Iconic Literary Food Moments

A Christmas Carol is one of Charles Dickens’ most-loved and best-known novels. Tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions of people have either read the book or watched the film and cartoon adaptations that are broadcast globally on screens at Christmas.

Written in 1843 and originally titled A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being A Ghost Story of Christmas, it contains a Christmas feast scene, the centrepiece of which is a goose stuffed with sage and onion.

So evocative are Dickens’ novels that some say to read one is to live. Certainly, the readers can almost taste and smell this feast when it finally arrives on the table of the poor Cratchit family:

“There never was such a goose. Bob said he didn’t believe there ever was such a goose cooked. Its tenderness and flavour, size and cheapness, were the themes of universal admiration. Eked out by apple sauce and mashed potatoes, it was a sufficient dinner for the whole family; indeed, as Mrs Cratchit said with great delight (surveying one small atom of a bone upon the dish), they hadn’t at it all at last! Yet every one had had enough, and the youngest ratchets, in particular, were steeped in sage and onion to the eyebrows!”

We chose the following recipe given the addition of apple sauce made it feel close to the goose imagined on the Cratchits’ table.

  • 1 goose, about 5 kilos

  • Oil

  • 2kg floury potatoes

  • Salt and pepper

  • 3 large onions

  • 500g breadcrumbs

  • 1 lemon, rind only, finely grated

  • 4tbsp chopped sage

  • 3tbsp chopped parsley

  • 1 egg

  • Salt and pepper

  • 4 Granny Smith apples

  • 120ml water


Preheat the oven to 220C/425F. Remove all the clumps of excess fat from the inside of the goose cavity. Put them into a pan with a little sunflower oil and leave on a very low heat until melted, then pass through a fine sieve into a bowl. (Goose fat can also be saved and used to roast or fry potatoes at a later date.)

For the stuffing, fry the onions in about 75g/3oz of the goose fat until soft and very lightly browned. Stir into the breadcrumbs with the lemon zest, sage, parsley and plenty of salt and pepper to taste. Stir in enough beaten egg to bind the mixture together.

Weigh the goose and calculate the cooking time, allowing 14 minutes per 450g/1lb. Season the cavity of the goose with salt and pepper and then spoon in the stuffing. Seal the opening with a metal skewer.

Season the skin of the goose with salt and place it on a rack set over a large roasting tin. Roast the goose for 30 minutes. Remove it from the oven and lower the temperature to 180C/350F. Remove the goose using towels (not forks or anything that pierces the skin) and pour off the excess fat from the roasting tin.

Replace the goose on the rack, return it to the oven and roast it for a further 1 hour 50 minutes. Pour off more fat after another 30 minutes.

Peel the potatoes, cut them into large chunks and par-boil them for 7 minutes in salted water. They should be soft on the outside but still slightly hard in the centre. Drain well, then shake them around in the pan with a lid on to give the edges a sandy texture.

After the goose has been cooking at the lower temperature for 1 hour, remove from the oven and lift it and the rack off the roasting tin. Add the potatoes to the tin and turn them over so that they all become well-coated in the fat. Pour off any excess fat, replace the goose and continue to roast.

When the goose is cooked, the juices from the thigh should run clear when pierced with a skewer. Lift it onto a board, cover it with foil and leave it to rest for at least 20 minutes.

Turn the potatoes over if necessary, return the roasting tin to the oven and increase the oven temperature to 220C/425F.

Roast the potatoes for about 20 minutes or until crisp and golden. Remove and transfer to a serving dish.

Meanwhile, prepare apple sauce while goose is cooking. Place cored and chopped apples and water into a pan and simmer for 12-15 minutes, stirring now and then, until soft and smooth. Season to taste.

Serve the goose and potatoes and apple sauce with gravy (it can be made from the goose giblets) and winter vegetables.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons – Charles Dickens by Daniel Maclise