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Watertown Stuffed Geese

 

Men and geese from collection of Oscar Wertheimer.  Artist unknown.

 

1895

11 27       REPUTATION FOR STUFFED GEESE

With the advent of wintery weather and the Thanksgiving season the poultry business has become quite brisk and the dealers are shipping in considerable quantities.  Watertown has an established reputation as a mart for stuffed geese.   WR

 

12 25       H. DAUB BOUGHT 64 STUFFED GEESE

Last Wednesday Fred Albrecht, of Navan, sold to Henry Daub sixty-four stuffed geese, the consideration being $240.82.  This is reported to be the largest sum ever paid here for one lot of geese.  Mr. Daub ships extensively to the Eastern markets.  H. Werthweimer, H. C. Meyer and A. Buchheit are also large suppliers.   WR

 

1900

12 18       HENRY MAYER PURCHASE

Henry C. Mayer this afternoon purchased a consignment of stuffed geese of William Bergthal of Milford.  The consignment consisted of fifty-seven choice stuffed geese, weighingl214 pounds, over twenty-one pounds a piece.  The price paid for the consignment was $218.52.   WDT

 

12 19       WATERTOWN GRAIN CO. PURCHASE

The stuffed geese market set in heavily this week and for the next few days will be at its maximum.  The Watertown Grain company purchased a lot today from Fred Albrecht of Milford, weighing tol888 pounds. The price paid was$339.84.   WDT

 

1901

01 25          Article about the pigeon (quail) business in Watertown.  Also some about the stuffed goose business.  Watertown Republican, page 5.

 

04 19       The domestic goose holds about the same honored place in the nutritive economy of Germany that the more delicately flavored and patrician turkey does in that of the United States.  It is the standard grocery of the German people, and during nine months of the year forms the principal feature of the table at festive as well as every-day when in season.

 

Although every German village has its flock of geese, and notwithstanding the great numbers that are fattened on farms along the banks of rivers, ponds, and small lakes, the home-gown supplies fall short of the constant demand, leaving a large annual deficit to be filled by importation, which comes mainly from Russia.

 

The season for this traffic is now at the highest and the receipts of Russian geese at the Rummelsburg station in the southeastern quarter of Berlin, average about 15,000 daily.  A special goose train of from fifteen cars on ordinary days to thirty-five or forty on Mondays brings the birds from Russian frontier tier. The cars are specially built and rigged for this service and carry each about 1,300 geese.  WG

 

12 13       THE SEASON FOR STUFFED GEESE IS AT HAND

. . . . and this article of diet is being marketed here every day.  The fowl vary in weight from 20 to 25 pounds and the price paid varies with the weight.  For instance a fowl weighing 20 pounds would bring 17 cents per pound and fowl over that weight would bring a higher proportionate price.  The geese are shipped to New York, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Saint Louis, Chicago and San Francisco, beside many other smaller places where they are prized for their fat and enlarged livers.   WDT

 

12 17       ENORMOUS AMOUNT OF STUFFED GEESE HAS BEEN MARKETED

An enormous amount of stuffed geese has been marketed here the past two days.  The Watertown Grain Company of which Mr. H. Wertheimer is president, has contracted for 1200 stuffed geese and in the company’s warerooms today 800 geese were packed in rows ready for shipment. The quality of the geese this year is excellent but they are a trifle light compared with other years, accounted for by the w arm weather which prevailed until a few days ago.  The average weight is a trifle less than twenty pounds. Most of the geese will be marketed by tomorrow but a few orders will be filled for the New Year trade.   WDT

 

1904

12 20       A large quantity of stuffed geese has been purchased here during the week.  H. Wertheimer paid over $2600 last Saturday for stuffed geese.  Fred Albrecht, a resident of the town of Milford sold 80 to him, for which he received a check for $386, and Mr. Albrecht says this is only about half of his product this year.  This firm also buys other lines of poultry, and on Tuesday had on sale a 23 pound turkey, which was raised by Charles Gillis of the town of Watertown.  Landlord Brandenburg of the New Commercial purchased it and will serve it on Christmas day to his guests.

 

Henry C. Mayer has also purchased a large number of stuffed geese during the week, paying out $351 for 73 geese to one farmer alone.  Over 38 tons of stuffed geese were shipped from here during the week.

 

1906

   Watertown Leader, 12 13 1906

 

Talk about stuffed geese - well, the Leader never saw stuffed geese until yesterday. Happening to go into the office of Ex-Mayor Wertheimer, the head quarters of the stuffed geese trade, he was shown the largest goose he ever saw. It weighed 34 pounds and netted the farmer who brought it to market just $11.56. He also saw 60 geese which averaged 25 1/2 pounds which gives some idea of the value of the business. Mr. Wertheimer has purchased thousands upon thousands of pounds of geese the past few days and the end is not yet.

 

He ships geese to about every city in the United States and is rushed to fill the orders that pile in upon him. As has already been said in the Leader, few realize the extent of the business and the large amount of money which it brings to the farmers in the vicinity of Watertown. It is simply immense and growing larger each year as the demand becomes greater.

 

1906

   Watertown Leader, 12 30 1906

 

Wednesday and yesterday, W. A. Beurhaus bought over 6,000 pounds of stuffed geese, one farmer delivering a load yesterday that weighed 2,684 pounds for which he received a fat check, which convinced him that fat geese — especially when the geese averaged over 22 pounds each — are a good thing about Christmas time.  Several of the geese received yesterday by Mr. Beurhaus weighed 30 pounds, and one turned the scales at 32 pounds.  Mr. Beurhaus is packing the geese purchased for consignment to parties in New York, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, New Orleans and San Francisco.  Watertown, as has already been noted in the Leader, is the headquarters for stuffed geese which are regarded as a delicacy by many people who, being possessed of wealth, can afford the luxury — for a thirty pound goose costs a sum of money, more than a poor man can afford to pay.

 


The art of noodling geese, which many years ago put Watertown on the map, has completely faded out of the picture within the past several years. The last family in Watertown to carry on this practice was Mr. and Mrs. Fred Rumler of 727 North Church Street.


I remember the Rumler family on North Church. I knew them causally as they were members of my church. Their home went all the way down to the river and they had their geese there.  My grandmother made Grieben Schmaltz (lard) from geese. (Contributed memory)


Watertown Daily Times, 12 22 1953

 

One hundred and sixty genuine Watertown stuffed geese will find their way to market this Christmas. The entire supply of 160 birds is being provided by Fred Rumler of 727 North Church Street, the lone practitioner of what was once a flourishing "art" here. Most of the birds will go to Luchow’s famous New York Restaurant. The supply of the much sought after geese is slightly higher than last year when it had dwindled to a mere 100 or less. Years ago, when the stuffed goose reigned supreme locally, thousands of them were raised and prepared for market by German farm families in this area.


Watertown Daily Times, 12 10 1954

 

The famous Watertown stuffed goose - the genuine article, but less in number than in any year since the art of stuffing geese - was carrying the name of Watertown to New York again this Christmas season.

 

What was once a flourishing business in Watertown and farms surrounding Watertown has dwindled to one lone practitioner.

 

The only supply of the famous stuffed geese will come from the Fred Rumler flock at 727 North Church Street. The Rumler family is the last source of supply of the much sought after and highly prized fowl.

 

J. O. Brunelle of Kerr's Poultry and Egg House at 510 West Main Street has taken over the entire supply of stuffed geese from Mr. Rumler and the first shipment - between 70 and 80 birds - will be shipped to New York next Tuesday, with a few more going a few days later.

 

Practically all of the geese have been purchased by Luchow's famous German restaurant in New York which has expressed a desire to take all it can get. But the available supply is far below what the restaurant would take if it could get them.


Mrs. Rumler was among the last practitioners of the art of stuffing geese, having been taught by her parents, the late Mr. and Mrs. Charles Scheel, who prepared stuffed geese for market for 25 years.  The Rumlers had been stuffing geese for 30 years, retiring from this trade just a short time ago.

 

Years ago when people visited large cities south or east of Chicago during the poultry season, the eye would catch the sign, 'Watertown Stuffed Geese."  When traveling by train, on the menu card of the diner would be found, "Watertown Goose.”

 

The most prized part of stuffed geese has been the liver which becomes greatly enlarged because of the “forced feeding."  It is used in pate defoie gras.  The neck, feet and wings were used for making dishes known as "Ganse Klein" and the skin, which was toasted, was known as "Ganse Grieben.”  This was a favorite dish at Christmas time in wealthy Jewish households.

 

For many years the late Fred Albrecht was the "Goose King" of this area, being among the most successful and largest of raisers dealing in stuffed geese.

 

The geese that were raised and prepared for market in this area found their way to tables of wealthy people in the east, New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and other eastern points which usually purchased the bulk of them. Commission men had a difficult time supplying all the requirements. Orders were placed weeks and even months in advance and some wealthy families had standing orders from year to year to be certain of getting them.

 

After 1930, when the stuffing practice began to wane, some of the limited number of stuffed geese were sent to a number of customers in California, among them persons prominent in the motion picture industry.

 

The principal reason for stopping the process was that the federal government would no longer permit interstate shipment of the birds unless a government inspector was present when they are slaughtered, Since there was never a central slaughtering point for stuffed geese In Watertown, and since each farm family which engaged in raising and preparing of the stuffed geese for market did its own slaughtering, it would be impossible to engage an inspector for each one of the farms.

 

However, the decline began to set in prior to that time because preparing such geese for market entails long hours and is most tedious work, and each year fewer and fewer farmers engaged in raising them. Two and three generations ago families were still willing to put in the time and effort but as their children grew up and either left the farms or took over the farms, most were no longer willing to do such work.

 

The William Schmidt family, which was located on a farm southwest of Watertown, was also active in stuffing geese. One year alone 130 geese were stuffed by the Schmidts. Schmidt practiced the art of noodling geese for 30 years. The geese in later years were prepared by his three sons, Edwin, Erwin and Rudolph.

 

The art of noodling geese was brought to Johnson Creek and Watertown by a family named Stiehm. Because most of the geese so prepared were marketed through Watertown, this city acquired its name of "Goose City."

 

Back in 1921, 50,000 pounds of stuffed geese were shipped from Watertown annually. It is said that 10 years prior to that time shipments were three times as great.

 

The goose industry was highly specialized. Three breeds of geese were raised, Toulouse, Emden and African. The Toulouse and African both had slate-colored backs and white bodies. The Emden was pure white. The African differs from the Toulouse in having a black bill.

 

Early in the spring the largest eggs were selected and placed under hens for incubation. Most of the goslings were hatched in April or early May. Clean quarters and a pond in which to swim was provided.

 

Experienced farmers carefully selected their stock and fed them all the corn they wanted long before the stuffing season. They took every precaution to keep them contented and tame and to teach them to feed from the hand. A few days before starting the stuffing, the birds are handled frequently and become well acquainted with those who are to feed them. The birds must be tame and used to handling, as a vicious, timid or nervous fowl could not be fattened successfully.

 

Throughout the summer the young geese glean much of their own food from the pastures but are fed a little mash and grain. About November 1st the larger geese are selected and placed in stalls and sometimes in boxes, and the process of forcible feeding is begun.

 

Only males were used for stuffing because they are hardier than the females.

 

The making of the noodles for the fattening process is the key. Three of four grains, barley, rye and wheat are mixed into a paste that looks like "putty." By the use of an old sausage stuffer or some hand-made invention, this pastry substance is molded into strings about the size of small wienerwursts, an inch in diameter and four inches in length.  The noodle are cooked in a wash boiler, drained by a boiler sieve, cooled by immersion in cold water to prevent crumbling and then put into a cold place until ready for use.

 

All is now ready for the feeding. With a bucket of noodles and a pail of hot water, the farmer goes to the stalls. Sitting on a box, he takes a goose between his legs and after dipping the noodles into the hot water holds the goose’s head in one hand and with the other introduces the noodle into the fowl's mouth and gently pushes it down. During the first few days three noodles are fed every four hours. Some member of the family had to be awakened at night to attend to the feeding. Two or three weeks later a goose would be able to eat from 30 to 36 noodles.

 

The feeder wears heavy gloves to protect his hand from the razor sharp teeth which line the goose's mouth.

 

The goose helps by gulping, and then there is another, and so on until the goose is full. The feeder knew when the goose was full because his neck was completely filled with noodles, literally to the top of his throat. Occasionally a goose, shaking his head violently, will toss out a noodle. A good long goose neck will hold some seven or eight noodles weighing about a pound.

 

Feeding the noodles to the geese makes them thirsty and gallons of water were drunk by them. A 25 pound goose would drink two gallons daily. It requires from three weeks to 25 days before the "stuffed" bird is “ripe” for killing. After the second week the geese are too heavy to walk and sit near the drinking trough until the next feeding.

 

Most of these stuffed birds weigh from 25 to 35 pounds each when prepared for market. Within a period of from three to 25 days they will have gained from 10 to 12 pounds in weight.

 

Preparing the bird for market, also took a great deal of care.

 

A sharp knife was inserted at the base of the bird's skull for the purpose of execution. The feathers could not be removed from the tender skin by either picking the feathers dry or removing them by scalding. The birds were placed in cloths above a steaming boiler and kept there until the feathers would come off without abrading the skin.

 

The bodies are singed over by an alcohol flame and then hung up in a cool place until the following morning, when they are ready to be packed in barrels or boxes for shipment.

 

Because of the value of the liver, these were often removed and placed in sealed glass jars for shipment.

 

Over the years, especially in the 1930s, various humane organizations condemned the practice of “forced feeding" of such geese to produce the extra large livers. For several years a California woman, having read about the stuffing of geese here, wrote a letter to the Daily Times each December condemning the practice and called for abolishing what she called "the most inhuman thing.”

 

1907

12 17       But few realize that the livers of stuffed geese is a great delicacy and eagerly sought for by epicures, and many will be surprised to learn that livers weigh as much as 10 pounds each.  Yesterday Jacob Breunig, 210 North Sixth Street, removed a liver from the carcass of a goose that was of the weight above stated.  Mr. Breunig is engaged in smoking the breasts and hips of the geese, which find a ready sale at home and abroad at a good price.  The stuffed geese industry has made Watertown famous from one end of the country to the other and the demand continues to increase.   WD   [Breunig, Jacob & Co, 1913, 314 E Main, delicatessen]

 

1910

-- --              F. C. HARTWIG, 1027 N. Fourth Street

  

 

1912

12 19       This has been a great week for selling stuffed geese in Watertown.  On Tuesday 900 were sold at Melzer’s seed store, one of which weighed 37 pounds.  The Watertown Grain Co. bought 615, one of which weighed 36 pounds.   WG

 

1916

11 24       Chas. Kerr of Watertown is paying 17 cents a pound for geese, 18 cents for ducks and 27 cents for turkeys.  Rush them along.   WDT

 

12 08       The stuffed goose season is on, and near Watertown and the big, fat birds will soon be placed on the market.  The price this year is 4 cents above the schedule; that is 4 cents per pound above the weight of the goose.  If, for instance, a goose weighs 27 pounds the price is 31 cents per pound.  In years past some farmers living in the vicinity of Watertown have received as high as $1,000 for a flock of about 120 geese.  The geese are fed on corn for a month or so and then for three weeks before marketing are put in small pens and are “stuffed” with boiled noodles several times each day.  During the last week the goose is fed every three hours day and night.   WDT

 

12 30-      OTHER STATES PRODUCE WATERTOWN GEESE

From Los Angeles, California, Mrs. Herman Brandt sent us the advertisement which appeared in the Los Angeles Evening Express in which it says:

 

“Tom Murray serves Watertown Goose for Christmas Dinner.  These big fat prize geese are way from Watertown, Wisconsin.  There will be a crowd, of course, so you better phone to have a table reserved.  Do it now if you want a taste of these 40 pound geese.  Livers and goose grease from these famous Watertown geese sold separately.”

 

These 40 pound geese in Los Angeles gave us cause to ask our handlers Wertheimer & Co., Wm. A. Beurhaus and Chas. Kehr and they tell us they had no 40 pound or other geese sent to Los Angeles.  Therefore there are other states who produce Watertown Geese.  Mrs. Brandt was amused about this in that she read about this and Watertown, where she had lived for some time and is acquainted with the raising and production of geese.   Watertown Weltburger

 

1936

July          CENTENNIAL COMMEMORATIVE POSTCARD

  

 

1958

12 05       Some 200 genuine Watertown stuffed geese readied by M/M Fred Rumler   WDT

 

1959

11 05       Uncle Sam has given the expected "Dodo" bird treatment to Watertown's famed stuffed goose and as a result the happiest woman in the United States today is probably the one in California who year after year, about this time, has written a letter to the editor of the Daily Times inquiring when Watertown was going to give up "the barbaric and inhuman practice of stuffing geese by forced feeding?"  She abhorred goose stuffing and said so time and time again.  She opposed it because she said it violated humane laws and she often expressed distress over the fact that no humane society hereabouts had ever entered or expressed an objection or called upon the law to step in.  WDT

 

1960

01 21       Watertown's goose noodling industry, already hard hit by recent rulings involving federal inspections at the points of slaughter, today faced dire restrictions for the 1960 crop of Watertown geese, for 100 years or more a leading Christmas delicacy in famous eating places and on private tables of wealthy individuals.  Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson has ruled that Watertown's famous geese cannot be exempt from federal inspection.  The issue had been put to him by Congressman Robert W. Kastenmeier of Watertown.  Kastenmeier had asked Benson to exempt Watertown noodled or stuffed geese from the provisions of the 1957 poultry products inspection act because farmers engaged in noodling geese and processing them are not engaged in a regular commercial venture.   WDT

 

1963

12 18       The famed Watertown Stuffed Goose which for so many years carried the name of Watertown throughout the land and in foreign countries at this holiday season of the year has now declined to a point where only a few such geese find their way to the tables of the wealthy. No longer is “Watertown Stuffed Goose” entered on dinner menus at fashionable hotels in this country and in London. The number of stuffed geese now produced here is down to a mere trickle compared to the thousands that once were prepared on Watertown area farms and shipped form here each December. According to Jerome O. Brunelle of Kerr’s Poultry and Egg House only a few such geese went to private individuals who placed orders for them this season. The last such shipment was prepared yesterday afternoon, Mr. Brunelle said. At one time many shipped from here through Kerr’s went to famed Luchow’s Restaurant at 110-112 East 14th Street in New York City.   WDT

 

1964

12 18       Watertown’s once famous stuffed goose has become so scarce in recent years that this Christmas it will be a collector’s item.  The geese, specially fed during the last six weeks before being butchered and marketed at Christmas time often attained a weight of as much as 38 pounds and when dressed resembled a large blob of butter.  The meat never was prized too highly, because the stuffed goose was mostly fat.  These geese were valued for their enlarged livers, produced by the forced feeding process at which German farmers in this area were experts.   WDT

 

1965

12 15       STUFFED GEESE A COLLECTOR’S ITEM

There will be less genuine Watertown stuffed geese on the Christmas market this year than ever before.  The type of goose for which Watertown was famous for generations is now a virtual collector’s item.  The geese, specially fed during the last six weeks before being slaughtered and marketed at Christmas time, often attained a weight of as much as 38 pounds and when dressed resembled a large blob of butter.   WDT

 

1970

Local Stuffed Goose

on Display at Bank Here

Watertown Daily Times, 04 09 1970

 

An attractive and unusual display of a genuine Watertown Stuffed Goose: has been placed in the Merchant’s National Bank.  It is a joint project of Watertown’s Arts Council and Historical Society in an effort to bring before the public a bit of this community’s early history.  On display with the immense 25 pound goose are also a cast model of its enlarged liver, four pounds, beside that of a normal goose.  Completing the display is a sample of the “noodles” used in the forced feeding process and the historical legend which reads:

 

Watertown Stuffed Goose, found on the menus of gourmet restaurants across the nation, derives its name from the highly specialized old-world vocation brought to the Watertown area by German immigrants in the 1850’s.

 

The geese, and especially their livers from which the delicacy Pate de foie gras is made, were developed to enormous size by a stuffing process of forced feeding.  A patsy mixture of barley, rye and wheat, rolled in the form of noodles, was forced down the fowl’s throat every four hours to hasten the fattening.  Often a goose so treated would attain a weight of 30 pounds with a four pound liver.

 

At the height of the industry here, about 1920, 150,000 pounds of stuffed goose were shipped from Watertown annually.  Today there remains only one grower, but the name “Watertown Stuffed Goose” endures.

 

Christmas 1968 marked the year this African-Toulouse goose was noodled especially for the Watertown Historical Society and prepared under the auspices of the donor, the Watertown Arts Council, for this exhibit of a by-gone industry which made this community famous.

 

A four-page detailed story is available at the Octagon House souvenir center.

 

The display will be on view in the Merchant’s Bank until May 1 when it will be returned to the Octagon House museum for the opening of the tour season there from May 1 to Nov. 1.

 

Credit for the project goes to Joseph Darcey, Arts Council board member who arranged the display in the bank, and to Mrs. Ralph Ebert, arts council board member and Historical Society lifetime member, who first saw the desirability of the city’s acquiring such a unique and artistic testament of its heritage.

 

Mrs, Ebert also made the arrangements in 1968 with Fred Rummler, Watertown, to noodle the goose, Walter Pelzer, Milwaukee Museum taxidermist to mount it, and the Watertown Arts Council to finance and donate it to the Historical Society.  The Merchant’s National Bank is proud to have this display and invites the public to come view it.

 


 

The earliest use of the word “gosling” when referring to Watertown High School students is believed to be in the August 7, 1885 issue of the Watertown Gazette.  “A raid by the Marshal on the steps of Union School house No. 2 some evening about 9 o’clock would create a panic among the young “goslings” which congregate there.  It has become quite a resort for young ladies and gentlemen of late after dark.”

 

Among the last evidence of Watertown's reign as America's goose capital comes from its high school sports teams - the Watertown Goslings.   The local radio station is “1580, The Goose” and a popular polka band was known as “The Goosetown Dutchmen.”


 

Cross-References:

No. 1:  Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story (11 26 1998) on topic

No. 2:  Watertown Daily Times column on topic

No. 3:  Watertown Daily Times column on topic [WHS_005_235].  Many of the orders were sent to William Beurhaus, 200 Main St., who apparently handled the shipping and marketing for farmers.

No. 4:  San Francisco Chronicle article, “Plagued by activists, foie gras chef changes tune”

No. 5:  In addition to its reputation for stuffed geese, Watertown was famous as a national market for squab

No. 6:  Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story (08 21 2006) on foie gras

No. 7:  Hartig Goose Brand Beer.  Cross reference to Hartig Brewery

No. 8:  Rumler designed rope-making machine   WDT  07 14 2008

Roasted Watertown Goose recipe

No. 9:  Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story (11 06 13)

 

 

Foie gras removed from Puck restaurants, AP, 03 23 2007

LOS ANGELES - As part of a new initiative to fight animal cruelty, celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck said he will no longer serve foie gras, the fatty liver produced by overfeeding ducks and geese.  Puck [14 fine-dining restaurants, more than 80 fast-casual eateries and 43 catering venues] worked with the Humane Society on the new initiative. He said he wasn't responding to pressure from animal welfare advocates, but instead believes the best-tasting food comes from animals that have been treated humanely.  California has decided to ban the production and sale of foie gras starting in 2012. Chicago imposed a ban last year, and bans are being promoted in Illinois, New Jersey and New York.

 

 

 

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