Official feasts used to be an important part of the human community. People would gather together to remember something sacred, express their faith and hope for the future, and / or just be together formally, recognizing each other as part of a shared community. Few things express the desire for shared companionship and social intimacy more than dining together. Sadly, the gathering together for feasting is increasingly a relic of the past – at least here in the West.
It need not be so! Today we will remember the ancient feasts.
THE FEAST OF Michaelmas
This feast is a Christian religious celebration of the archangel Michael.
More on the holiday, from wiki:
Michaelmas (/ˈmɪkəlməs/ MIK-əl-məs; also known as the Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, the Feast of the Archangels, or the Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels) is a Christian festival observed in many Western Christian liturgical calendars on 29 September, and on 8 November in the Eastern Christian traditions. Michaelmas has been one of the four quarter days of the English and Irish financial, judicial, and academic year.
In the fifth century, a basilica near Rome was dedicated in honour of Saint Michael the Archangel on 30 September, beginning with celebrations on the eve of that day. 29 September is now kept in honour of Saint Michael and all Angels throughout some western churches. The name Michaelmas comes from a shortening of “Michael’s Mass”, in the same style as Christmas (Christ’s Mass) and Candlemas (Candle Mass, the Mass where traditionally the candles to be used throughout the year would be blessed).
During the Middle Ages, Michaelmas was celebrated as a Holy Day of Obligation, but this tradition was abolished in the 18th century. In medieval England, Michaelmas marked the ending and beginning of the husbandman‘s year, George C. Homans observes: “at that time harvest was over, and the bailiff or reeve of the manor would be making out the accounts for the year.”
Because it falls near the equinox, this holy day is associated in the northern hemisphere with the beginning of autumn and the shortening of days. It was also one of the English, Welsh, and Irish quarter days, when accounts had to be settled. On manors, it was the day when a reeve was elected from the peasants. Michaelmas hiring fairs were held at the end of September or beginning of October. The day was also considered a “gale day” in Ireland when rent would be due, as well as a day for the issuing or settling of contracts or other legal transactions.
What do you eat for The Feast of Michaelmas?
The traditional meal for Michaelmas is a goose, also sometimes called a stubble-goose, which is eaten to protect against financial hardship for the next year. It is called a stubble goose due to fact it is fed on the stubble of the recent harvest. There is a saying that accompanies the practice of eating a Michaelmas goose:
“Eat a goose on Michaelmas Day,
Want not for money all the year”.
Is this a theologically sound belief? Well… I will leave that for you to decide. The eating of a goose became associated with Michaelmas in Ireland. From wiki:
The association of geese with Michaelmas comes from a legend in which the son of an Irish king choked on a goose bone he’d eaten, and was consequently brought back to life by St. Patrick. The king ordered the sacrifice of a goose every Michaelmas in honour of the saint. The Irish Michaelmas goose was slaughtered and eaten on the day; they were also presented as gifts or donated to the poor. In parts of Ireland sheep were also slaughtered with tradition of the “St. Michael’s portion” donated to the poor. Poultry markets and fairs took place to sell geese as well as mutton pies. In Ulster, it was traditional for tenants to present their landlord with a couple of geese, a tradition dating back to Edward IV. There were differing methods across Ireland for cooking the goose, most generally using a heavy iron pot on an open hearth. In Blacklion, County Cavan, the goose was covered in local blue clay and placed at the centre of the fire until the clay broke, indicating the goose was cooked.
I have consulted with food.com for instructions on how to prepare a Michaelmas goose.
Ready In: 4hrs 45mins
- 10 lbs goose, with the liver reserved, goose neck, gizzard and heart
- 4 -5 tablespoons oil
- 3 -4medium potatoes
- 1medium onion, finely chopped
- 4ounces lean salt pork
- salt and pepper
- reserved goose liver, chopped
- 1tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley
- 1teaspoon finely chopped sage
- 4 onions, sliced
- 1⁄3 cup milk
- 1⁄2cup water
- 1 turnip, sliced
- 2tablespoons butter
- grated nutmeg
- salt and pepper
- 2 cooking apples, peeled and cored
- 1⁄2 cup water
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- grated nutmeg
- Cook the goose liver, neck, gizzard and heart in salted water, simmering for 20 minutes.
- Strain and reserve stock.
- Chop the liver for stuffing and set aside.
- Discard the neck, gizzard and heart.
- Peel and boil the potatoes until fork tender.
- Cool and cut into chunks.
- Blanch the salt pork in boiling water for 5 minutes, drain and dice fine.
- Mix all the stuffing ingredients together and season very highly.
- Put the stuffing into the breast cavity of the bird and secure the vent.
- Place the bird in a roasting pan with a scant cup of the giblet stock.
- Cover the bird with foil and roast in a hot oven preheated to 400 F for 30 minutes.
- Lower heat to 350 F and cook for 20 minutes/lb.
- (aprox 3 hours).
- Baste at least twice during the cooking and add another scant cup of stock if the pan is running dry.
- Remove the foil and roast an additional 15 minutes to allow the skin to crisp up.
In the 18th and 19th centuries onion sauce was always served with the goose.
- To make the sauce: Cook the onions in the milk and water with the slice of turnip until soft.
- Mash onion and mix with butter, nutmeg, salt and pepper.
- Beat until smooth and add a little cream to finish.
- Puddle sauce on plate or serve in small side dish.
TO MAKE THE APPLESAUCE:
- Cook the apples in water until tender.
- Sieve or mash them and add butter, sugar and a pinch each of nutmeg and salt.
- Serve hot.
- (May be made ahead and reheated) Served on the side with the goose.
The feast also can include a prayer (such as the one below):
A Michaelmas Prayer:
Saint Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle;
be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray:
and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host,
by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan and all the evil spirits
who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.
When is this feast celebrated?
As was noted above, the feast is observed in many Western Christian liturgical calendars on 29 September, and on 8 November in the Eastern Christian traditions.
This is a holiday with a rich and lengthy tradition, not all of which I covered here. If you celebrate, I hope you have a wonderful time!