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The Most Delicious Medieval Tradition: St. Martin’s Goose and Red Cabbage – With Recipe!

Adrienn Vass 2020.11.10.

To be honest, I myself thought for too long that the Martin’s Goose Day feast is a Hungarian folk tradition, and was not aware of the real origin of the custom until I was 18 years old. The reasons for this may have been that every year, we went to our grandmother’s on November 11th, St. Martin’s day, and ate an amazing goose roast, while the adults drank the new wine, harvested in September. I simply loved this ritual, especially after I first read one of the most famous Hungarian poet, Attila József’s poem that said how he wanted to be rich, and eat a goose roast at least once. Somehow, I thought that eating goose was cool. And well, it really is.

Translation by Fanni Kaszás

In fact, Hungary really has a lot to do with Martin’s Day, as its namesake was probably born in Pannonia, but eating goose on this day can be traced even further back. In Roman times, November 11th was the beginning of the winter quarter, when a great feast was held for the new crop and the new wine. Usually a goose, i.e. the holy bird of the god of war, Mars, which is “avis Martis” (bird of the god Mars) in Latin, was consumed. Thus, it became a folk phrase “Martin’s bird.”

Fact

St. Martin was probably born in AD 316 or 336 in Savaria (now Szombathely) in the Diocese of Pannonia in today’s Western Hungary. He converted to Christianity at a young age. He soon returned to Italy, to his father’s home in the Roman Empire, where he had served in the military for 25 years. After his military service, he was consecrated as the third Bishop of Tours in 371. He has become one of the most familiar and recognizable Christian saints in Western tradition. According to legend, St. Martin helped St. Stephen and the country in his dream, so besides the Virgin Mary, Saint Martin of Tours became the other patron saint of Hungary.

Since then, the customs of St. Martin’s Day are still linked to the end of the year, the end of agricultural work, and the approach of Advent, and to the legend that St. Martin tried to hide in a goose lodge when he wanted to be elected bishop, but the geese betrayed him with their gaggling.

Today, the custom has remained almost only in German-speaking areas, but in Hungary it is especially alive as well, with plenty of restaurants offering a St. Martin’s Day daily menu to this day. As St. Martin’s Day is the last day before the 40-day fast of Advent, when it is still allowed to eat meat, drink, and party, on this day, a number of feasts, balls, and fairs are held. It is believed that those who do not eat goose on this day will starve throughout the year. Without further ado, here is the most delicious traditional St. Martin’s goose recipe.

St. Martin’s Goose with Red Cabbage
– ingredients –

Goose

  • 2 goose legs
  • 1 teaspoon goose fat
  • 1 red onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • sage, salt, pepper to taste
  • 200 ml red wine

Cabbage

  • 1 medium head red cabbage
  • 1 medium purple onion
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon goose fat
  • salt to taste

First, heat the goose fat in a pan and quickly fry all sides of the goose thighs. Then place the thighs on a baking sheet along with the fat. Cut onions, garlic, and half of the sage into larger pieces and stuff them under the skin, as well as rub the thighs with it. Add salt, pepper, sprinkle a little pepper on it and pour the red wine over the meat. Then sprinkle it with the remaining sage leaves and bake for 70 minutes, covered with aluminum foil. Then peel off the foil and bake for another 20 minutes until it turns golden-brown.

To prepare the side, slaw the cabbage, add salt to it and mix it, then let it drain for at least half an hour. Then melt the goose fat in a large bowl and simmer the diced purple onion over it on a low heat. Add the well-squeezed out cabbage to the simmered onion, then season with cumin, brown sugar and vinegar. Then mix well and simmer it covered over low heat for 40 minutes.

photos and featured photo: Péter Csákvári/Hungay Today