02 Panel 1 – L’oie de la Saint-Martin

02  Panel 1 – L’oie de la Saint-Martin


I’m going to talk about the Saint Martin goose, a topic that I discuss fairly frequently. Maybe I’m repeating myself a bit, but, I want to use the example of … of historical research, by describing a certain historical theme. And, also, its use today and the implications or impacts of our research and actions in economic, gastronomic, culinary and cultural terms. So, if you can all see the picture, we can… maybe… (do you want us to switch the lights off?) (here?) Good, thanks! Here, you can see a picture of Saint Martin and a goose, something that we can still see in some churches in Poland today, as in our region, the Kuyavia-Pomerania. I’m going to use this occasion not only to talk about the history of Saint Martin, but also to remind you that Poland, a Central European country, is part of the European Union. We come from the region of Toruń, in northern Poland, a region famous for its geese farms, and the region that 5 or 6 years ago started to roll out this large-scale promotional campaign for geese, which has been a resounding economic and political success. Here we have another map of Poland, a map showing the different regions, where the figures represent the number of traditional products, traditional food products, that are registered nationally by the ministry of agriculture. So, we can see that the registered figures show that certain regions in the west, and north, north-west of Poland have fairly few registered products. Why is this? Well, it’s all down to history, and to the modifications made to the borders after the Second World War, and to the former German territories, to the west and north, which are not really … not really anchored in a historical sense, because their Polish inhabitants only go back three generations. Here, you can see the continuity of the gastronomic tradition, which is evident… but on the map it’s even more striking as we can see clearly the extent to which history plays a decisive role. Here’s another map showing Poland in the 19th century although, strictly speaking, Poland didn’t exist in the 19th century. Our northern region, in the north-west of Poland used to be part of Germany, of the Kingdom of Prussia or the … or the … the German Empire. So why am I talking about this again? Because of geese. Because of geese… Can you see there or not? Yes? (Can’t we switch the lights off?) (I tried, but I can’t find the light switch) (No, no, it’s OK) Well… anyway, here you can see… Ah, thank you! Here, you can see a Polish goose in German packaging. This means that, just 5 or 6 years ago, nearly all Polish geese products were packed and labeled in Germany because the Germans were practically the only clients or buyers of this product. Even if Polish stores wanted to purchase geese, they had to buy polish geese either in Germany, or in Poland from German wholesalers. So, you can see how much history plays a part here, because the Polish goose in Germany is a brand, a famous brand even, while Germans in Germany don’t necessarily consider Polish products to be exceptional. But the Polish goose, is maybe a little… maybe not quite the same thing… it’s the same as with Bordeaux wine for the English, or the Americans perhaps, I’m not sure. So, to a certain degree, this is a German issue, because back in the 19th century our region supplied a massive amount of Germany’s needs including a whole string of food products. Seven years ago, our northern region, Kuyavia-Pomerania, launched a major promotional campaign targeting geese – you can see an example here which, with its deep historical roots, has enjoyed great success. Nowadays, when we think of Saint Martin and the Saint Martin goose in Poland, it conjures up images of a great folk festival, the autumn festival held just before winter sets in, which is also Polish Independence Day. It’s a vital, maybe even a deciding factor… maybe, in a certain sense, this success is partly down to chance. In Poland, November 11 is a major national holiday, the day on which Poland celebrates its independence in 1918. The cult of Saint Martin, long since largely forgotten, but well known before, I don’t know, before the 20th century, but largely forgotten since, started to be linked once again with the consumption of geese which, for most Polish people was far more representative of this holiday than the bishop of Tours himself, which is evident. This phenomenon, Saint Martin’s Day, henceforth associated with Poland’s national independence day, has a significant political dimension both in the establishment of the independence day and local government policy, especially that of the head of the region and, despite the initial sharp criticism, his personal and individual success… and then it has also been a major economic success story. In our region, we have developed a new goose breed, an important achievement of the zoo technical institute in our region that for decades has run a sort of heritage species gene bank, based on a certain historical vision, that has been used to create this new breed now sold across Germany. I think that, in France, people ate a lot of Polish geese without realizing it. And then it is also a major gastronomic success that has helped drive the development of a major food fair, where every November nearly all the restaurants in Poland serve Saint Martin’s goose, which is eaten by a huge amount of people thus contributing to the renaissance of Polish gastronomy. So, despite its ties to the contemporary political, economic context and to the Slow Food movement, our zoo technical, historical and ethological research has shown this culinary tradition to be very deeply rooted in our culture, albeit almost completely disregarded in the second half of the 20th century. I can show you a few examples of 19th cookbooks from our region where most of the covers show a cook or a waitress holding a large goose. So, we can see that in Polish cuisine and general culinary traditions, the goose is treated as a separate trend in itself. Our regional cookbooks, both German and Polish, illustrate the German-Polish tensions that was omnipresent during the 19th century. However, Germans and Poles have always been connected by geese and the many ways of preparing a goose. While relations between the two countries during the 19th century were downright hostile both politically, religiously and nationally, the two countries nevertheless enjoyed a common regional culture surrounding the goose. This is something that really stood out when we examined documents from the period. Here, we have an example of just how deeply rooted this idea of the Saint Martin’s goose is. It is a book published in Poland in 1630, entitled “Saint Martin’s goose or the first hymn for a happy start to the New Year festivities”. In this instance, Saint Martin’s goose is a symbol of celebration, luxury foods, riches and happiness. This was actually a political narrative, a critique of the town council that thought only about Saint Martin’s goose and was not therefore acting dutifully or responsibly. We can see that it was a very strong symbol, very strongly entrenched, going back hundreds of years. So this is our Saint Martin’s goose, our new breed, our region’s white goose that… well, that’s not it, that refers us back to this long tradition. We find the first goose recipes in 17th century cookbooks that have already been translated into English. The interesting thing here is that by studying how these goose dishes were prepared we discover a whole culinary evolution. If we look back again at the late 17th century, we can see evidence of a cuisine that is practically Medieval in its treatment of goose recipes. The goose is prepared with vinegar, lemon, olives, pepper, ginger or sugar, giving it sweet, spicy and tangy overtones. The striking thing about this is that there is practically just this one recipe, that’s remained unchanged, maybe because of the technique used… This consists of a soup that used goose blood that some people consider highly unpalatable, and others the best dish in the world. For technical reasons, it was necessary to add a lot of vinegar to the blood to prevent it .. (to prevent it clotting?) Yes, to prevent it clotting, and also to balance the taste… you have to add a lot of … sweetening, something sweet, and then you add a lot of spices; it’s an extremely archaic recipe but one that has remained unchanged up to the present day, a single dish that has survived since the 17th century – black soup with goose blood. In the 18th century, as across the rest of Europe, Poland saw a huge influx of French cuisine that preached the concept of natural tastes and simply prepared food that did away with exotic spices and clashing flavors. One good example of this is the 18th century cookbook translated into Polish, “Cuisinière Bourgeoise”, the famous 18th century book of French cuisine that was also published in Poland, where you can already see – I am citing a French version but the book was very, very popular in Poland and published in several different versions in the late 18th century and early 19th centuries – where you can see that people were no longer using spices and sugar in geese recipes. We start to see greater use of herbs that give a more delicate flavour, a completely new flavour that can be associated with this French culture. But, at the same time, the goose was, a little bit by chance I think, goose, well, this one’s actually a capon, but all the cookbooks say “take a goose or a capon”… This method of preparing the goose was seen as something rather anti-French. In other words, it embodies the years of rivalry and infighting between the Habsburg and Bourbon dynasties. The chef himself worked for a famous politician who had to choose between the French and Austrian parties, while, at the time, French fashion and culture was very popular in Poland. There was even a large French court for French queens visiting Poland. So, there were power struggles, not just in the political domain, but also in terms of literature, and fashion perhaps the most visible discord – and also in terms of flavors and cooking habits. This 17th century cookbook on the Saint Martin’s goose tells a lovely story that has been repeated dozens of times in Poland, the legend of the Capitoline geese; everyone’s heard this story I think, but in the Polish version, the geese save Rome when the French invade Italy. This was an error in the Polish texts, as the Gauls were replaced by the French. That wouldn’t surprise someone who isn’t especially familiar with ancient history, but the goose has always been seen as an adversary of France, and this notion still stood in the 17th and 18th centuries. I would just like to stress one of the unexpected outcomes of our research. By the end of the 18th century, French recipes and cookbooks were already very popular in Poland, showing for instance how to prepare geese following a Gascony recipe, like in France. Our research has helped promote the local products found in our region today where we produce a large number of differentiated geese products. When I started my research, I had some doubts about whether this history was of any real use to these producers and, to be honest, after all this I discovered that while they don’t need science or historical know-how as such our history is nevertheless important to them as a sort of ideology, a rationale that gives meaning to the importance of their work and of …, provides them with a certain recognition. So, the development of artisanal, but also industrial, production methods has exceeded all expectations and really pushes us to further develop our research, to further improve artisan production, and to promote it, especially within our own region. Thank you!

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