Thursday, November 27, 2008

Growing geese

I've been asked more than a few times why I'm doing a garden history course. For me, the answer is simple - it's not just because I love gardens, or because it's an interest I shared with my mother, or I think gardens are a way to help us understand wider social and economic themes. No, it's because of all the stories and the characters I can find and enjoy.

Yesterday's class threw up a great example of this. We were looking at Gerard's 16th century Herbal.

One of the plants recorded is a tree that had branches that opened to reveal .... er .... geese.

Gerard wrote: "...there is a small llande in Lancashire called the Pile of Foulders...whereon is found a certaine spume or froth, that in time breedeth unto certaine shels." These mussel-shaped shells would grow until they split open, revealing "the legs of the Birde hanging out...til at length it is all come foorth." The bird would hang by its bill until fully mature, then would drop into the sea "where it gathereth feathers, and groweth to a foule, bigger than a Mallard, and lesser than a Goose."

The myth had apparently been uncovered as a falsehood many years before, but our tutor said that one of the arguments as to why it might have remained in Gerard's herbal is that if geese were thought to be from a plant, then they could be eaten on days when meat shouldn't be consumed.

So there you are. If you hate brussell sprouts you can enjoy your Christmas goose instead, after all one vegetable is just the same as another vegetable!


Alex said...

Thomas Johnson. Now there's a good name. I wonder if he had any brothers?

Sarah Salway said...

I wonder. Actually I think you should get him an original edition for Christmas. I'm sure it wouldn't cost much and he could always colour it in or something.

Brian Clegg said...

As I recall, it's not just any goose that wasn't considered to be a bird, it was just the barnacle goose - though the version I remember had it classified as a fish (still edible on Fridays of course).

Taking a look at the folklore section on the barnacle goose in Wikipedia ( reality was somewhere in between, as they were thought to be produced from wood, but in the sea, rather like a shellfish.

Seeing your tag on this post, I'm reminded there's a place in Cheshire called Goosetrey (almost pronounced Goose Tree).

Douglas Bruton said...

I love these surreal real stories... they make you laugh with their own sense.... and nonsense too.

And wishing there was a tree that could do this... give birth to birds... don't know why I wish that... just for the wonder of it, perhaps.

Thanks for sharing this, Sarah


Sarah Salway said...

Ah, you're right, just the barnacle goose, Brian. I've pushed the story too far ... as normal! And yes, Douglas, it the strange sense of it all I like. Because there are times when it does look as if the bird is part of the tree.