Elinor Cooks the Christmas Goose

[Note: This is a portion of a larger work in progress.]

Elinor waited until Daniel and Julian left the tavern’s kitchen. Then she tightened her apron and turned to the large wooden worktable facing the hearth. The white goose lay in the market basket, its neck tilted at a squared-off angle, its sightless eye pointing upward, staring at the arched ceiling.  There four hams hung, tied to wooden beams that splayed across the room.  Several bunches of herbs dangled from another beam, the one closest to the back door, the one that lead to the physick garden.

“Those beams need a bit of a brush, Susannah,” Elinor remarked, watching the new scullery maid jump when she heard Elinor’s gruff voice. “And while ye’re at it, ye must need to shake the herbs. They’re nearly dry but do pick off any leaves yet moist. We’ll not be wanting the powdery mold, ye know.”

Susannah rushed to her tasks. Elinor smiled. Perhaps the girl will work out, unlike that Sylvie creature, the one who’d love nothing more than to see the lot of us strung up on the gibbet on Colchester green for murder.

With Susannah gainfully occupied, Elinor pushed her ruffled cap back over her thinning grey hair, her right hand shaking like a sheave of wheat in the summer wind. Her breath came more slowly every morning these days, too. She heaved the goose out of the basket and plopped it down on the table, picking at the bits of straw stuck in the feathers. Slowly she began removing the larger feathers by plucking them, careful not to tear the skin. Sweat rolled down her forehead as she worked. Pulling the innards out of the goose left a bloody mess on the table. Another job for Sylvie, the cleaning up with rags and soapy water, as well as the soaking of the lungs and gizzard for farcemeat, to remove the sharp metallic taste of blood.

Elinor remembered the first goose that she’d ever cooked properly, when she was but thirteen and scullery maid to the cook at Shabbington. Jacques D’Arcy bought the estate after he and his wife Mairead fled from Scotland, she remembered her mother telling her, as she washed the goose and set it in a large ceramic dish. The cook there, Winifred Smith, hailed from London, where she had cooked in one of the great houses along The Strand. And among Winifred’s most prized possessions was a copy of the recipes compiled by the cooks of King Richard II. Elinor could write a fine hand and read, due to the mixed blessings of her birth, daughter of a chambermaid and Jacques D’Arcy’s ne’er-do-well brother, Harold. Jacques prevailed upon the local priest to teach his three daughters, and Elinor, the basics of reading, writing, and figuring. Naturally Elinor copied the recipes into a book of her own making, taking what paper and parchment she could cobble together.

That first goose went to table in a blaze of glory, its feathers reapplied to golden-brown flesh, perched in the midst of a tableau worthy of the King himself, Elinor always thought.

Voices from the tavern, and the noise of Sylvie moving the ladder across the room, jerked Elinor out of her reverie. She thumbed through her recipe book, to one of the pages at the beginning. Roast goose, a Christmas treat fit for a king and the likes of them as well, it were!

Sawse madame.

Take sawge, persel, ysope and saueray, quinces and peeres, garlek and grapes, and fylle the gees therwith; and sowe the hole that no grece come out, and roost hem wel, and kepe the grece that fallith therof. Take galyntyne and grece and do in a possynet. Whan the gees buth rosted ynowh, take hem of & smyte hem on pecys, and take that that is withinne and do it in a possynet and put therinne wyne, if it be to thyk; do therto powdour of galyngale, powdour douce, and salt and boyle the sawse, and dresse the gees in disshes & lay the sewe onoward. 

Felets in galentyne.

Take the ribbys of a breste of porke; fle of the skyn. Do the flesche on a broche. Roste hit tyl hit be almost ynowghe; take hit of. Chop hit in pecys. Do hit yn a potte with onyons cut grete, wyth clowys hole, macyz, quibibys; do togedyr & a quantyte of swete broth. Draw a lyour of paryngys of crustys of white bredde with good wyne and a lytyll blod, & alaye hit a lytyll, & do therto poudyr of pepyr, a lytyll, & a good quantyte of poudyr of canell, & sette it on the fyre & styrr it. & when it is boyled inowgh, loke hit be nott chargaunt. Sesyn hit up with poudyr of gynger, veneger & salt.

Elinor spitted the goose and stirred the fire, now red-hot. Sylvie grabbed one end of the spit and Elinor the other. Together they lifted the bird onto the rack. Sylvie sat by the fire on a small stool, her place for the next several hours.

“Mind ye, place wood on the fire as it burns down,” Elinor shook her finger at the girl to make her point clear. “And be sure not to nod off and fail to turn the creature!”

With the most important item on the menu on its way to perfection, Elinor walked into the tavern and sat down with a thud on one of the benches lining the rough wooden walls. Daniel raised his eyebrows at her, his method for asking if she needed anything.

“A mug of that ale of yourn,” she said, her breath ragged with the effort she’d made with the goose. When Daniel handed the mug to her, she looked up at him. “Well, how go the plans? And don’t tell me ye don’t know what I mean.”

Daniel settled down next to her and whispered, “I’ve come to an agreement with the squire in the next county. He’s agreed to my terms. We must be gone on St. Stephen’s Day. We shall take advantage of the morning darkness, once again.”

“Well, I hope that lot out there can hold their ire a bit longer. I must gather the seed pots, as well as the poultices. And wrap the book. Plus the clothes on me back,” and she grinned for a change, showing the gaps in her teeth. “And the three babes.”

“Old Hortense refuses to go with us. But you probably knew that,” he replied as he stood to wait on yet another customer seeking a bit of solace that dark Christmas Eve.

Credit: Knips

© 2016 C. Bertelsen

Featured image credit: © Alexraths

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