Rearing geese for Christmas in Knutsford

PUBLISHED: 12:00 16 December 2013

Karol Bailey shepherding her geese

Karol Bailey shepherding her geese


Serving up roast goose on the Christmas dinner table is a feather in your cap. We visit a Knutsford geese breeder

In A Christmas Carol goose was the festive treat for the cash-strapped Cratchits, turkey the rich-man’s fayre gifted by the atoning Scrooge. These days that ranking has reversed, roast goose at the Yuletide table an affluent foodie badge of honour. Our favourite bird from medieval days to Victoria’s reign is making a comeback.

‘Interest in goose for Christmas is growing year on year. I get quite a lot of regulars who buy a goose every year, some floating customers depending on their plans, and plenty of new ones too’ says Karol Bailey of (serendipitously) Holly Tree Farm near Knutsford. Known locally as “the goose woman,” Karol was selected as one of Rick Stein’s food heroes.

In medieval times geese were bought at Michaelmas Fairs (Nottingham and Tavistock have reminders of these), then fattened, processed and plucked at home. Karol’s customers have it easy: ‘They get the goose oven-readied, every order individual, picked out especially for them. The goose fat is rendered down in a little jar; there’s a bag with the giblets in, then a bunch of herbs; and the goose all wrapped in grease-proof paper [geese proof?] then put in a calico bag.

If they get it presented right they can enjoy their Christmas, not just slave over something for hours,’ she says.

That fat is precious, its high burning point allowing the cook to make the crispest and tastiest roast potatoes you’ll ever eat.

The Legarth geese are bought in June as day-old chicks from a Norfolk farmer, and reared on Karol’s land until their appointed hour in December. The dry-plucked birds are hung for 10 days to a fortnight, ready to be collected a few days before Christmas Day.

Their life on the farm is good and will please the environmentally conscious: ‘They’re a very green animal, an eco-animal, because they’re reared pretty naturally. They come in at night and go out during the day - they eat grass all day every day, apart from a bit of corn in the autumn when the grass quality isn’t quite so good.’

Natural rearing shows in the way the birds differ: ‘They’re all different sizes, partly because geese don’t grow like mass-produced turkeys or chickens, whereby a set breed grows to a set size. Geese are much more variable. We always know there’ll be a proportion that will be smaller, down to 4kg, some that will be at the 5kg target weight, and some up to 6kg – but anything over 6kg is not good as it’s too fatty, so we aim to avoid that.’

Christmas is coming and the goose is getting fat. But not too fat. Sounds appetising doesn’t it?

Karol’s method for roast goose

Pre-heat the oven to high (about 210˚). Rub salt over the bird, pop on a trivet in a roasting tin, and roast on high for 30 minutes. Reduce temperature to 180˚ and calculate 40 minutes per kilo. It’s recommended to pour off fat during roasting, and rest the cooked bird (covered with foil and a tea-towel) for 30 minutes or more.

To the usual trimmings add apple sauce spiked with fresh horseradish. ‘Serve it with a fruity stuffing, like apricot or prunes,’ says Karol: ‘Put the fruit stuffing in the front end and at the back put mashed spuds and leeks or spring onions. The goose fat soaks in and it’s to die for.’

Diverse Goose Facts

The goose was domesticated more than 4000 years ago (the ancient Egyptians kept them)

Geese walked to market in past times had their feet dipped in hot tar and sand to protect them.

The biggest birds eat up to 5lb of grass a day.

Sacred geese in a temple saved Rome in 390BC – waking as Gauls infiltrated the sleeping city.

Goose-fat re-proofs your Barbour jacket (per Karol Bailey!)

Meaty Christmas Treats from Our History

Swan was in medieval days the festive fayre of the super rich – the noble Percy family once served up five on Christmas day

Boar’s Head, recalled in a Christmas carol or two still

Christmas Pie was a regional favourite, big in Yorkshire especially: a huge raised pie stuffed in layers with whole boned birds, steak, tongue, jelly, forcemeat...

Cumberland Hackin: another regional treat – like haggis but with dried fruits and sugar along with the offal and oats

Mince Pie also used to contain meat with the dried fruit

Holly Tree Farm

Chester Road

Over Tabley

near Knutsford


Tel: (01565) 651835

Karol Bailey

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