Forgive the terrible photo– I won’t get a second chance until next year! But the taste? “Lush. Rich. Gorgeous. Velvety. Chocolatey. Very tasty indeed.”
OK, that’s my husband saying that, but you would say it too!
Over a year ago I began to contemplate making a tart with goose blood for Christmas. I had read a reference to this as a food traditional to the particular region of what used to be called Montgomeryshire (now Powys) in Wales where I live. But already by that mid-December it was too late, replied our wonderful butcher to my enquiry, because the farm that had reared the geese had already finished the slaughter for Christmas orders and therefore wouldn’t have collected the blood.
(A strong reason, by the way, to support small butcher’s shops– because they are the ones who maintain real relationships with suppliers, where special requests can happen, even if in this case I was too late. And if you eat meat, it’s so obvious that using as much of an animal as possible is the traditional as well as environmental approach which honours the act of sacrifice the animal unwillingly made.
Watch this wonderful film of a the making of this tart, I would suppose filmed by S Minwel Tibbott as I reckon the scene at the end is the same as that in the still photograph. I love the way the woman in this clip wraps the Golden Syrup around her wooden spoon. I love her cooking implements. I love her apron. I love the end-result. How could I not have been on a mission?
I asked around among my friends who grew up in this area, and no one had any recollection of eating this fabled food. One friend, the very lovely Dawn, daughter of farmers and beloved person in this town, remembered that her “Mum and Dad used to go to a nearby farm to help feather the poultry” and could recall the lady there shrilly shouting to her husband “Catch the goose’s blood , Fred!” in order to make the tarts later. I wish I had a recording to share here Dawn’s hilarious imitation of that lady, which she enacted in the school yard as we waited for the kids one afternoon– it’s the kind of sentence we maybe don’t hear much in this day and age.
I have friends Bea, Chris and Kate who are working very hard at a smallholding called Longhill to create a farming enterprise with chickens, pigs, delicious market-garden vegetables and much more. Bea mentioned to me that she was planning to raise a few geese and would be happy to support my interest in experimenting with the blood for next year. And next year came, and Bea remembered her offer, and I found myself with 310ml of blood from 2 geese, which she had collected — “caught” — herself in a gallant and proficient moment of self-sufficiency (read, she’s learned how to do the slaughter herself, and strives to reduce the suffering).
Here is the goose blood as it was left on my doorstep (where it was covered, of course.)
With trepidation, I found the link that had set me on this path a year before.
“In mid-Wales, it was the custom to make goose blood tart when the farmers were killing a large number of geese at Christmastime. Oral evidence testifies that this cake was an essential part of the Christmas fare in the Trefeglwys district and similarly in the districts of Staylittle, Llanbryn Mair and Llangurig in Montgomeryshire. To date, however, there is no evidence to show that it was prepared in any other county in Wales.”
Serendipitously, Longhill is high in the Trefeglwys hills, and was bought from a family with a long history on that site of sheep, cattle, pigs during the war, and of course– geese for Christmas, which apparently many farmers in this area raised. At the Longhill site, I coincidentally learned, they raised geese to dress and sell in markets in the south of Wales. I learned from the former owner of that site that this practice stopped when one farmer, his uncle, whose diabetes was effecting his eyesight, blindly trod on a baby goose and killed it; this upset him so much he stopped raising geese at all.
So my Goose Blood Tart was destined to be part of a renewed lineage of Goose Blood Tarts– I felt sure.
“The blood of about three geese,” read the instructions, “would be put in a greased basin and boiled in a saucepan half full of water. Then the blood would be allowed to cool and set solid before it was rubbed between the fingers to make fine crumbs. Mixed with currants, flour, suet, salt , spice and golden syrup, it would be baked between two layers of crust on a plate in the oven.”
Here is my version of a “greased basin …in a saucepan half full of water,” an improvised bain-marie. The blood was strikingly black and was grossing me out a little at this stage.
The blood thickened a little over the soft heat, but never coagulated or crumbled or clotted– Bea had added a little vinegar to preserve the blood until she could get to me, which was the right thing to do, because blood is meant to go off really quickly, but perhaps it was that small element that changed the chemistry– which was fine in the end. With no guide to quantities, feeling like a chemist or mad scientist, I added a few (maybe 3) tablespoons each of flour and Golden Syrup, trepidatiously tasting and stirring, and of butter, as the only substitute for suet I could think of, raisins not currants which I didn’t have, a spoon of cinnamon and a good shake of “Mixed Spice”– and stirred, and watched condense, and slowly felt a surge of confidence that something right was happening.
Regarding having no idea what quantities to use of all the other ingredients besides blood: In a moment of confusion and mild panic I sought help from an internet forum run by the amazing, generous and very experimental food historian Ken Albala, who guided me to study the Sanguinaccio in Italy, a confection made from pig’s blood in the past and nowadays with a mixture of chocolate. (Thanks everyone in that group for your help and interest!) This lead me to the amazing blog of Mister Meatball and his Sanguinaccio Dolce, and everything in my mind then clicked into place…
My concoction there on the stove was visually very similar to brownie batter and felt chocolately indeed.
Knowing I wouldn’t be making the tart for several days, I froze it, following Ken’s advice.
Later I looked into Ada Boni’s classic 1950 Talisman Italian Cookbook. Her Sanguinaccio Neapolitan Style calls for a mere two squares of cooking chocolate– it’s interesting to trace the increasing use of chocolate through time in this dish.
It wasn’t until after New Years, actually, that I was able to arrange a time to invite the good peeps of Longhill to our home to eat the tart, which I tried to make to look as simple as possible.
By the time it was baked, the night had fallen and all the pictures I took with flash were gruesome (see above). Never mind. We had a really lovely evening with laughter and candlelight, a kind of celebration of planning something for over a year, enjoying its fruition, the family who raised the geese, the woman who caught the blood, and the woman who was curious enough to try a recipe on a museum website. How would you describe it? Inside lovely pastry, a custardy, spicy, smoothe and very chocolately confection. Were there an end to chocolate, it might even serve as a kind of post-apocalyptic substitute– albeit without the bitter, which one doesn’t quite aprreciate always with chocolate– or that opiate, in love feeling. But they were on to something really good, those upland farm people of yore: their Christmas Goose Blood Tart is truly– and not in any bizarre or challenging way– truly delicious. We agreed this could become a tradition.
And just to say: The Wikipedia “Blood as Food” entry is pretty compelling, if I’ve stirred any interest in you.