St Martins Festival in Prague
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Remember, Remember 11th November
St Martins Festival is technically a one-day event on November 11th but it does extend to the following weekend. Some festivals in wine-country i.e. Mikulov and major towns in Moravia, will be going for a week. It’s especially popular to visit the Moravian capital city, Brno, on this day as there’ll be dozens of wine options for both red and white.
This can be considered as the European Thanksgiving. We know that from the 14th Century the celebration at the end of the harvest followed by the eating of a goose had spread east from France into what is now Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic. St Martins Day i.e. November 11th also coincides with what is called the “Natural” start of winter. In Czech we say that St Martin can arrive on a white horse (brings snow) so on the 11th its not unusual to see real live “white horses” in the city.
Previously known as St Martins feast as in Medieval times this would begin a process of animal slaughtering, including geese, to store food for the coming winter and briefly improve the diet of the workers. The last farming job of the year, the clearing and planting of wheat crops marks the time when from St Martin’s, the men would now do less arable work and more forest work.
St Martins wine (in Czech its called “svatomartinské”) is the first real wine of the season. This is not to be confused with Burčák which is the early unfermented wine. Svatomartinské has very low alcohol content, as little as 10% in some vintages but makes up for it with a clean fruity taste so consider it a refreshing aperitif which goes well with goose. In Prague there’ll be the opportunity to try the wine from 11am on the 11th. There are both red and white wine options although by far the most popular is the red using the “Modry Portugal” grape.
Stories abound about St Martins connection with the goose. There are two popular stories about “Martin hiding in a goose shed” and “Martin disturbed by a goose while praying”. Personally I think it goes back to the French when November was the time when Geese were at the perfect time for slaughter. Although originally this would only have been for landowners and nobility (the peasants would have had chicken or at a stretch, duck). Later on goose becomes less expensive as a seasonal item and hence becomes more widespread. It’s a very rich meat so in Czech it’s served with dumplings and zeli (sweet cabbage both white and red) or in the Moravian style with potato cakes. On menus look out for the term “Pečená Husa” (roast goose) or “Svatomartinské Pečená Husa” (St Martins roast goose).
You will undoubtedly find pubs and restaurants offering “St Martin’s Beer”. I think this is just cashing in on the festival and prices will be higher than usual therefore I don’t recommend people pay extra for these beers which as a one-off can be found in any micro-brewery.
Where to try it?
On the 11th most restaurants will have the St Martins Goose/wine combination on both regular and daily menus. Many bars will offer only the svatomartinské wine from CZK60 for a 0.2L. The following Saturday, markets at Jiřiho z Poděbrad and Naplavka will also have stalls selling the wine and cooked goose. Make sure you get there before 11am so see the “official” opening of the first wine.
Photo Credit: www.uzlatehvezdy.cz