Coun­try Di­ary

If some­one tells you that Canada geese are not worth eat­ing, don’t be fooled; they can make a meal fit for a king if you are a lit­tle creative

Shooting Times & Country Magazine - - MIKE SHORT -

Ev­ery so of­ten, we are graced with the sight and sound of Canada geese on our Wilt­shire rough shoot, which al­ways adds to the ex­cite­ment of the day. Some­times we’ll try to ma­noeu­vre for a stalk, or get Guns un­der a reg­u­lar flight­line. At other times, the geese will sim­ply take us by sur­prise.

If they are on, our reg­u­lar guests are never shy about hav­ing a pop, know­ing full well that yours truly is al­ways de­lighted to take a goose home for the pot. And in­deed I am, though there have been sev­eral oc­ca­sions when I’ve ended up with — lit­er­ally — rather more than I can chew.

Like the time when a skein of eight came honk­ing from afar, giv­ing the boys hun­kered around our main flight­pond plenty of time to ready them­selves. The geese had cir­cled out wide be­fore bank­ing round for an­other look at the pond. Even­tu­ally they com­mit­ted and dropped their pad­dles and stooped into a sud­den vol­ley of gun­fire.

Mighty splashes

Be­fore they knew what was what, seven fell from the skein, crum­pling into the shal­low water and cre­at­ing a suc­ces­sion of mighty splashes. De­spite not be­ing lucky enough to dirty my own bar­rels at geese that night, the chal­lenge of pre­par­ing one for the ta­ble was too much for some and I ended up tak­ing four of them home, which was rather more than I’d bar­gained for.

Sadly, and un­justly, Canada geese are of­ten passed off as not worth eat­ing. For those of you start­ing out in game cook­ery or a shoot­ing life, please don’t be fooled. If some­one tells you that Canada geese are as tough as old boots and not worth the trou­ble, it is more than likely that the per­son is ei­ther a poor or un­e­d­u­cated cook, or that they are sim­ply pass­ing on a bad news story picked up from else­where.

So long as it has been shot cleanly and han­dled and hung prop­erly, a Canada goose can make a meal fit for a king. To North Amer­i­can hunters, these hulk­ing hounds of the sky are known as “fly­ing beef” — a nod to their fine eat­ing qual­i­ties. In Bri­tain, the Canada goose pop­u­la­tion has boomed. The birds are now wide­spread and have be­come in­creas­ingly ac­ces­si­ble to in­land shoot­ers. For any­one who shoots over a large enough flight­pond or over ground bor­der­ing a wa­tery land­scape, it is well worth keep­ing a hand­ful of non-toxic loads in your pocket.

Wild geese are gen­er­ally long-lived birds and it helps to know how to age them, for young birds and older birds should be treated dif­fer­ently in the kitchen. Com­par­ing them with beef, you can treat meat from a first-year goose like steak; whereas for that of an older bird, we are talk­ing brisket.

It is easy to tell a young Canada goose from a ma­ture adult. Aside from softer and more pli­able bills and feet, the young­sters have lower-con­trast feather mark­ings with blurry and pale edges to their brown back and wing feath­ers. Though it is still dark, the neck of a young Canada goose is gen­er­ally paler than that of an adult. The colour of the feath­ers around the base of the neck blend into the paler breast feath­ers. On an older bird, the neck is vir­tu­ally black and there is a sharp edge where the dark neck feath­ers meet the breast.

A care­fully plucked young Canada goose makes a de­li­cious roast, but they are lean birds and re­quire reg­u­lar bast­ing. I like to stuff them with lots of fruit — usu­ally plums, damsons and or­ange seg­ments — along with a hand­ful of peeled shal­lots, a cou­ple of bay leaves and sticks of cin­na­mon with sev­eral star anise. As the fruits, spices and juices from the goose melt to­gether, they pro­duce a won­der­fully fra­grant sauce that can be thick­ened to make gravy.

With older birds, I usu­ally just take the breasts off and treat them as I would meat from a shoul­der of veni­son. For an older goose, long and slow cook­ing is def­i­nitely the or­der of the day. Or they can be minced to make goose burg­ers. There are stacks of great wild goose recipes on­line. It is sim­ply a case of get­ting creative in the kitchen.

“To North Amer­i­can hunters, these hulk­ing hounds of the sky are known as ‘fly­ing beef’”

Mike Short is an ecol­o­gist at the GWCT. He is a keen an­gler, deer stalker and for­ager and helps to run a wild bird rough shoot in Wilt­shire.

Canada geese are fre­quent vis­i­tors to our shores and, young birds or old, make de­li­cious eat­ing

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