Gannet pie for Christmas

Gannets roost at Cape Kidnappers in 2005. Now protected, gannets were used by James Cook for his Christmas 'Goose pye' in 1769.

Abel Tasman's New Zealand Christmas 

The Christian origins of Christmas meant that before European contact, the celebration had no place in the calendar of Aotearoa. The first celebration of Christmas in New Zealand coincided with Abel Tasman’s voyage to New Zealand in 1642. Unfortunately, things did not get off to a good start.

On 19 December 1642 the Dutch ships Heemskerck and Zeehaen were anchored in Golden Bay, home of the Ngati Tumatakokiri people. Clearly the locals felt threatened by these strange vessels and people. One of Tasman’s small boats was passing between the two vessels when it was rammed by a waka (Maori canoe). Four of Tasman’s party were killed. Several Ngati Tumatakokiri may have been hit when the Dutch opened fire from both ships.

Tasman saw no reason to hang around. After naming the place Moordenaers Baij (Murderers’ Bay) he immediately set sail. On 20 December his expedition reached the Manawatu coast of the North Island before crossing the entrance of Cook Strait and anchoring east of Stephens and D'Urville islands. Here the crew encountered what many Wellingtonians have become used to at Christmas time – poor weather. While sheltering from a storm, the Dutch enjoyed the first Christmas dinner in New Zealand – freshly killed pork from the ship's menagerie washed down with extra rations of wine.

Cook's 'goose' 

The next celebration of Christmas in New Zealand occurred during James Cook’s first expedition in 1769. The crew of the Endeavour marked the occasion by feasting on ‘Goose pye’ for their Christmas dinner while battling heavy seas off the tip of the North Island. There were no geese, so the crew had to improvise – with the magnificent gannet that had been shot in preparation for the feast by the ship’s noted botanist, Joseph Banks.

Apparently the Endeavour’s crew spent Boxing Day ‘nursing hangovers’. The Boxing Day tradition of suffering from Christmas excess clearly has a long history in New Zealand.

Yorkshire goose pie

As a Yorkshireman, Cook might well have insisted upon the following ‘Recipe for an Economical Goose Pie’. This was copied from an early cookery book dated 1791 and dedicated to the Hon. Lady Wourton, whom the author served as housekeeper.

Take a large fat goose, split it down the back and take all the bone out; bone a turkey and two ducks the same way; season them with pepper and salt, with six woodcocks. Lay the goose down on a clean dish with the skin side down and lay the turkey into the goose with the skin down.

Have ready a large hare, cleaned well; cut in pieces and put in the oven with 1 lb of butter, ¼ oz mace, beat fine; the same of white pepper, and salt to taste, till the meat will leave the bones, and scum off the gravy; pick the meat clean off and beat it in a marble mortar very fine with the butter you took off, and lay it on the turkey.

Take 24 lbs of the finest flour, 6 lbs of butter, ½ lb of fresh rendered suet, make the paste thick and raise the pie oval; roll out a lump of paste and cut it in vine leaves or what form you will; rub the pie with yolks of eggs and put your ornaments on the wall, then turn your hare, turkey and goose upside down and lay them on your pie with the ducks at each end and the woodcocks at the sides. Make your lid pretty thick and put it on.

You may make flowers, or the shape of folds in the paste on the lid, and make a hole in the middle of the lid. The walls of the pie are to be 1½ ins. thicker than the lid. Rub it all over with the yolks of eggs and bind it round with three-fold paper and the same over the top. It will take 4 hours baking in a brown bread oven. When it comes out, melt 2 lbs of butter in the gravy that came from the hare and pour it through the ton-dish (funnel). Close it well up and let it be 8 or 10 days before you cut into it. If you send it any distance, close up the hole in the middle with cold butter to prevent the air from getting in.

Banks’s gannet pie probably failed to make the grade in terms of a real goose pie. If this is the recipe for the economical version it is hard to imagine the deluxe model.

Do not attempt this at home

We here at NZHistory do not advise attempting to copy the crew of the Endeavour by filling your Christmas pie with any endangered or protected wildlife!

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