Succulent goose from the land of Hans Christian Andersen
The heady aromas of roasting goose, pork, and of pastries baking with butter and marzipan waft through many Danish homes at Yuletide. Roast goose is a tradition in Denmark at Christmas - and there's nostalgia involved as well as taste. In older times preserved wild goose was a staple among the inhabitants of Denmark's hundreds of tiny islands, so goose for the Danes has the same sentimental significance that Thanksgiving turkey has for Americans.
On a recent trip to Denmark, Mrs. Tove Kjaerboe, a writer and historian, gave a group of American and Canadian journalists an old recipe from the island of Aero for preparing and preserving this delicacy:
The long process involved soaking the goose in cold water, boiling it, then adding vinegar and boiling some more.
After cooking, the meat was packed in a stone crock or glass jar with sugar, allspice berries, peppercorns, salt, and bay leaves. It was served cold with hot potatoes and melted butter.
Today the typical Danish farm-raised Christmas goose is roasted with a prune and apple stuffing and served with sweet and sour red cabbage, sugar-browned potatoes, rich brown gravy, and a jelly such as rose hip or currant.
Not feather-light nouvelle cuisine to be sure. But this nation of hearty agricultural folk can boast a ratio of five pigs to every human being - that is to say, 5 million Danes and 25 million Danish pigs. Denmark is No. 1 in the world in pork export, No. 3 in cheese export, and No. 4 in butter export.
Needless to say, goose is not the only star at holiday time. It is traditional for many families to serve a tender pork loin roast studded with prunes, also served with classic red cabbage and other Danish dishes.
''Oh, the baking that must be done for Christmas! The cookies! There must be hundreds, thousands of them!'' exclaims Ester Rasmussen of the Denmark Cheese Association, one of my hostesses in Denmark, recalling the Christmases of her childhood.
Her mother would begin baking around the first of December all of the traditional cookies - like almond and macaroon, sand cakes, sweet biscuits, and marzipan fantasies - so dear to Danish hearts.
And the cheese delicacies, the cheese straws, the pungent biscuits oozing Danish blue, or Samsoe, or Havarti, the herbed cream cheese spreads, the small whole Camemberts and creamy Havartis covered with puff pastry or crusted with caraway seeds, almonds, or breadcrumbs and baked in the oven.
Denmark produces over 50 varieties of cheeses and it is estimated that every Danish farmer is able to satisfy the food demands of 130 people.
The big meal is on Christmas Eve. The Christmas tree has been decorated by the parents - usually with homemade ornaments and Danish flags - and, if possible, hidden in a room so the children won't see it until directly after dinner when the candles are lighted and the tree is displayed in all its glory.
At Christmas dinner three kinds of biscuits are traditional: Kleiner, which are deep-fat fried; crisp golden vanilla rings; and brown wafers pungent with spices whose dough, to be especially good, must be made a month in advance.
The meal begins with sweet almond rice: A whole almond is hidden in this dish and whoever finds it receives a present. Homemade fruit juices are welcome beverages. Drinks made with elderflower syrup, a syrup made from purple plums, and rose hip syrup have been made during the summer and bottled.
If the family is a large one, a roast goose and a roast of pork - whose crackling skin is considered a great delicacy - are the main meats.
In addition to the sweet and sour cabbage and the sugar-browned potatoes, there might be a Waldorf salad, pickled cucumbers, creamed cauliflower, or turnips. The traditional Christmas Eve dessert is an apple cake decked with lashings of freshly whipped cream.
Christmas Day and the day after, Boxing Day, are when the famous ''cold-warm'' table is set up for the visits from friends and relatives. Out come the pork liver pates garnished with fried mushrooms and crispy bacon, the meat brawns, the fine Danish hams, the ''Frikadeller'' - little pork meatballs flavored with onion and sage.
There are salads of smoked fish, cucumber, beet, cheese, and ham cubed and tossed with mayonnaise, hot and cold herring dishes, and smoked salmon. And, of course, homemade breads - the dark, heavy, fiber-rich breads flavored with caraway and poppy seed. In Danish supermarkets you can find double gluten flour, flour with extra bran or other fiber added. The dense, moist breads are cut paper-thin for the base of the famous Danish open-faced sandwiches.
And for dessert, no Danish Koldt Bord, ''hot-warm table,'' would be complete without cheesecakes, almond cakes, apple cakes, and marzipan-filled fruit tarts. Danish Almond Rice 3 cups milk 1/2 cup rice 1/2 teaspoon vanilla 1/4 cup sugar 1/4 cup chopped almonds 1 whole almond
Bring milk to a boil and add remaining ingredients except for 1 whole almond. Lower heat and simmer, covered, until rice is cooked, about 40 minutes. Stir in whole almond. Serves 6. Roast Goose With Prune and Apples 1 10-pound goose 1/2 pound pitted prunes, soaked 1 day in water 1/2 pound apples, peeled and sliced 1 tablespoon salt Freshly ground pepper to taste 1 tablespoon sugar 1 pint boiling stock or water
Clean goose inside and out and fill cavity with prunes and apples, salt, pepper, and sugar, which have been tossed together. Secure stuffing with a skewer.
Rub outside of goose with a little salt and roast in a preheated 375 degree F. oven 20 minutes to brown.
Pour off fat, add boiling stock, and roast 3 more hours in a 300 degree F. oven, turning goose once so juices run down into breast.
During last half hour of cooking time, drain off drippings and turn heat to 350 degrees F. to brown skin again.
To make gravy, strain juices and remove fat. Place 1 tablespoon fat in saucepan and add 1 heaping tablespoon flour.
Cook the roux until just turning brown. Whisk in hot pan juices (about 1 pint), add salt and pepper to taste. Add browning, if desired. Serves 4 to 6. Sugar-Browned Potatoes 24 small, firm potatoes 1 tablespoon salt 2 1/2 tablespoons sugar 4 tablespoons butter
Scrub potatoes and boil in salted water until soft. Peel. Stir sugar and butter in a skillet. When sugar mixture begins to turn brown, add potatoes. Shake potatoes gently in pan until evenly coated and golden brown. Serves 6. Danish Apple Cake 6 firm, large apples, Rome Beauties or Gravenstein preferred, peeled, cored, and cut into chunks 1 vanilla bean 2 cups freshly made and toasted breadcrumbs 1 cup sugar 1/2 cup almonds, toasted and chopped 8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, melted 1 cup red currant jelly 1 cup whipped cream
Steam apples with vanilla bean. Do not add water. Apples should be soft, not mushy. In a baking pan alternate layers of apples and breadcrumbs. Sprinkle with sugar and almonds and drizzle with melted butter. Bake in a preheated 400 degree F. oven about 30 minutes. Serve lukewarm, topped with currant jelly and whipped cream. Serves 4 to 6.