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Forklore: What's sauce for the Christmas goose?

December 25, 2011 |  7:00 am

Forklore sigIn "A Christmas Carol," the center of the Cratchits' Christmas feast was a roast goose. Probably it was really a gosling -- a full-grown goose is pretty tough for roasting, particularly if we're talking about one of the aggressively free-ranging farm geese of earlier times -- but even a small goose is a good-sized bird, making it a no-brainer choice for feast purposes.

What sort of sauce did people serve with it in Charles Dickens' England? Perhaps just the roasting pan juices, which is a common treatment throughout Europe. Or they might have made a tart sauce flavored with sorrel or gooseberries to cut the fattiness of the meat. (By the way, the word "gooseberry" probably has nothing to do with geese; the "goose" part seems to be the French word for gooseberry, "groseille," which itself comes from a Latin word for unripe fig.)

In the Middle Ages, when sauce was serious business, it might have been jance aillie, which was known as gaunsely in 14th and 15th century England. The basic recipe is found in both "The Form of Cury" and "Ancient Cookery," which date from the time of Richard II and Edward III, respectively:

"Take floure and tempur hit with gode cowe mylke, and make hit thynne, and colour hit with saffron. And take garlek, and stamp hit, and do therto, and boyle hit, and serve hit forthe."

In other words, white sauce with saffron and crushed garlic.

The grandest medieval sauce for roast goose was sauce madame. You stuffed the bird with pears, quinces, grapes, herbs and spices, and when it was done, you mashed up the filling and boiled it with wine to make your sauce. The effect was so impressive that the whole dish -- goose and sauce -- was known as sauce madame.

-- Charles Perry