Six geese a-laying

The gold rings we have received in chorus, and the colly birds (“colly” means black), the French hens, the turtle doves and verily: the pear-tree’d partridge. Moreover, we look forward to the swans a-swimming, the maids a-milking, the ladies dancing, the lords a-leaping, the pipers piping, and in their due course, the drummers drumming upon the Eve of the Epiphany of Our Lord. But for the moment we will be quite contented with our goose eggs. Take what you get, I always say.

In the year of grace 1979, we learn from the standard gliberal sources, Hugh Duncan McKellar, hymnologist of Petrolia, Ontario — who once offered a rather suspicious article to my Idler magazine — wrote an enchanting account of the origins of this “Twelve days of Christmas” carol. He said it was composed for the Recusants of the underground in the reign of Bad Queen Bess. Each of the gifts mentioned in the song is, with its number, an item in a secret catechizing code. God is the “true love,” the partridge is Jesus, there are two Testaments, three Theological Virtues, four Gospels, five Books of Moses, six Days of Creation, seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit, eight Beatitudes, nine Fruits of the Spirit, ten Commandments, eleven faithful Apostles, and twelve, count ’em twelve, dogmas in the Apostles’ Creed.

That none of this could possibly have surprised an Anglican, was the first clue. The late McKellar (1932–2012, and God rest him for a sweet, charming man) had made the story up from whole cloth. He was happy to admit this. Unfortunately, it has since gone round the Internet a few million times, thanks to well-intentioned but rather simple-minded Catholic enthusiasts, and keeps coming back as eggs in their faces.

But wait. … Add all the gifts up, cumulatively through the twelve days, then add the True Love at the end and you have … exactly … the 365 days in a non-leaping year. I got this from the Internet, but have personally checked the arithmetic. (An old habit of mine, though nothing to do with my career in journalism. I just don’t trust people.) And I provide this as an absolutely useless, supplementary fact.

The carol does, however, continue to remind us that there are twelve (12) days of Christmas. All are to be taken as days of celebration. We did Advent already, when we were supposed to be abstinent in preparation for this big event; so that anyone who has now stopped drinking and eating to excess should be roundly condemned as a Cafeteria Catholic.

Please, people, remember your Obedience. When Holy Church says stop celebrating, you stop. When she says start celebrating, you start. And you continue until she says stop again. Surely this isn’t hard to understand.


Anyone for an omelette?

Geese lay the most delicious eggs, in my humble but irrefutable opinion. The yolks are marvellously rich. The whites may at first disturb the more inflexible hen-egg eaters, for a certain unexpected gelatinous quality, but might grow on them. They may also hesitate before the brighter colours, that suggest nuclear irradiation; but prejudices can be overcome. For a lifetime of eating only one sort of egg closes the mind and darkens the spirit.

Alas it is hard to locate the goose, in the grocery stores of the Greater Parkdale Area, let alone her eggs: I have found that one must order one’s Christmas goose in advance, from the Italians, who are not shy in charging for it. Towards spring, goose eggs may or may not appear in the St Lawrence Market. Ask patiently, and never give up.

In England, goose eggs could be found in season, but only with difficulty in pre-Internet London. In Cornwall, on the other hand, they seemed everywhere towards Easter (in 1977).

Before modernity arrived, with its economies of scale, and over-valuation of labour, a great variety of eggs were collected for the table: including fish eggs, which curiously counted as eggs not fish for Lent and Fridays. The birds were at least semi-domesticated, and were moved about as bee-keepers move their bees from one flowering to another. Methods of reaping, before the introduction of big horrible machines, left e.g. much for the “Michaelmas geese” to glean from the cornlands. Our ancestors did not countenance waste. Their vertical farming, on ropes up cliff faces by the sea, yielded huge supplies of somewhat fishy-tasting eggs from the sea fowl, and it would still be worth doing if only to induce a heart attack in any passing environmentalist. (To my view, and Shakespeare’s, it is always open season on killjoys.)

In principle, one might collect goose eggs oneself, from Lakeside, ravine, or park, but there is probably a law against that, and the birds themselves may try to enforce it. Swan eggs are also spectacular — I speak as a man of the XIIIth century — but trust me, you do not want to mess with an angry swan. Canada Geese, on the other hand, behave in so consistently an unpleasant manner, that it doesn’t make much difference whether they are brooding. They lay clutches of much less than a dozen; other geese lay a dozen plus, so when you’ve found one you’ve found lots more. City apartment dwellers might discover goose nests on the tops of their buildings. (Just saying.)

For what it’s worth, gull eggs can also make very good eating.

A goose egg may be triple the size of a hen egg, and given the usual trouble in making an omelette — keeping the surface from rubbering before the inside is done — it is wise to make one’s omelettes one goose egg at a time. It has also a shell that will defeat a butter knife. But where the connoisseur with hen’s eggs will beat the yolks and whites separately, before folding them together, the goose gourmand needn’t bother. Water is unneeded for the yolk, and its weight will spread yolk through white in an ideal way, with spatula stirring. As any eggs, they cook quickly, so do not begin until your guests are sat at table.

For the life of me, I cannot find a recipe for a goose omelette in any of the several books on mediaeval cookery I see on my shelves, but off the top of my head, chopped parsley, chives, shaved truffle, salt, ground pepper, and grated citrus rind, hammered together, will sprinkle nicely on the top, and perhaps a ricotta or soft cottage cheese melted around asparagus for the filling. Ham strands good, but fatty bacon perhaps over the top. Use plenty of butter, and finish quickly under the grill.

Over-easy, with similar dustings, will fill the whole breakfast plate, and need not be attempted without great confidence, a steady hand, and a Rabelaisian disposition.

The boiling of eggs is, incidentally, a contemptibly modern practice. The roasting of a goose egg in wood ash is, I am told, the proper backward-looking approach, and makes a sumptuous dinner course, but requires instinct or skill in timing and turning. Bear this in mind for the campfire, however, should you find negligent mother geese about.