By Al Zehnder, CEO of Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth
It seemed like Maria worked here forever. Maria was old school German. I mean she started the school that is now referred to as “old school”. She came out of the rubble post WWII Germany, married, and settled in a small community just north of Frankenmuth. She never lost her thick German accent nor her irritating support of that part of Germany that we hoped would go away after the war.
She was a textbook of all the things now lost to our agricultural heritage. She and her husband, Fred lived on a small farm where she cooked, canned, gardened, knitted, sewed, crocheted, raised small farm animals and never threw anything away.
When my oldest son, Christopher, was about 8 years old, she convinced me that it would be good for him (and apparently me) if we would raise some geese for our Christmas dinner. It didn’t take much for me to convince Chris and before we knew it, we were signed up. I remember it being a cold but bright fall day that we accompanied Maria and her husband Fred to pick out goslings. Fred was tall and thin, had a mild nature and did whatever Maria required of him. The four of us arrived at the farm where chickens, geese and ducks generally had the run of the place. I’m not sure the farmer expected us but he knew Maria and quickly knew why we were there. He greeted us with a special tool to grab the quick little geese by their feet, which he proceeded to do. The whole yard erupted in geese, ducks and chickens running every which way. He brought a couple over to Maria which she rejected immediately. To this day, I don’t know what you look for in a good gosling but Maria didn’t see it. She dismissed a few more until she settled on three. Two for her and one for Chris and me.
The plan was that we would come out to Maria’s farm and fatten up the geese for Christmas dinner. And we did that. While most of the work was borne by Fred, Chris and I showed up on a variety of Saturday’s and threw some corn in the pen and watered the geese. Maria was happy to have us. She always had some type of treat for Chris, and Fred was quick to offer me some homemade wine to “ward off the cold weather”. It was rather remarkable how quickly they grew. Each week, we could see the difference.
The day finally came, however, when I knew our goose was coming home with us. We showed up and Maria and Fred had the stage all set; towels, the appropriate tools, bowls, sharp knives, water boiling, etc., in an out-building we don’t see anymore called a “summer kitchen”. At this point, experience takes over and Chris and I became willing spectators. They had done this before and I was glad to allow them to lead.
We watched as Fred dispathed our goose. Now there is a method to this and I won’t go into graphic detail but suffice it to say our goose didn’t suffer. The important parts of the goose were quickly separated from the body and Maria was dunking the goose in the boiling water to loosen the feathers and down. Maria didn’t throw anything away. The whole process made an impression on Chris as he suddenly and unexpectedly made the connection between the farm and table.
The drive home was rather quiet. The still warm goose, now looking like it did the past few weeks, was in the back seat just behind Chris. I knew that would be the last time we would raise a goose together or anything else that might be considered dinner at some point. Chris never asked me again where food came from. Of course Christmas came and, while I rejected Maria’s directions on how to stuff and cook the goose (somehow I knew it wouldn’t matter), I knew, out of respect to the goose, it had to be part of our Christmas meal.
Well the goose hit the table and Chris and I both stared at the lovely roasted bird. The look in Chris’s eyes told me there was no way any part of that goose was going anywhere beyond his lips. He did eat all of his vegetables.
Chris is twenty six now and while we have shared each Christmas meal together, I didn’t put another Christmas goose on the table again until Christmas 2010. A nice, neatly wrapped, store bought version.
The important part of a gathering isn’t always the food (those of us in the restaurant business would like to think it is) but just the fact that you are together with the ones you love, sharing the season with each other is often filling enough.
Zehnder’s has been the backdrop for holiday celebrations for generations. Whether you are sharing old stories or making new memories, consider Zehnder’s as your family’s holiday destination.
If you have a special holiday memory, feel free to share it with us. Until then, from our family to yours, have a blessed Christmas and a very prosperous New Year. ~ Al Zehnder