Living Here

Mortensaften: Danish version of giving thanks for a good harvest?

Leaves in all shades of fall brilliance blanket the landscape, cracking and squishing as we walk. It is November. That means one thing: Mortensaften or in English, Eve of Saint Martin’s day, which falls on November 11.

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By Sanobar Elahi

Call it a Danish version of Thanksgiving?, minus the NFL games and change turkey with a different kind of bird, as in Denmark, on 10 November, it is duck you should have for dinner.

History has it that Martin of Tours (Morten in Danish), was a soldier who later on became a monk. Deeply pious and religious, he was to be appointed the next bishop. Not wanting to attain higher office and preferring isolation over company, Martin hid in a goose pen trying to avoid the detection.

Obviously not used to having a human hiding in the midst, the geese cackled and gave Martin away.

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He went on to become first a bishop and later on a Saint. Furious at this betrayal, Martin declared that every November 10, goose be served as the main meal.

Mortensaften is celebrated on November 10 in commemoration of this event, which for some believers, also marks the last day of feasting before the start of the 40 day pre-Christmas fasting period.

As with Thanksgiving, it is also the end of autumn and the harvesting season, and the welcoming of winter.

Since Danes are not deeply religious people, the day holds no religious value but is celebrated nonetheless with full vigour in the embrace of family, a traditional menu and general merriment.

Goose has since been replaced by small birds like duck. The menu itself is very traditional: Roast duck (not many have goose these days), roasted potatoes, brown sauce, red cabbage and lots of red wine.

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Where to buy?
You can buy your duck from any grocery store like Netto, Rema, Føtex, Meny, Irma, Brugsen etc.

Since it is Mortensaften, all grocery stores have deals in place for all kinds of poultry as competition is tough.

Finding fresh goose can be difficult in the smaller supermarkets, whereas big ones like Bilka and Kvickly usually do have both fresh duck and goose. Meny is also advertising both.

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Which duck to choose?

In Denmark, you will mostly find duck of the race called Peking And (a more traditional duck used for roast duck) or Berberi And.

The Peking And is a descendent of the common duck found in lakes and ponds, in Danish Gråand. As this is a born swimmer, it has quite a nice layer of fat, and the roast duck made from a Peking And is often very tender and juicy.

Contrary to the Peking And race, the Berberi And is a descendent of a duck variety, which lives in South America, it is not so attached to water, preferring staying ashore raking up lush green grass.

The Berberi duck thus has less fat than the Peking variety, and it is important to roast it for less time as it otherwise becomes to dry.

You will find that most sold whole ducks in Denmark tend to be of the Peking And race, whereas breast pieces often are of the Berberi And.

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If you buy a frozen duck, the best defrosting result comes from a slow defrosting in the fridge. Leave it there for two to three days and place it in a dish big enough to contain all liquids to avoid any spill over on other food in your fridge.

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Are you up for trying out a roast goose?  Find the recipe below – courtesy of

Roast Goose With Fried Potatoes, Kale Salad & Grandmother’s Dressing