In Austria, once the first cold draft of air wafts down from the mountains, it seems the country shifts into fall mode. Out comes the wool jackets and leather boots and thoughts of lazy summer days by the river and garden barbecues are forgotten. Many of the plazas become little tent cities or hut towns where farmers sell their wares. These items change with each month; September was the time for Strum (an early wine), October gifts us with lots of root vegetables (i.e. pumpkins and potatoes of all types, turnips, carrots, parsnips, etc), and December brings the Christkindlmarkts (Christmas markets), Der Krampus, St Nikolaus, St Barbar, and Weihnacten. However, November is for Martinigansl and the delicious goose meal that accompanies this Bavarian tradition.
November 11th is St Martin’s day and is the memorial day of St. Martin of Tours and marks the beginning of the forty days of Lent. As Lent requires fasting, St Martin’s Day is the day for feasting. In the Middle Ages, when this tradition was initiated, many of the people worked as farmers or in animal husbandry and were paid in kind. November 1oth marked the end of their land lease contracts (known as Martini or Zinstag – pay day) and as animal feed is scarce in winter, they were paid with geese.
A legend about the origin of the feastday states that St Martin was to be consecrated as a bishop but felt so unworthy of the great responsibility that he hid in a stable filled with geese. The geese, however, made so much noise that St. Martin was found and ordained. Another story goes that a flock of chattering geese waddled into the church where St. Martin was giving a sermon and were captured and processed into the day’s meal. Whichever it was, the traditional meal served for Martinigansl is a roasted goose with red cabbage (rote Kraut) and bread or potato dumplings (Semmel or Kartoffel Knödel).
So it came about that I found myself at my Schwiegervater (father-in-law) home on a bright and cold November day to witness the preparation of this feast. Papa had prepped an 8 Kilo goose overnight and it was ready for the 4 hour roasting session that would transform it to golden deliciousness. The potatoes had been boiled and skinned, standing next to huge bowl of shredded red cabbage. As I helped peel and grate harvest apples for the Kraut, Papa told me a bit about Martinigansl. The afternoon sped by in a flurry of basting, stirring, seasoning, and taste-testing. Soon hubby and my Schwiegermutter (mother-in-law) arrived and the festivities began. Papa poured Gansl wine and we dug into the sumptuous feast he’d prepared for us.
If you’d like to try your hand at creating this delicious meal, here are a few versions of the recipe for you.