Sunday, October 28, 2012

Martin's Evening/ Mortensaften 10th November..

Torup, November 2011, foto: gb

November Month
The old Danish name of November is slaughter-month. The animals had to be stabled, and now it was gradually so cold that it was safe to do the slaughter and salt the meat without risc that the meat would be spoiled. The main part of the slaughter was made at this time of the year. If the weather was dry on Karen's day (25 November) the cabbage was harvested,  for now it was really winter. Some ploughing had to be done in November and indoors were the treshing, the spinning - and fishing nets had to be made and repaired - the fishing net of course only if the farmer had access to fish waters.

1. November
At the Danish Reform of the Holidays in 1770 Struensee abolished the day as a holiday and delegated it to the first Sunday of November

If the chip of the birch is dry at all Saints' day the winter will be hard.
 If all leaves have not been blown off the trees the winter will be hard. .
Cold and snow on all Saints' day  give a long and hard winter.

Morten's Evening:
Morten's Evening on 10. November is celebrated in memory of the bishop Martin of Tours, who really did not want to become a bishop and hid himself in a goose sty.  This meant death to the geese!

If you could afford to eat goose on Morten's Evening, then you should take the scrawny breastbone, hold it up towards the light and watch its colour. The upper part of the bone was an image of the time before Christmas, and the bottom part the time after Christmas. A brown colour meant severe cold, while a fine white bone meant snow and sleet. It was also said that the snow which fell on Morten's Day would stay all winter.
If Morten's Day was wet, the winter would not be hard. Some people said: if three grains of sand freeze together on Morten's Night, then all the winter nights will freeze together. And a green Morten's Evening will give a white Christmas Evening. 

Many Danes celebrate Morten's Evening on 10th of November, mostly with  roast duck.

Martin of Tours, fresco, Elmelunde church, Møn/foto:gb

Sct. Martin's Day 11. November:
Martin of Tour lived in the 300s in the Roman Empire -which also included Hungary - where he was born ab. 336 by Roman parents. He joined the Roman army when he was fifteen and came to Gaul, where the legends about him soon began to flourish. He helped the poor, healed the sick and woke up the dead, he became famous and was considered a holy man.

One of the legends describes how he saw a beggar at the city gate of the French town Amiens. Everybody passed  the poor man without noticing him, but Martin stopped to help him, although he was only a poor soldier. He owned nothing but a cape and a sword. He cut the cape in two with his sword and gave one half to the beggar -  and in the night he saw in a dream the resurrection where Christ was wearing one half of the cape. Christ told Martin that he was the beggar.

Soon after, when Martin was twenty years old, he left the army and became a monk. He returned to Hungary to try to convert his countrymen, but the story tells that he only succeeded in converting his mother. He was persecuted and droven back to Gaul, where he settled down in a monastery at Poitiers. He lived a pious and quiet life and won the reputation of being a good and holy man.

Djursland, angry goose/ foto:gb
He was so popular that the people of Tours wanted to elect him bishop, but Martin was not interested. When the inhabitants of the town came to elect him, he hid himself in a goose sty, but the geese did not like this visit. They were cackling and screaming and Martin was revealed and forced to assume office as bishop of Tours. He had now the power to arrange a revenge: All households had to  - once a year - to slaughter at least one goose and eat it on the day where he was revealed in the goose sty. He got his revenge on the big-mouthed geese.

Martin was also called the apostel of Gaul. He died in Candes in France 8 November 397 and was buried in Tours 11 November. A big church was built over his grave and he was later canonized. His death date became his Saint's day, which is still celebrated all over Europe.

The story about Martin of Tours and the geese was printed in Denmark for the first time in 1616, a long time after the reformation. The Saint Martin survived the reformation with a new Danish name: Morten Bisp. The night of 10th november, now called Morten's Evening, was probably appropriate, because November was perfect for a party, since the slaughter period in November was one of few times, where people had fresh meat before winter. Else they had salted food for months.

The traditional food on Morten's Evening was goose or duck in the old days. The goose was not an ordinary dish in Denmark, it was rich people's food - and common people started eating other poultry instead. The story about Martin of Tours and the geese is probably much earlier than the traditional November-goose. In Germany and France the wine harvest is celebrated in November, which also is a slaughter-month since the animals are fat after a long summer's good food. Martin became the Saint of the wine growers, and gradually the roast goose and the wine drinking were connected to the Martin's festivals  - and a good story like the story about Martin and the geese is not to be scorned.

Italian kitchen Ferrara 1549, runeberg
 The goose is one of the earliest domestic animals and one of the most important slaughter animals, although it was always food for the rich. The ordinary farmer's family might breed geese, but they sold them in the next town after having taken wings and feathers (for brooms and quills) and the down ( for duvets and pillow stuffing). They also kept the head, neck and craw to themselves for a good portion of giblet soup. If they kept a whole goose, the breast meat was removed and smoked as a cold cut for guests.

But according to the advertizing from the supermarkets no one eats goose today. There are lots of Morten's Ducks in the cold counters, but no Morten's Goose. There are many reasons. A goose is a costy meal. A goose needs a big oven. A goose is food enough for 8-10 people. One of the old Christmas songs tells us that "mother went to the baker's to have the goose roasted in his oven". So did other households. This was an ordinary thing to do a hundred years ago. But a household is smaller today and the duck is "made" for a modern family. The duck is also far more industrialized than the goose. If you want to buy a goose, you'll have to go to the butcher's or to the breeder out in the country first to order it and then to fetch it, and few people shop like this today. So the popular roast Morten's Duck, which we enjoy on Morten's Evening 10th of November, was once a Morten's Goose.

Morten's Duck

source:;; Dagligt liv i Norden i det 16. århundrede,; 2640 online portalens almanak og kalender.  

photo: grethe bachmann; 
drawing: Italian kitchen Ferrara in 1549, Dagligt liv i Norden i det 16 århundrede,


Gerry Snape said...

I'm thinking that I shall buy some goose for St. Martin's day...!

Thyra said...

Hej Gerry! Have the geese been naughty to you? You'll punish those poor things!!
I'm thinking I shall have "duck surprise" like in Fawlty Towers!
Grethe ´)