Back to the Index Page


Roast Goose by Arthur Machen


The war, I believe, is over. At all events, I will assume this to be the case, in order that I may speak of Michaelmas goose, and confess that, in common with most Englishmen, I have certain Teutonic tastes. In 1918, it was dangerous to admit a liking for Bach or Beethoven; now, I think, things are a little calmer, and I may venture to say that I like apple sauce with roast goose. As a matter of fact, I do not think that the goose, a very favourite dish in Germany, is served with apple sauce in that country; but the combination is purely Teutonic. In France, where dwells the True Church of cookery, they would shudder at the notion; ust as they shudder at lamb and mint sauce and red-currant jelly with saddle of mutton and jugged hare. I know that these things are wrong; but I like them all the same; and they are all German in feeling. In Germany, as I have read, they serve raspberry jam with roast veal, and English travellers have been known to denounce the absurdity of the combination, not seeing that it is on all fours with their own saddle of mutton and currant jelly. I say again that these things are wickedness, but I like them very well, and all peoples who have any Teutonic blood in them love such mixtures. There is the 'Mostarda Soffrafina' of northern Italy; it is fruit—small pears, if I remember—pickled in a hot sweet sauce. This they eat in Lombardy with their boiled beef; and from this circumstance, if all the history books in the world had perished, we might infer that the Lombards were of Teutonic stock. So, I say, I am for apple sauce with the Michaelmas goose; and, let it be added, for the stuffing of sage and onions, which, so far as I know, is a purely English and a most happy thought. Here, again, we must differ from our masters in cookery, the French. Walking once in Touraine with a French friend, I saw a bush of sage growing by the roadside. I told the Frenchman the use to which it was put in England, in relation to the goose, the duck, and the pig. He nibbled a leaf, and then looked at me with a glance which I had met before in French company.

I had met it once from M. le Curé, on his learning from me that in England we pronounce 'Credo in unum Deum,' 'Creedo in yunum Deeum,' instead of 'Craydo in oonoom Dayoom.' I met it again from a small farmer. We were talking in his vineyard, and as it happened, a great elderbush, laden with purple berries, grew at the corner of it. 'In England,' said I, 'we make those berries there into wine.' He glanced at me, and underlined his glance by spitting on the ground. And all three Frenchmen intimated by this glance that they had always heard that the English were fools, and that now they were sure of it. Well, true friends can still be friends, in spite of differences; even if those differences are as vital and deep-reaching as the question raised by apple sauce and sage and onions with roast goose. And, since we are on the matter of stuffing, let us consider the traditional thyme and parsley stuffing which we in England dedicate to the fowl, the turkey, and to roast veal. We eat it because we like it, but science has discovered within the last few years that 'thymol' is a substance of high value. It is a powerful disinfectant, it is of great service to the digestive process, it is the very thing to give to the mucous membrane; and so we have been scientific without knowing it in eating thyme with our fowl. And so, no doubt, science will presently discover that Salvine—which is the name that science will give to sage—is just as good for us as thymol. And this opens a question which has always struck me as of curious interest; the question of traditional wisdom in meat, drink, and medicine. Long ago, before chemistry in the modern sense can be said to have existed, old women used to treat goitre by rubbing a certain seaweed on the affected part. The treatment was successful; and a few hundred years afterwards science found that this seaweed contained iodine, which is just the thing for goitre. So with quinine. How did the savages of South America find out that the bark of one tree out of the thousands in their forests was good for malaria? They did so; just as our forefathers combined malt and hops into that admirable beverage, beer, without understanding in the least that they were concocting a perfectly balanced drink, which united the most valuable nutritive and tonic constituents.

It is the process by which these results were arrived at that puzzles me. Take the quinine, for example. There is, I imagine, a vast choice of trees and of plants in a South American forest. Are we to imagine the Indian of past ages threading his way through this waste of wood, tasting bits of trees, one after another, till he found the cinchona and found that it eased his pains? And our old Englishwomen, with their seaweed for goitre: how on earth did they come to think of it? And the leaf that makes tea, and the berry that gives us coffee, and the plant that affords cocoa—the only end of which is chocolate—I how are we to account for the discovery of their virtues? For with these, it is to be noted, the I process is a complicated one. Not much satisfaction, one imagines, could be obtained by chewing the green leaves of the tea shrub; nor would the grinding of raw coffee berries between the teeth be of great service to body or mind. It must have been sheer intuition which told some wise man of thousands of years ago that the leaves of the tea plant must be dried, and that then boiling water must be poured upon them, and that the resultant liquor was good to drink. And so with tobacco; how did the poor Indian know that this was stuff to be smoked in a pipe? For all we can see, the Indians of Hindustan might well have smoked their tea leaves, and the Indians of America poured boiling water on their tobacco leaves. I remember, indeed, that Amundsen, the Arctic explorer, told me how he and his companions found that the tobacco had been forgotten at one of their 'dumps'; so they smoked tea in its place; but he did not speak well of the experiment. And I doubt whether tobacco tea would please a delicate palate. One must conceive primitive man, then, as engaged in endless dietetic and medicinal experiments; one must conceive him also as frequently feeling very unwell indeed; one must conceive him as occasionally dead. The man who wondered whether deadly nightshade would cure toothache, and made the experiment, fell a victim to the spirit of inquiry. And so, perhaps, there were anxious faces round the board when the first goose stuffed with sage and onions was eaten. It was a bold idea, all might be well; and, on the other hand, all might be very far from well.

All was well; and now, as I say, it only remains for science to prove that Salvine is the one preparation necessary to the happy digestion of the Michaelmas Goose.


Back to the Index Page