a mason jar. That liquid gold will last you a year, improving your potatoes and savory crusts and pretty much anything you fry — and helping justify a goose’s price tag.
Sadauckas and Galle send their goose buyers home with a recipe booklet for bird, fat, and carcass — some Jamie Oliver, some Julia Child, a pho made from leftovers. They offer fresh geese Christmas week but have a few regular customers who prefer to freeze them for their New Year’s Eve goose tradition. “Any reason to eat goose,” Galle says, “is a good reason.”