Maggie's Books & Recipes

in Memory of Margaret H.L. Lim

Christmas Eve Dinner: Escargot & Roasted Barbary Duck

I got up early to de-bone the Barbary duck that I always serve stuffed with dried fruits for Christmas dinner. I don’t like turkey because the meat, except for the legs, is too dry. I have given up goose because it’s too big, even after it has been de-boned, to fit into my oven. Its size is truly misleading as it is mostly skin and bones.

The Barbary duck, which always makes its appearance during the Christmas season, is much leaner than the domesticated duck, almost twice as large and a whole lot meatier, meatier than even a goose. After de-boning, a messy affair that requires some concentration and a knowledge of avian anatomy, I make a filling that consists of dried fruits:

  • dried plums
  • apricots
  • pears
  • cranberries
  • diced celery
  • onions
  • diced apples (preferably Cox Orange)
  • chestnuts
  • bread crumbs
  • rosemary and sage
  • a dash of salt and pepper.

Barbary duck, de-boned, stuffed and roasted. I made the cut down the breast, working down the rib-cage with a very sharp knife (I nicked my finger the year before last, so I was extra careful this time not to blend my own blood with the gore. Sorry). Lots of patience required, as you have to be careful not to puncture the skin. Julia Child started her de-boning cut on the back. I have to try this the next time. It might be easier. I can imagine it looks prettier when you serve up the duck breast up with the threads on the underside. I just used metal skewers instead of sewing up the duck. Works just as well.

 

Stuffed roasted Barbary duck served with boiled potatoes fried a golden brown in butter.

Leading up to this dinner highlight is Escargot or snails baked in their shells with parsley butter – softened butter, finely chopped fresh parsley, finely chopped shallots, garlic, salt to taste and a dash of nutmeg.

Cooked "Weinberg" or Vineyard Snails which are stuffed into shells with parsley butter. The butter runs out during cooking. The fun part is when you mop it up with bread. Cleaning the shells to be re-used is some work! I boil the used empty shells with baking soda several times till the water runs clear of parsley. Sterilise by boiling before re-using.

 

Escargot as appetizer, ready for the oven. Bon appétit!

How the coniferous or cone-bearing tree became The Christmas Tree.

Sitting amid the ruins of the feast, I got down to thinking about what we have always taken for granted – the Christmas Tree, specifically grown for this season, cut down and set up as a centre piece, ornately decorated, to be thrown away twelve days after the Nativity.

The tree is set up on Christmas Eve and decorated. After Epiphany or  “Dreikoenigstag”, the tree is picked up by the Municipal Garbage Department to be shredded for mulch.

The CHRISTMAS TREE

The Christmas Tree has its roots in paganism. Because this coniferous tree stays evergreen during the deep winter months when all other deciduous vegetation appears to have died, it is a symbol of eternal life.

Its origin as a symbol of the Christian Faith, however, goes back to the legend of St. Boniface (672-754), an English Benedictine monk who started out as a missionary in Friesland which, although it had been Christianized, still contained pockets of heathenism, as were many parts of Germany. He travelled through Bavaria, Thuringia and Hessia, preaching the Christian faith.
According to one legend, he saw a group of pagans worshipping an oak, called the Tree of Thor, after the Norse god, in the Hessian town of Geismar near Fritzlar. In a towering rage, he felled the oak,  and a fir sprang from its roots, which he took as a sign of the Christian faith.

As early as the 1400s, the Baltic States put up trees decorated with fruits in their market squares, a practice that went back to pre-Christian days. According to a chronicle from 1584, trees were set up in Estonia, with young men and women dancing around them, then set aflame, signaling the end of Winter and the onset of Spring that brings warmth and light and growth, which fits in perfectly with the Christian doctrine of Death and Resurrection.

In Germany, the coniferous tree made its appearance as the Christmas Tree in Northern Germany in the early 1600s. The first Christmas Tree was set up in the US by German settlers as early as 1777. It was introduced into England in the early 1800s by Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, wife of King George 3rd. Queen Victoria, who was married to the German Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg, observed the German tradition of laying out and distributing the gifts on Christmas Eve instead of on Christmas Day. This German tradition is still followed by the British royal family.

Among the traditionalists in Germany, the tree is set up on Christmas Eve and not before, then taken down at Epiphany, 6th January, twelve days after birth of the Christ Child on what the Germans call Dreikoenigstag, “Three Kings’ Day” when the three wise men came with their gifts for the Christ Child.
Supermarkets and such are not bound by tradition but by the rule of commerce, with the decorated Christmas Tree setting the mood for the holiday season a week before the First Advent.