Many Danes still keep the tradition of Mortensaften alive by gathering the family to eat goose or duck.
Saint Martin’s Day is celebrated each November 11th in a long line of countries, mostly as a harvest festival. In Denmark, the day is not an official holiday but many older generations still mark the occasion with a dinner of goose or duck on the preceding evening, known as Mortensaften (St. Martin’s Eve).
Denmark’s celebration of Mortensaften is in honor of Saint Martin of Tours, a Roman soldier born around the year 316 who deserted the Roman army due to his Christian faith and established the first monastery in Gaul. He was later canonized as a Christian saint.
Known as Sankt Morten or Morten Bisp in Danish, St. Martin is said to have resisted his impending election as bishop by hiding in a geese pin. The honk of the birds eventually revealed his location and forced him to take the bishop’s office. Because the geese had revealed him, he asked the townspeople to slaughter a goose once a year and eat it as a form of revenge.
In Denmark, the traditional Mortensaften dinner has been celebrated for centuries. The first documents of the celebration in Denmark are from 1616 but it is believed that since the Middle Ages people ate goose and duck as an offering to the saint.
Eventually, the goose came to be replaced on Danes’ dinner tables by other poultry, particularly duck. Today, the tradition hangs by a thin thread.
Roasted Duck with Prunes and Apples
(Stegt And med Sveske and Apples)
6 lbs. (3 kilo) duck, cavity washed and patted dry
salt and fresh ground pepper
8 oz. (240 g) pitted prunes
3-4 cooking apples, peeled and quartered
2 carrots, sliced
a spring of thyme
Broth for sauce
2 cups (16 fl. oz.) water
wings, neck, giblets
2 sprigs parsley
2 sprigs thyme
1 small onion, chopped
1 small carrot, chopped
2 cups (16 fl. oz.) of broth
drippings from the roasted duck
2 tbsp. flour for thickening
Preheat oven to 425°F.
To make duck, rub inside of duck with salt and pepper. Fill cavity with prunes and apples. Close with a skewer or sew with cotton string. Pull neck skin over the back and fasten with a skewer. Pat dry with paper towels.
Place duck upside down on a rack over a roasting pan. Brown for 15 minutes. Turn and brown for another 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350°F and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Pour off fat from pan and add water, together with onions, carrots, and thyme. Roast for 1¾ hours.
To make broth, boil wings, neck, and giblets with parsley, thyme, chopped onions, carrots, and salt.
Remove duck from oven and pour off dripping. Let them stand for a moment and skim off fat.
To make sauce, pour drippings into a small saucepan together with the strained broth, 2 cups (16 fl. oz.) in all. Bring to a boil and thicken with flour mixed with a little water. Let sauce simmer 5 minutes. Season to taste.
To finish duck, pour a large spoonful of water over it and return to oven and brown it at 425°F for 10-15 minutes with oven vent open or the oven door open just a little. Keep an eye on the duck. Be careful it doesn’t brown too quickly.
Suggested accompaniment: boiled white potatoes and stewed red cabbage