The Slowcook at Spydog Farm The Slowcook at Spydog Farm

Our First Mutton Stew

February 20th, 2015 by Ed Bruske

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After nearly two years of grazing our sheep we were in a state of high excitement to finally taste the result of our efforts, namely one of the three-year-0ld ewes we recently culled from the flock. After bringing the meat home from the butcher, we decided to start with some of the stew meat. And after some two and a half hours cooking slowly on the stove top, I can now saw our mutton is truly delicious.

I don’t know where mutton got such a bad rap. As I’ve said repeatedly, the best “lamb” I ever had came from a 14-year-old ewe I helped slaughter on a farm in Southern Maryland. Yet people invariably back away from mutton because of all the bad things they’ve heard about it: it’s too gamy, too tough, too smelly. Maybe it just depends on where your mutton comes from and how it’s prepared, because I’ve never found any of that to be true.

I would simply describe good mutton as a bit richer than lamb, more complex, beefier.

What is mutton, anyway? I’ve been taught that “lamb” refers to a young animal whose bones are still pliable and somewhat pinkish. Around a year of age, the bone completely ossifies–a bit like losing baby teeth and growing adult teeth. This is probably why in common parlance mutton is classified as any sheep more than a year old. But now that I’m raising sheep myself, I find it hard to believe that those big legs of “lamb” sold in the grocery store actually come from lambs. From what I’ve seen, sheep don’t get that big until well past a year of age. Or maybe I’m wrong about that.

Anyway, we were a bit concerned that somehow our older ewes would be inedible, but that’s hardly the case. In fact, the woman who sold us our sheep routinely sells mutton at a farmer’s market in New York and she says her customers love it. Yet try finding mutton in any store.

If the only mutton you can find is stew meat, do try this simple recipe, although it would work with lamb as well. Brown the meat in bacon grease at the bottom of a heavy pot, seasoning with salt and pepper. Remove the meat and brown a medium yellow onion, cut into large dice. Add the meat back to the pot along with a large fistful of baby carrots and 1/4 cup pearled barley. Mix in 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme and 1 bay leaf and add enough chicken stock to almost cover the meat and vegetables. (We used homemade turkey stock.)

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to the lowest possible setting, cover the pot and simmer for two hours, adding more stock should the stew become too dry.  At this point, add 2 medium boiling potatoes, peeled and cut into pieces, to the pot, cover and continue cooking for about 1/2 hour, or until the potatoes are cooked through. Season as needed with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Serve in heated bistro bowls garnished with chopped parsley.

Bon appetit! And don’t let anyone tell you mutton isn’t the best thing ever.

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Free at Last!

February 19th, 2015 by Ed Bruske

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It was bound to happen sooner or later. With all the snow piling up this winter, it finally over-topped the temporary fencing around the goat enclosure. I probably placed the fence too close to the driveway, because the snow plowed to the side bent the fence over and buried it. Finally, the goats figured out that very little effort separated them from a life inside the goat pen and freedom to roam the farm.

Oddly enough, it was our new Nubian milk goat, Sal, who instigated the breakout. She’s still a bit of a third wheel–or fourth wheel–where our small goat herd is concerned, always a bit on the outs. The two female Kiko goats have Sal totally intimidated. And of course Tigger, the boy Kiko, is full of piss and vinegar most of the time. So I guess Sal finally said, to heck with this and one afternoon struck out for greener–or whiter–pastures.

She found the edge of the pen where the fence is supposed to be and simply climbed over the snow bank into the driveway. I hadn’t noticed until I saw the Jersey heifer–Emily–standing in a rarely used corner of the main paddock, gazing intensely at the driveway with ears at full attention. Tigger, whose been feeling rather amorous toward Sal lately, followed her out. I caught up with the two of them sauntering down the driveway at an easy pace, investigating their new surroundings.

There was a brief moment of panic on the human end. At one point, my daughter rushed out of the house, coaxed Sal and Tigger back over the snow bank and locked all four goats in the tool shed. She tossed hay into the shed for them to eat and was about to relocate the water bucket (leaving the electric heater lying on the ground) when I stopped her. Maybe, I thought, we should just let the goats have their way for a while. Maybe they’ll figure out that there’s really not much for them on the outside. Sacrificing food, water and shelter for a bit of walking around time may not be all it’s cracked up to be.

Sure enough, after daughter opened the door to the tool shed, Sal made a bee-line for the path back to the driveway with Tigger close behind. They walked all the way to the far end of the main paddock, where the two goats spent quite a long time on their side of the paddock fence getting acquainted with the sheep and Jersey cow on the other side of the fence. It was a regular convention, the various species standing nose-to-nose.

As I surmised, the goats eventually got tired of that, turned and walked back to the goat enclosure where the other females were contentedly chewing on their hay in the usual spot. It was shortly before sunset when Sal and Tigger climbed back over the buried fence and resumed the usual routine.

We thought we could deter the goats by digging out the path on their side of the fence. Surely they would turn back when confronted by a wall of snow where the plow had piled it up. But Sal was determined. The following day, she broke free again, falling backward on her first attempt to scale the wall of snow, but eventually choosing her steps correctly. This time, however, Tigger demurred, preferring to sun himself and chew his cud in the pile of hay in front of the tool shed.

We watched Sal walk tentatively up the driveway toward the sheep, then reconsider and turn back.

Since then, there have been no further break-outs. Maybe there’s something to be said for staying home after all.

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