WITH the passing of Michaelmas Day and with Christmas on the horizon thoughts have been turning to geese, their place on the farm and on the table.
Goose was served at the start of the Conservative Party conference on Sunday, where the British Poultry Council was keen to show the role that artisan producers play in feeding the nation. Richard Howe has been finding out that support for the goose is growing from multicultural Britain
The warning cry of a hundred geese echoed along a wooded valley deep in the North Devon countryside.
Farmers John and Jill Burns had herded them together for the Journal picture and their calls were a natural reaction to our interference.
The distinct sound of the flock's call fulfilled all the stories about their guarding qualities. Nevertheless they're still prey to foxes and the fence around their field is electrified to help keep them safer.
The white birds of Middle Whitecleave Farm, near Burrington, are predominantly of the Embden species, one of the oldest and most popular for farming because of their size, quick growth, and their feathers.
Their popularity has seemed to be restricted to the Christmas market, despite recent emphasis on the Michaelmas connection.
"We've not had one inquiry for Michaelmas, it's been quiet," said John, who also farms cattle and sheep.
"The most recent request for a fresh goose was two or three weeks ago. Although I was pleased to see goose on the Hairy Bikers television show.
"Last year we sold more than ever, twice as many as we normally do. And for Christmas we usually have a lot of orders from London."
And they say now demand is also growing from a new market.
"It's interesting to see the effect of cosmopolitan Britain because goose is a major part of the diet for Eastern Europeans – the Polish, Czech, Hungarians and Germans," explained John.
Goose was served on Sunday at a dinner hosted by the British Poultry Council for Tory MPs and MEPs including Defra Secretary of State Owen Paterson.
Tradition was that farmland rents were usually paid on Michaelmas Day (September 29) when the harvest was supposed to be over and it was the end of the farming year.
Tenant farmers would often present their landlord with a goose which became associated with guarding against financial woes. The folklore had it that: "Eat a goose on Michaelmas Day, not want for money all year long."
The chairman of British Goose Producers, John Franklin, said: "As traditional, seasonal food gains popularity, it provides a wonderful opportunity to put goose on the menu at the start of the autumn when they become available for the first time in the year," he said,
"The goose is a truly seasonal bird and with the new ways of serving the meat developed at catering schools, the bird offers such a wide range of opportunities for modern chefs."