26th September - 12th October: Autumn Goose Fairs

If thou didst feed on western plains of yore 
Or waddle wide with flat and flabby feet 
Over some Cambrian mountain's plashy moor, 
Or find in farmer's yard a safe retreat 
From gipsy thieves and foxes sly and fleet....

From: 'To a Goose' by Robert Southey (1774-1843)

It’s fair time around the country; Tavistock Fair was last week, Nottingham Goose Fair is this week and Hull Fair next. We’ve heard about Hull Fair before: http://feastsandfestivals.blogspot.co.uk/2010/10/9-october-peep-behind-scenes-of-hull.html but what about these 'goose fairs'?

I was intrigued by the idea of a Goose Fair partly because when I had my first job after I left university, I lived in south London near to an area called Goose Green - still a green oasis in a crowded bit of the city. How did Goose Green get its name?

Green geese are traditionally eaten around Michaelmas at the end of September and they were called ‘green’ because the young geese were fattened on the green shoots of ears of wheat left on the ground after harvest.  The geese that were fattened for Christmas on dried grain ceased to be 'green' and were apparently less delicately flavoured. Every autumn from the twelfth century to Victorian times, thousands of geese were driven to special goose markets, held in places like Nottingham and Tavistock. Goose Green in south London was the place where the geese were fattened for market after their long walk from the country. Note ‘walk’, the geese walked to their destination.

So that got me thinking about how before the train and the internal combustion engine, animals had to be driven to market on foot. The geese fattened on Goose Green would have come from all the way from Kent and were sold at Leadenhall Market in the City of London (which is still very much in use). The Nottingham geese walked from the Lincolnshire Fens, the Tavistock geese from Somerset. In order to protect their feet, the geese were shod and this was done either by putting their feet into little leather boots (really) or by driving the geese through a tray of tar and then a tray of sand.

Illustration from Kate Douglas Wiggin's book 'The Goose Girl'

The different flocks of geese would meet up at given points along the way and them be driven to the markets in huge numbers. I thought when I read this – but all the geese would be mixed up – how did they know which was whose? But of course what happened was that middlemen bought up the geese at the stopping points and it was the middlemen who finally sold them onto the poulterers.

Nottingham’s Goose Fair was established by Charter from Edward I in 1284. The Charter permitted an eight-day fair around St Matthew’s Day and as well as selling green geese, it later became famous as the place to buy cheese. The cheese in question was probably that king of English cheeses – Stilton made just over the border in Leicestershire.

'The Goose Fair: Nottingham' by Arthur Spooner (1873-1962)

In his ‘Tour through the villages of England and Wales’ published in 1724, Daniel Defoe said that Stilton was ‘famous for cheese’ and referred to the cheese as being the English Parmesan. Forty years later there were cheese riots at the Nottingham Goose Fair. Here’s what the National Fairground Archive says about them.

‘In 1764, an increase of a third on the price of cheese.... resulted in outraged customers launching an attack on the stall holders at the fair. Huge cheeses were bowled down the street with the frightened owners following them. Finally the Dragoons had to be sent in to control the mob, after the attempts by the local mayor had resulted in his dignity being flattened by a 100lb cheese.’

If you want a goosey recipe look at the earlier post on Michaelmas. We’re having Stilton.

Stilton and pear tart with pistachios

An 8” shortcrust pastry case, baked blind.
2 eggs
About 175ml single cream
A large Conference or other hard pear
50g chopped pistachios
100g Stilton grated
Black pepper

Beat the eggs with the cream add a couple of grinds of pepper – no salt. Peel the pear and cut into six sections.

Lay the sliced pear into the pastry case in a wheel, narrow part inwards and sprinkle over the grated cheese. Pour in the egg mixture and sprinkle over the pistachios.

Bake at 190c for about 30 - 35 minutes. Serve warm with a watercress salad.

Goosey goosey gander,
Whither shall I wander?
Upstairs and downstairs
And in my lady's chamber.
There I met an old man
Who wouldn't say his prayers,
So I took him by his left leg
And threw him down the stairs.


1 comment:

Toffeeapple said...

Another smashing post, thank you. I knew about the geese walking to market and about the shoes/tar, but was not aware of the 'middlemen' element of the sales.

I like the picture that you have used, it really seems to have captured the atmosphere.

The tart sounds delicious and if I was able to digest cheese I would certainly make it.