Today, 29th September is Michaelmas Day, the feast day of St Michael which has become a combined feast for the archangels Michael, Raphael and Gabriel. The traditions of the Christian feast of St. Michael and All Angels are heavily blended with much more ancient traditions of harvest time and the necessity to appease the harvest deities.
In Scotland, Michaelmas is a harvest festival and in certain areas a traditional harvest bannock, or “Struan Micheil” made of oats, barley and rye (the fruits of the harvest) It should have been prepared yesterday, Michaelmas Eve, in readiness for blessing by the priest today. A type of unleavened bread it is cooked before the fire on a stone or griddle.
But, if the ritual and method of making are not exactly right, all manner of evil may fall upon your kith and kin in the coming year. The awful responsibility for the faultless production of the bread falls upon the eldest daughter of the household.
This involves a peck (8 Imperial quarts) of flour milled from grain, in equal proportion to those grown on the farm, being mixed with an appropriate amount of sheeps’ milk into dough, which is then placed on a “struan-flag” a large flat stone and placed before the fire. During the baking a batter of cream, eggs, and butter is daubed over the dough to enrich it.
The traditional dinner for Michaelmas is goose. The geese, fat from grazing the harvest stubble at this time of year, are a part of the livestock that has to be culled before the onset of winter. Michaelmas, being one of the old quarter days of the rural calendar, the four days in the year when rents and tithes were paid, and servants were hired or paid.
Many agreements specified livestock such as goose as payment. It is also how Michaelmas came to be the time for electing magistrates and also the beginning of legal, university and school terms.
“Eat a goose on Michaelmas Day,
Want not for money all the year”
Therefore we need a good traditional goose recipe. Sage and onion are the best known traditional accompaniments as are apples (since it is also apple harvest time.)
This recipe then uses apples and remains loyal to the Scottish theme. It comes from Scotlands first cookbook, Mrs McLintocks ‘Receipts for Cookery and Pastry‑Work’ published in 1736. Please be aware that green in this context means young and fresh rather than decomposing flesh.
To smother green Geese.
Take a young fat Goose, fill their belly with butter, Apples, Cinnamon and Nutmeg, sew up their belly, and boil her in strong broth, then coddle two Dozen of large Apples, pare them, and take out the core, beat them well with Sugar, Cinnamon, and a little fresh butter and white Wine, when the goose is well boiled, lay her in the Plate, and put the Apples over her.
“The Michaelmas Daisies, among dede weeds,
Bloom for St Michael’s valorous deeds.
And seems the last of flowers that stood,
Till the feast of St. Simon and St. Jude”
It is also the last day of the year on which blackberries may be picked. Overnight the berries will have been afflicted by the breath of the devil and therefore have become deadly to the soul!