Happy Blue Carbuncle Day!!!!!!!
Yes, it’s now “the second morning after Christmas,” the day that Dr. Watson called upon his friend to wish him “the compliments of the season,” and found him stretched out in his dressing gown on the sofa contemplating a “very seedy and disreputable hard-felt hat” hanging from the back of a wooden chair in front of him.
Or, if you prefer, the Granda version, which features Watson leaving for work, or Christmas shopping or whatever, and Commissionaire Peterson rushing over to 221B with the hat and a goose AND THIS CLASSIC:
Chances are excellent, however, that most people did not find a bright blue gem in their Christmas goose. Instead, they indulged in a dinner that had been a European tradition for centuries. Doing a little research on the subject this morning, I learned that, depending on which blog you read, goose was featured in celebratory meals by the Egyptians, the Vikings, the ancient Greeks and Romans…practically everybody–since the goose was both hardy and handy. They were domesticated; you didn’t have to go out and hunt them and, being foragers, they ate pretty much anything and everything they could find in a farmyard–or a back garden. Some attribute the goose’s popularity to a legend in which St. Martin of Tours (316 (or 336)-397), hiding in a goose pen from those who wished to make him a bishop, was betrayed by honking geese. As geese make excellent watch dogs, it was probably not the smartest place to choose, but apparently the geese were held at fault, and became the traditional dish on St. Martinmas, or November 11th.
Or, it may have just been that the goose–now fattened by field leavings–had, by this date, reached its second “season.” According to Mrs. Beeton’s, goose is best eaten when “green,” or young (June, July, and August), or when it reaches “perfection,” from Michaelmas (September 29th) to Christmas. In Britain, autumn saw a number of farmers herding their geese to market in London, after dipping each goose foot in a mixture of tar and sand to keep them from damage on the roads. Once in the capital, the geese would be distributed to suburban keepers who would fatten them for market–hence, the “town goose” vs. “country goose” argument Holmes used to wrangle information from Mr. Breckinridge in Covent Garden.
But what of Christmas turkey? you may ask. Didn’t Scrooge get a turkey for the Cratchits for Christmas dinner? Why yes, yes he did, but in Victorian England, a turkey was still considered more of a gourmet extravagance. While in the New World, turkeys were plentiful, they still hadn’t really acclimated to life in Europe. First introduced by West African and Spanish traders in the 17th century, they required more care and were more vulnerable to poultry diseases than were geese. They wouldn’t overtake their hissing, honking brethren as popular British Christmas fare until later in the 20th century.
So–how would Mrs. Hudson prepare a goose for Holmes and Watson? Let’s check with Mrs. Beeton, shall we?
Goose, Roast–Ingredients–Goose, 4 large onions, 10 sage leaves, 1/4 lb of bread crumbs, 1 1/2 oz. of butter, salt and pepper to taste, 1 egg. Average Cost, for large goose, with stuffing,7s 6d.
Select a goose with a clean white skin, plump breast and yello feet: if these latter are red, the bird is old. Should the weather permit, let it hang for a few days; by doing so the flavour will be very much improved. Pluck, singe, draw and carefully wash and wipe the goose. Make a sage-and-onion stuffing of the above ingredients, put it into the body of the goose, and secure it firmly at both ends by passing the rump through the hold made in the skin, and the other end by tying the skin of the neck to the back; by this means the seasoning will not escape. Put it down to a brisk fire, keep it well basted, and roast from 1 1/2 to 2 hours, according to the size. Remove the skewers, and serve with a tureen of good gravy, and one of well-made apple sauce. Should a very highly-flavoured seasoning be preferred, the onions should not be parboiled, but minced raw: of the two methods the mild seasoning is far superior. A ragout, or pie, should be made of the giblets, or they may be stewed down to make gravy. Be careful to serve the goose before the breast falls, or its appearance will be spoiled by coming flattened to table. As this is rather a troublesome bird to carve, a very little gravy should be poured round the goose, but more served in a tureen.
Time.—A large goose, 1 3/4 hour; and moderate-sized one, 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hour.
Seasonable from September to March; in perfection from Michaelmas to Christmas.
Note.–A teaspoonful of made mustard, a salt-spoonful of salt, a few grains of cayenne, mixed with a glass or port wine, are sometimes poured into the goose by a slit made in the apron. This sauce is by many considered an improvement,
—Beeton’s Every-day Cookery and Housekeeping Book: A Practical and Useful Guide for All Mistresses and Servants. London: Ward, Lock and Co., 1891.
Have you ever roasted or eaten a goose? Let us know how it was!
In the meantime, as today is a special Sherlockian day, I thought it deserved a special Sherlockian prize. In 1948, the U.S. group, The Baker Street Irregulars (they of the famed BSI Weekend in New York every January) published their first book–a slip-covered edition of “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle.” 1500 copies were printed. It features blue-tinted Paget illustrations, a foreword by BSI founder Christopher Morley, a “History of the Blue Carbuncle” by Edgar Smith, a special “Note on the Baker Street Irregulars,” including the famous “Buy-Laws,” and a list of contemporary scions, of which my own, “The Illustrious Clients of Indianapolis,” is one. The copy I have is number 1406, previously owned by S. Tupper Bigelow (and probably several other people after that, as I bought it from eBay), a Canadian magistrate, who was invested in the BSI as “The Five Orange Pips” in 1959. It’s in very nice shape, although it does show its age. It’s had its time on my shelf, and now I want it to become a treasured part of someone else’s collection
To place your name in the drawing, simply send your answer to the following question via blog comment or message me on the Well-Read Sherlockian Facebook page (or via my own page, if we are FB friends):
To what does the term disjecta membra refer?
The winner of the mini ACD library is Lauren Cercone. She knew that sweet potatoes and yams (along with coconuts) were mentioned in The Sign of Four, where Jonathan Small tells Holmes and Watson about his bond with the Andaman Islander, Tonga:
Tonga–for that was his name–was a fine boatman, and owned a big, roomy canoe of his own. When I found that he was devoted to me and would do anything to serve me, I saw my chance of escape. I talked it over with him. He was to being his boat round on a certain night to an old wharf which was never guarded, and there he was to pick me up. I gave him directions to have several gourds of water and a lot of yams, cocoa-nuts, and sweet potatoes.
Ms. Cercone then explained the differences between yams and sweet potatoes:
“Botanically from different families (lily and morning glory, respectively). Yams are native to Asia and Africa; sweet potatoes from Central America. Yams are not at all sweet but are highly starchy. In the US they are rarely found outside specialty groceries catering to Asian/African immigrants. Yams can grow up to 5‘ long and look like they’re covered w/ tree bark. Sweet potatoes are “regular” potato-sized and the flesh may be coppery red, whitish, or purple. They are not really interchangeable in cooking, e.g., a yam substitued for sweet potato in a pie would be a disaster. So in SIGN, when Jonathan Small talks about Tonga’s provisioning the escape boat with both yams and sweet potatoes, we know both crops were grown there in Hope Town, even though only “yam-planting” is mentioned earlier.
Thanks so much to everyone who answered, and if you have the time today, indulge yourself a little with the Granada version of “The Blue Carbuncle”: