As a child, the nice lady who used to look after me for a few hours after school kept ducks and geese. The ducks were fine — friendly, even — but that goose was no good. Mean, ornery, It chased me down the driveway — and it nipped at my arm once and broke the skin.
So when I had the opportunity to watch a goose be prepared and roasted for a Victorian-style Christmas feast at Woodlawn Museum in Ellsworth, I jumped at the chance to try a taste of my fowl childhood enemy.
Each December, Woodlawn — a beautiful early 19th century mansion filled with historic furniture, art and artifacts, set on 180 acres of grounds and trails — hosts a variety of Victorian-themed events to celebrate the season. The mansion, owned by the Black family until the 1920s when it fell into the hands of Hancock County, was never actually the site of a family Christmas. But the staff at Woodlawn have undertaken the task of transforming the property into a holiday wonderland.
“No one lived here year-round after the middle of the 19th century, so Christmas as we know it today wasn’t really celebrated in the same sense as it is today. People just didn’t celebrate back then,” said Joshua Torrance, executive director of the museum. “So what we’ve done over the last several years is just have fun, and make this event a Victorian Christmas at Woodlawn. It’s an imaginary, fun opportunity for people to get a sense of what a Victorian-era Christmas was like.”
Aside from the ornament-making workshops, the readings of “A Christmas Carol,” the guided tours of the historic rooms decorated by area garden clubs and designers, and the ever-popular high teas, new this year are the Christmas Feasts, set for 6 p.m. Dec. 13 and 20. The spread is prepared by Chip Butterwick, chef at Chipper’s Restaurant in Hancock, and its centerpiece is a Christmas goose — an impressive culinary feat with which Butterwick has a great deal of experience.
“Back in the late 1960s, [growing up in] Lancaster, Penn., the elders would get together and we’d cook a goose after harvesting some the crops from some of the farms,” Butterwick said. “It was always a special occasion, and my family would cook the goose.”
Goose is a challenge for even an experienced cook. To start with, you can’t just go to the grocery store and buy one — generally, you’ve either got to source one from a local farm, or order it online, as Woodlawn did. Then, it has to be prepared in a very specific way, as goose is a very fatty bird, and if it’s cooked too quickly or without the necessary preparations, it can either be very dry, or dripping with grease. Geese also are nowhere near as big as one might think; as a child, the mean goose I knew seemed enormous, but in actuality, a goose ready to roast is generally about 10-12 pounds, serves between 4 and 6 people, and costs between $50 and $60.
Done correctly, however, it’s a festive dish with a unique flavor and texture — somewhere in between duck, turkey and beef. A goose is mostly dark meat, though it lacks the gamey flavor of other dark meat birds, and instead has a pleasantly rich overall taste.
Woodlawn’s Christmas Feast will feature an hors d’oeuvres menu, including crab stuffed mushroom, baked brie in puff pastry with cranberry chutney, smoked salmon in cucumber boats with dill sauce and a beef skewer with blue cheese souffle. The main course includes roasted garlic goose with chestnut apple stuffing and a sherry reduction, red cabbage, roasted and mashed potatoes and other sides, with dessert and coffee to follow. All will be served with Woodlawn’s homemade wassail.
Diners can bring their own wine, and the cost is $80. The evening begins at 6 p.m. for both events (Dec. 13 and 20) at Woodlawn, with a carriage ride courtesy of Wild Iris Farm, followed by hor d’oeuvres and dinner. For information, visit woodlawnmuseum.org, or call 667-8671 for reservations.