So it's Thanksgiving time and I'm thinking of the time my mother got it in her head to have goose to celebrate the American holiday instead of the traditional turkey. Turkey was not foreign to her but growing up in rural Poland where everyone grew most of what they ate, the barnyard was more likely to see smaller poultry like chickens, ducks, and geese. It was the work of children to tend to the fowl, take them to open pastures to feed and fatten them up. She had been one of those "goose girls" as well. In those days a roasted goose, stuffed with bread and sour apples or bread with the goose liver was the ultimate, quintessential dish for very special occasions like christenings or weddings. But for my mother meat was a "raritas," something rare, something eaten only "when the big bells rang at church" on the high holy days. Her family grew the geese to sell or barter for something else. The down from the geese was used to make pillows and pierzyna's(comforters) and there was a Jewish woman who would come around buying up the down if anyone had some for sale.
Where she got the geese is lost to me but I do remember two white geese with their orange beaks and feet. My father pens off a corner of the backyard. We live in the city, not the country and rearing poultry in the backyard is against city ordinances but my mother didn't seem to take it too seriously. Various neighbors had pigeon coops so how was this different? Maybe when you manage to survive a war these issues become small potatoes. Maybe you just want to raise a goose and fulfill a childhood longing. What I did know was that she wanted the down from the geese to make pillows and pierzyna's so for three weeks before Thanksgiving we water and feed the geese, bringing them additional clover and grass from a field beyond the railroad tracks.
What was I? Twelve? Thirteen? Old enough by my mother's reckoning. A few days before Thanksgiving she hands me a wooden spoon and a white enamel bowl that has some vinegar in it and tells me to go out to the barn where my father is waiting. It's not a barn but really more like a big shed housing the coal and wood to feed the stove along with various gardening items. My father is sitting on a small stool with one of the geese held between his knees. The goose is fussing a little, probably just as clueless as I was, but my father tells me to put the bowl down at his feet and to be ready to mix. Mix what?
He takes the long lovely white neck of the goose( who is by now very unhappy), bends it into a loop and holds it tightly with his left hand. In his right hand a knife materializes like out of nowhere and with one sure movement makes a cut into its neck. The blood flows in a steady stream to the bowl. My father hollers, "Mix!" but I'm rooted to the cement floor. Again he hollers "Mix!" and so, with a shaking hand, I mix. There's chaos in my head. Slowly the goose stops struggling. "There's really nothing to cry about," my father says, "it's for us to eat."
I learned that the vinegar prevented the blood from clotting and the mixture was used to make "czarnina" (duck blood soup), a dish my father really liked. The dead goose was plucked for its feathers, disemboweled and then there was my mother cranking its liver through the meat grinder to make the stuffing. I learned that nothing got wasted, everything got used up. It was one of those life lessons, Polish style.
One of the biggest moments in my life was being able to sign for my very own library card. When I'm not reading, researching and writing I'm riding my bike, sewing or gardening. I love flea markets, folk art, and traveling to Poland.