Duck a safer option than Basil’s wild goose-chase on Mortensaften

Half the country will be tucking into fowl tonight to honour a French saint who hated squawking birds

There’s a memorable episode of ‘Fawlty Towers’ called ‘Gourmet Night’ in which Basil’s temperamental chef gets drunk because Manuel rejects his advances on the same night the hotel is entertaining the cream of Torquay society at a special dinner event.

Basil has to rewrite the menu, deleting the lobster and tournedos in favour of an all-duck line-up, much to the disappointment of his guests, to whom he says: “If you don’t like duck, uh, you’re rather stuck!”

Words you'll never hear on Mortensaften: "Duck's off, sorry"
Words you’ll never hear on Mortensaften: “Duck’s off, sorry”

Duck discounts galore
The same could be said of Mortensaften, the Danish tradition that households across the country will be celebrating tonight with a meal that looks uncannily similar to their preferred Christmas dinner: duck, red cabbage, brownish potatoes, gravy – err, that’s about it.

Technically though, the correct choice of meat is goose, although it’s pretty hard to see that through the mountains of duck on offer at the nation’s supermarkets right now – discounts that will continue through the weekend as they always seem to get too much in!

A man of saintly virtue …
It’s goose because the celebration marks the endeavours of Morten Bisp (or Martin of Tours), a 4th century soldier who went on to become St Martin, the patron saint of France, after an encounter with a beggar who turned out to be Jesus.

After leaving the army to found a monastery at Poitiers near Tours, the townspeople wanted to make him their bishop, but he hid in a gooseshed to escape their attention.

… who ordered a slaughter
Unfortunately their squawking gave him away, and in an exact of revenge the man of the cloth decreed that November 11 would forever more mark an official geese slaughter.

Danes, as they are prone to do (with Skt Hans Aften and Juleaften for example), celebrate the night before.

Given that Morten is also the patron saint of animals and beggars, it might be apt to spare a thought for the homeless and your hungry pets.