They start at the beginning of September and last until end of November. Goose and duck feasts could be likened to the festival of Thanksgiving in the way they bring together families to celebrate the end of harvest.
There are several legends explaining the traditon of goose (and duck) feasts in Slovakia. Some are related to Saint Martin, a French bishop and a native of Savaria (town in today’s Hungary), whose name falls on 11th November in the Slovak calendar.
Others are more secular and they either link to the Tatar invasion in 1241, which was allegedly mitigated by the Tatars giving in to the pleasures of crisp roast geese, or the reign of Charles I of Hungary, who was supposedly so pleased with the feast of roast geese at his visit of Pressburg (today’s Bratislava) that he made it a regular event.
Since then, a large meal of roast goose (or duck) with braised red cabbage and lokše (pronounced as lokshe) has become a popular item on restaurant menus in Bratislava. Roast goose and duck is also sold at numerous autumn festivals around Slovakia. However, the goose feasts I remember from my childhood had a completely different feel. It was a large three-course meal held at my grandparents’ house, most often in their yard or garden. Like other residents of this small hamlet in the south of Slovakia, my grandparents raised their own flock of geese. I was afraid of the birds: some could be quite aggressive and a male goose had once pinched my leg, so contrary to my family’s enthusiasm, I was never a fan of the meat.
I did love my Grandma’s lokše though, those tasty potato pancakes that she would bake on top of a wood-fired oven. My family would not only eat them alongside the meat, but also on their own, greased with some melted goose fat and filled with sugared ground walnuts or poppy seeds.All these pleasant and less pleasant memories came back when I was writing a chapter about goose and duck festivals for the autumnal book of A Taste of Slovakia series. My friend Vierka, who raises ducks on her small farm near Piešťany town, shared with me a family recipe for roast duck and braised red cabbage. I included them both in the book together with photos I took of the dish and its preparation.
Goose and duck feasts coincide with the end of grape harvest in Slovakia and the first sampling of wine that has just started to ferment. I was told by a Slovak wine professional I’d better not write about drinking of burčiak in the book, as it would raise quite a few eyebrows among wine gourmets around the world. I did avoid the topic then and there, but I can slip a mention in here. ‘Stormy wine’ is commonly drunk in Central European region and burčiak, as this unfinished young wine is called in Slovak, is often served with roast goose and duck at the turn of August and September.