This article originally ran 10 years ago, but the history stands and the celebration is still very much a holiday over the mountain in Big Valley. This year’s celebration kicked off Saturday, with events planned through Oct. 2. It’s easy enough to cook your own goose, and they are generally available at local supermarkets if you call ahead and order one.
A thick shroud of fog obscures the pearly light of first dawn and chevrons of geese stitch up the sky as they soar south over central Pennsylvania. The annual fall migration is on. Their insistent honks capture our attention and admiration. Soon the gardens will be smitten by the first frost and the trees will reveal their annual leaf display.
The honking geese also remind us that it is soon to be Goose Day, another Pennsylvania small animal holiday, along with that whistlepig in Punxsutawney. Goose Day is celebrated in Mifflin County — seemingly the only place in the United States where this is observed — and derives from the medieval celebration of Michaelmas Day, first declared a holiday by Pope Gelasius in the year 487 A.D.
Ever eager to imbue natural events with religious significance, church leaders declared that St. Michael the Archangel threw Lucifer from heaven and on his way to Earth the devil spat on the bramble patch that he landed in, forever cursing blackberries after the end of September — which generally coincides with the time of night frosts.
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Michaelmas Day was a big holiday in the British Isles, where it also happened to mark the time of year when tenants paid landlords their quarterly rents. A fat goose was expected along with the payment to ensure an amiable relationship. In 1588, Queen Elizabeth I was dining on goose when she received news of the defeat of the Spanish Armada and a tradition was established.
In Ireland, women gathered wild carrots to tie with red ribbon and give as gifts to visitors on Michaelmas Day. In Scotland, everyone in the household gathered to eat a cake known as St. Michael’s Bannock and then throw a piece of the cake into the fire to appease the devil.
The Michaelmas Day tradition traveled to central Pennsylvania in 1786 when a Pennsylvania Dutchman named Andrew Pontius moved his family to Snyder County to farm. Soon he took on a tenant farmer who he ran into at a tavern in Harrisburg, a young Englishman named Archibald Hunter, who had jumped a British navy vessel in Philadelphia and was headed west. The two drew up a contract in the British tradition and sealed the deal on Sept. 29 with a goose.
In 1973, Mifflin County commissioners proclaimed Sept. 29 a holiday and many regional restaurants, churches and fraternal organizations hold special Goose Day Dinners. Should you drive over to Big Valley, you’ll find goose at Peachey’s in Barrville, where you can buy one to cook or you can enjoy it at their country restaurant. If you are in the vicinity, be sure to pick up a bottle of “Tears of the Goose” semi-sweet blush table wine from Brookmere, the local winery. Locally, frozen geese are available at Houts and at Wegmans.
Start your own tradition and see if the adage holds true: “If you eat goose on Michaelmas Day, you’ll never want money all the year round.”
Anne Quinn Corr is the author of “Seasons of Central Pennsylvania,” of several iBook cookbooks (“Food, Glorious Food!” “What’s Cooking?!” and “Igloo: Recipes to Cure the Winter Blues”) that are available for free on iTunes. She regularly posts to the blog HowToEatAndDrink .com and can be reached at email@example.com.
On the web
Visit juniatarivervalley.org/ goose-day/ for a schedule of events
ROAST GOOSE WITH APPLES
10 pound goose
8 apples, peeled, cored and quartered
salt and pepper
1 cup chicken stock
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Rinse the goose and dry with paper towels. Remove the visible fat from the bird. Season the cavity with salt and pepper and put the apple quarters inside. Puncture the skin of the goose in several places to allow the fat to run off during roasting. Place the goose on a rack in a shallow, heavy pan and roast it, allowing 20 minutes for a pound. A meat thermometer should register 180 degrees Fahrenheit when the goose is done. Remove accumulated fat frequently with a baster during the cooking time. Transfer to a warm platter and let rest for 15 minutes before carving. Pour off the remainder of the fat and add the chicken stock to the pan and place over a remainder of the fat and add the chicken stock to the pan and place over a low heat to whisk loose the caramelized pan juices. Strain the liquid into a warm serving pitcher. Remove the apples. Carve the goose, and serve with the hot juices poured overall.
Cook’s note: Goose fat is highly prized as a cooking medium and is excellent to use to fry some accompanying potatoes.