great grass = great lamb

News and notes from John and Sukey Jamison of Jamison Farm, Latrobe PA

Monday, December 18, 2017

Irrelevant or Ahead of Our Time?

One of us is seventy years old. The other is fast approaching that age. As many people in this age bracket, both of us sometimes question our relevance. Indeed, just two days ago I was asked a question by a millennial regarding the sustainability of livestock agriculture because of our dwindling supply of water. It was more of a challenge than a question.

Translated, he was saying, not asking, “How could you be so selfish as to raise animals on grass, allowing them to drink from or totally contaminate the aquifer, thus depleting the Earth of its water resource”???!!!

Thoughts flashed through my head. He went to college for a year, can he be that stupid? Is he just an over educated jagoff who has to wear slip-ons because he doesn’t have the common sense to tie his own shoes. Does he think it’s more sustainable to feed animals in feedlots, knowing that the feed grains, GMO or not, have been raised at the peril of millions of tons of lost topsoil and possibly millions of gallons of diverted irrigation water? Or…. that the animals in the feedlots have to be fed low level anti-biotics to just live through the stress of confinement. He’s either clueless or both clueless and dangerous or Sukey and I are irrelevant and wrong.

We utilize Intensive Rotational Grazing. Reducing a system that had been used for hundreds of years to a workable art and science, Andre Voisin’s 1957 book, Productivite’ de l’herbe or Grass Productivity, released a generation of livestock producers to improve the sustainability of Livestock Production while securing the ecological permanence of the topsoil. Though not describing a specific grazing schedule as did Voisin, Louis Bromfield’s  Malabar Farm  contains the chapter, “Grass, The Great Healer” which describes the ability of grass production to heal the scars of over - plowed soils.

This fall, it seems like we finally got it right as we were named the 2017 Conservation Farmers of the Year. In this Tribune article, Greg Phillips, conservation district manager, stresses the importance of these  practices: “It is the grass and climate here, plus their best practices, that allows them to raise these fantastic animals,” said Greg Phillips, conservation district manager and CEO. “The Jamison Farm may produce the least sedimentation of any working farm of its size in the county.”

Recently we read in the November 23, 2017 edition of The Washington Post an article entitled “A growing number of young Americans are leaving desk jobs to farm.”

When we were in our thirties, we started farming part time. In our early forties, we began farming full time. We were both English Majors; I was a corporate wonk. According to The Washington Post, I guess we were ahead of our time.

Here’s how it went…..

“This is really stupid!” she said. Sukey was laying supine on the floor of the hay wagon, holding on for dear life to our five year old daughter who had just landed in her arms after having been catapulted off a hay bale. I was driving our 1940’s Case WD tractor trailing an old International Harvester Square Baler which worked about 50% of the time. The hay wagon was hitched behind the baler so the crew could stack the bales as they came out of the machine. As we creeped down the hill, a train of tractor, baler, wagon, with wife and daughter on board as baling crew, we were moving ok without any of the usual interruption from the baler until the left front wheel of the tractor was swallowed by a two foot deep groundhog hole. My daughter, sitting happily on a hay bale, was suddenly launched like a “Hail Mary” pass. Sukey, playing Lynn Swann, did an over the shoulder catch with both receiver and received ending up safely on the floor.

This event started a serious discussion about the advantages of fence. Sukey graduated Magna Cum Laude as an English Major from Washington and Jefferson College. While she became famous as the first female graduate, as honor students received diplomas before the rest of the class, it didn’t mean much in the world of agronomy. The logic incorporated in a Liberal Arts’ College English graduate is often questionable, if not nonexistent. She must have, however, retained some farmer logic from her Pa. German ancestors.

If I remember, her conversation after she and Eliza got on terra firma, began like this, “That was the third trip you made over this field. You mowed, then you raked, and now you baled. If you were like these other idiots, you would have sprayed or even plowed, that’s five trips. No wonder they can’t make any money. Look at the price of gas. Are they crazy? And then you haven’t even put those stupid square bails in the barn. If you hire some high school kid, who won’t work anyway, he’ll probably load wet bales that’ll heat up and then the barn will burn down.”

She continued, no breath yet, “Then, if the barn is still standing, you have to unload the bales by hand. Who’s going to do that?” Before I can answer,,, “You and I, that’s who. And then, we have to load them up in the tractor or the truck, take them out to the sheep where we tear up the field with the machinery.”

Not finished yet. “Hay is grass, and grass is hay. Why not put up fence and let the sheep eat it themselves. Why should we harvest it for them when they can harvest it themselves? Put up the fence, depreciate it and don’t use fuel going over the same field five times a year. What a concept!”

And to this honor, Sukey says,

"What a surprise and great honor to be named Conservation Farmers of the year 2017! Our many years of learning about farming and nature has become our way of life and conservation has always been a part of our routine without our even thinking about it. A famous food writer once mentioned to us that we were prescient to have followed grass farming (raising  lambs on grass) In reality, it was our inexperience in farming, our English degrees in college and  our under funding in business that led us to building our own fencing and rotating our animals on smaller pastures instead farming in the traditional way of feeding animals in the barn and making hay on all of our pastures with big noisy equipment that we couldn't afford. Today "grass farming" is all the rage, healthier for animal and for the consumer and at the top of the conservationists' list. We are honored to be recognized! This award is very meaningful to us and we really appreciate the recognition. We wanted to share our news and thank all of you, our longtime friends and customers for being so loyal over the years. Without you, we would not have gotten to where we are today!"

Monday, September 11, 2017

9/11 remembering


                                        ( Daniel Boulud Good Guy)

Eliza and I were told to come into the city via the GW Bridge. Daniel Boulud wanted racks for a lunch he was doing for Rudy Giuliani and Kofi Anan after they flew over Ground Zero in a helicopter. Eliza was scheduled to “trail” in Daniel’s kitchen.  It was September 18, 2001, both tunnels into the city were still at least partially shut down from the 9/11 disaster.

By the Fall of 2001, Eliza had finally decided that she wanted to cook for a living. She had spent a semester in College which did not work for her. After that, she came back to the farm, worked at our plant cutting Lamb. She was and still is a good butcher, but she wanted to go further. Because she had delivered lamb with me to restaurants since she was very young, she met many of the big names by the time she went to High School. Indeed when Francois Payard was Daniel’s Pastry Chef, he fed her his famous Chocolate Souffle with house made Pistachio Ice Cream. She loved it; her reaction made his day.

A month later, she made the same dessert for Sukey, me, her Grandparents and other guests and family. It was incredible, but only Sukey, Eliza and I ate it. The rest said they were “too full,” “didn’t eat dessert” or had some other lame excuse. Eliza was devastated. She had spent two days successfully replicating a dish created by the Chef who had just won “Best Pastry Chef” by The James Beard Foundation and no one would even try it. I think that’s what changed her. She finally knew how good she was. She learned three things that day. One, she had to follow her instincts that if she thought it was good, it was good. Two, if some culinary Philistines pass on something that’s excellent, that’s their loss. Three, many of the French, and all great Chefs even boil water with passion.

I don’t think she ever forgot that episode. Now that she decided this was to be her career, Sukey and I sat back, letting her feel her way along, only jumping in with suggestions when we were sure we wouldn’t rock her boat. When she wanted to spend some time in NYC in Daniel’s kitchen, we were ecstatic. She had scheduled September 11, 2001 with Chef Yeo, one of Daniel’s assistants. Sukey called a few days earlier and rescheduled to September 18, because of a conflict at the farm.

Of course, on September 11, all Hell broke loose. We were slaughtering lambs at the Plant when we first heard about the New York attacks. My guys and I kept on working until we heard that a plane went down about fifteen miles as the crow flies from where we were working. I sent them all home, while sirens were screaming at the airport in Latrobe. Because of the crash of Flight 93 that occurred in Shanksville, PA, we thought this was a national invasion. They all wanted to be home with Family.
After a few days of assessing the situation, most people decided we had to keep on living, keep on working, so we did. We kept on doing what we did. We knew business, especially in New York, would be bad. We just had no idea how bad. Eliza and I made the trip to the City, anyway. As we drove down the FDR Drive, we were taken by the lack of traffic. It truly looked like a ghost town.

People seemed to be walking in a trance. We delivered the lamb to Restaurant Daniel on 65th Street, and then drove down to a trendy hotel in the mid Thirties. As we checked in, we realized we were the only ones in the lobby. The clerk fell over himself as we were two of probably twelve guests in the hotel. That night, we quickly got a cab and went to Judson Grill on 52nd St. for dinner.

I think there were six other people in the restaurant. The waitress we had was attentive but then also aloof. She had to come back to the table a few times to repeat whatever specials were available that night. Finally I realized that she had been crying, so Eliza and I just waited until she was ready, and then placed our orders. After the first or second course, our waitress became more at ease, perhaps because one of the cooks told her we were vendors and friends of the chef, Bill Telepan. She began talking with us, at first guardedly, and then more easily about what the problem was.

Gallantly holding back tears, she told us three of her friends who worked at “Windows on the World” in the North Tower were still missing. The restaurant workers in New York are very nomadic, with some working for several restaurants at once, or at least working for one and then another. They are also tribal. They all know each other and know that sooner or later they may be working together. After the smoke cleared figuratively and literally, seventy three food service workers were lost. That loss affected all the restaurants in the city.

The next morning, Eliza and I took a cab to Restaurant Daniel. I found Alex Lee, Daniel’s Executive Chef, who quickly sent Eliza off to change into work whites, and told me to see Daniel in his “Sky Box”, the glassed in office which overlooks the kitchen. When I walked in, Daniel was on the phone, Georgette Farkas, his PR person, was there along with another assistant. Something important was going on but I didn’t know what it was, all I could see and hear was a lot of emotion going on in both French and English.

When things calmed down a little, Daniel realized I was there, apologized for the commotion, greeted me and then asked me how 9/11 was affecting the business. “What business?” says I. Just as I was about to expound, the phone rang again and his assistant asked him to take the call. By this time, Alex Lee came into the room. He and I started talking about the disaster. I told him Flight 93 went over the farm and that we in Western Pennsylvania felt the same anxiety the people of New York were feeling. Alex seemed in a turmoil. On this day, people were going to have to be laid off as there were more people in the kitchen than in the dining room. I asked what was going to happen to the workers.

He said Daniel had a plan. I assumed that had something to do with the continual phone calls being made and taken by Daniel and the office staff. It turned out that all the fuss was about a project launched by Daniel, Chef Grey Kunz, Chef Don Pintabona, Drew Nieporent and others. It seemed that there was a problem getting food to the firemen and volunteers at Ground Zero. The group of chefs and restaurateurs had decided to prepare food in restaurant kitchens in midtown and other parts of the city, send it to a staging area in Hoboken, N. J. where it was then ferried across to Lower Manhattan.

Feeding the Firemen seemed like a great idea to me. Beside everything else it did, it certainly showed that many of the chefs and most of the cooks who had emigrated here truly loved the USA. It also kept the staff working while it gave hope to the chefs and restaurateurs that their businesses and city would come back. The concept seemed to run out of steam as other agencies became involved later, but it was a great statement of purpose and ingenuity while it lasted. Even we sent lamb shoulders to Daniel be made into a braised ragout which was served to the Firemen and rescue workers.

That morning of September 19, when all was commotion in Daniel’s office, while calls were coming in from news agencies all over the city, one of the assistants said, “Daniel, “Good Morning America” wants to know why Chef Daniel Boulud is feeding the fireman, what should we say?”

“Tell them no fireman in my town is going to eat frozen effing chicken nuggets."

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Our Hometown Latrobe' s Hero: Arnold Palmer  1929-2016

It’s a sad day in Latrobe. Arnie died on Sunday. People asked me over the years what he was like.  I always let them know that he was just like he seemed on TV. Just a great guy who hit the heck out of a golf ball, and never talked down to anyone.

Many people have said that he was raised with “good manners”. In Western Pa. we have a patois usage of the word ‘ignorant’ for bad manners. A definition of “ignorant” in informal usage is “discourteous or rude.” My cousin who now lives in the competitive, political, and possibly immoral beltway of our Nation’s Capital has been asked, “Why does Arnold Palmer seem so nice?” His short answer is, “He’s from Western Pennsylvania.” That’s not to say all of us from this area have a special Spiritual Morality, it’s just that around here the worst thing anyone could say about you is that you’re “ignorant.”

Arnold was the opposite. My father died when I was fourteen. When I was fifteen years old, I was asked by some concerned fathers to attend a Father/Son breakfast at a local school at which Arnold Palmer was speaking. It was the spring of 1963. He had won three Masters and two British Opens by this time. He was “the man.” The fathers jumped at the chance to listen to Arnie tell them how to drop their golf scores, the sons were in awe to be in the room with a hero.

As much as the fathers wanted to help, I was still getting over my own loss and was not looking forward to wasting my Saturday morning listening to anyone talk about golf when I could stay home, watch cartoons on TV and feel sorry for myself. My mother made me go as she recognized the concern and grace of my friends and their fathers.

Arnold was great. He was at the top of his game. He started talking about golf. The fathers were entranced with his stories, but were looking forward to the end when they could ask the questions which would improve their game. I was now interested and glad I came as his manner was that of someone just “talking with the guys.”

He knew he was there to talk about golf, but he just couldn’t help himself. Little more than halfway through his talk, he started talking about flying. I was somewhat interested in planes as I had just graduated from my period of making models of WW II airplanes of all types. But, also,  I was very interested in cars, so when he started talking about the Lycoming engine in his Aero Commander, I really “tuned in.”

The talk ended, the fathers walked out with their sons saying brief and courteous “Thank Yous” to Mr. Palmer, certain their golf scores would now drop. I followed the crowd, hoping the group would quickly disperse so I could ask Mr. Palmer a non-golf question.

Everyone had left except the two of us standing in an empty foyer, waiting for our rides. Only a few moments passed before I mounted the courage to ask him my question. “Mr. Palmer, could you tell me more about the Lycoming Reciprocating engine?”

With that, he beamed showing that big smile that melted his fans. Immediately the two of us started debating the pros and cons of engines. He extolled the virtues of the Lycoming Flat Six and I defended the merits of the Ferrari V 12 with single overhead camshafts. This went on for ten to fifteen minutes. He, the most famous athlete at the time, and I a fifteen year old kid became just two gearheads talking shop. Time became irrelevant.

Somewhere, in the midst of this now highly animated and serious discussion, I thought I noticed someone enter the room. Arnold turned and said something like “just wait a minute, George.” We were right in the middle of him establishing that early Lycomings were in Dusenbergs while I was talking about the Ferrari V 12 being based on the V 12 in Packards. We went on for only a few more minutes with George Love waiting impatiently. Arnold finally turned and said politely “it was great talking with you,” just as George said, "Come on Arnie, we have a tee time with Ike in twenty minutes.”

So there I was, a fifteen year old kid, talking cars and engines with this famous golfer who gave me five more minutes of time when one of the founders of Laurel Valley Golf Club wanted him to go play golf with a President. I would never forget it.

John & Sukey Jamison
Jamison Farm

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Merry Mail Order Season!

               Jamison Farm                                                                          

It was the spring of 1994. We were in San Francisco at the IACP conference(International Association of Culinary Professionals) We entered the dining room the first morning of the conference for the "networking" breakfast. The room was set up for a breakfast buffet. We went to the buffet first for coffee and toast and then looked for a place to sit. We found a table for 8 with only three seated. We properly asked if we could sit in case anyone was saving a seat for a friend. When told to "have a seat," I sat next to a man in proper business attire. The other two at the table were females in chef garb. So there we were, 2 farmers in various degrees of denim seated with 2 chefs and 1 businessman. It seemed to be a diverse table that may not have much discussion at that early hour.

I introduced myself to the businessman on my right. As it was somewhat noisy, I heard his first name was "Chuck" but didn't catch his last name. He asked me where I was from and what I did for a living. As is my normal response, especially at a "networking" breakfast, I gave him probably only a 5 minute nonstop about our farm. It could have been my usual 15 minute diatribe but I was being polite. Surprisingly, he seemed interested. He asked me how we raised the lambs. So I went on a bit longer about raising lambs on grass. He said something about "Sonoma Lamb" which was prized in that part of the country. We had flown to SF the day before and hadn't seen a blade of grass so I was lost at the big deal about Sonoma Lamb.

I then spent another non-stop five to ten minutes going on about the incredible quality of the grass in our area on the Chestnut Ridge of the Allegheny Mountains. I was so stirred up that I forgot to eat. Either trying to be polite or just to change the subject, Chuck asked me how I sold the lambs. Now I was on a roll. I started by telling him that there was no market for high quality lamb in Western PA so we started a mail order business so we could ship all over the country. I told him that we had a huge mailing list of over a thousand names.

Finally I took a breath. Just at that pause, when I was about to launch into another story of my mail order genius, Chuck said, "We have a mail order business too."

I said, "Really, do you send out a catalog?"
He answered, "Yes" just as the two chefs across the table looked over and started to snicker.
Between sips of coffee I asked, "What is the name of the catalog?"
I managed not to spit out my coffee, but I did encounter some heartburn as I nodded, "Oh, you're Chuck Williams."

So the "Chuck" I was talking to was the founder of Williams-Sonoma. Rather than being offended by my overenthusiastic and hyperbolic evaluation of our then fledgling business, Chuck asked a few more questions, told me what the circulation of their catalog was and then asked me then and there if we would be interested in selling our product in his catalog.

We started with Williams-Sonoma that holiday season, terrified that we would not be able to support the huge increase in business. Glossy photos in a big beautiful catalog gave us credibility. We learned how to efficiently ship that kind of volume. We stayed with them for three years. Even after all these years, we still have customers who started buying from us during that time. That exposure was the defining moment of our mail order business.

Chuck Williams was a great friend to the food industry and helped bring many companies like ours to a national presence during the holiday season. Thanks to him and Merry Christmas to you!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

We couldn't make this up!

We had just had one of our Lamb class dinners in which Sukey demonstrates cutting and cooking while I tell entertaining stories about chefs that we have known. We were saying “Good Night”. I was escorting my wined and dined guest to the door when he leaned over and started touching the floor. Before I could ask if he were ok, he said, “Sorry John, you’ve dropped so many names tonight, I just had to pick them up.”

I let pass that uncomfortable moment in which you decide whether to laugh or just call it a day. Being the proper Host, I laughingly agreed with my parting guest as I ushered him out the door. After the guest was safely plied into his waiting Limo, I promptly marched back to the kitchen, grabbed a glass of wine and plopped down in front of the fire for some serious rumination.

I guess he had a point. I had told stories about people we dealt with as we grew our farm business. Since the dinner guest had pronounced himself a “Foodie”, I felt permitted to refer to the stars of my stories by the familiar names I use for them. Maybe it was just the use of first names that got him, but then maybe it was the way I said it.
“Sukey and I had white wine with Julia (Child) at 10:30 in the morning.”
“Alice (Waters) used our lamb for an inauguration dinner.”
“Jean-Louis (Palladin) called at about 2:00 in the morning needing lamb for a lunch for Mrs. (George H.W.) Bush.”
“Eric (Ripert) bought our lamb as a sous chef for Jean-Louis (Palladin) and still uses it at Le Bernardin.”
“Dan (Barber) wrote about us in his book, “The Third Plate”.
“Norman (Van Aken) said we were just trying to change the world.”
“Tony (Bourdain) said we changed everything."

We were there when “it” started. What can I say? We were.

What was “it?” It is referred to now, albeit loosely, as “The Food Revolution." After Sukey and I started listening to great chefs, we tried to produce the quality and type of lamb they wanted. This thinking that producers providing exceptional products would be highly sought after by chefs was dawning in the late 1980’s.

Sukey and I were children of the sixties who “gave up the Volvo Station Wagon” for a used Dodge Pick Up. We started a mail order business in 1985 to sell our grass fed lamb to retail customers. In 1988, we were discovered by Chef Jean-Louis Palladin who told all his “French Mafia” friends about our lamb. The European Chefs and their disciples knew about local open or farm markets. Most American chefs were not there yet. Most conventional chefs bought on price from national and local distributors that sold meat and veggies out of the same truck that delivered janitorial supplies.Why and how this movement started and gained momentum is a long story. For Sukey and me, it was short and sweet. The hottest chef in the country at that time called us to deliver three young lambs to him for a dinner four days away. We delivered on time with lamb that was so beautiful he was reduced to tears.

There we were, just two English Majors going back to nature, thinking grass farming was cool, different, and better for both the animal and the soil. We did not know the lamb the grass produced was to be prized because it was younger with cleaner and better tasting meat. We always thought we would never sell  to local chefs. We had been thrown out of more than a few local restaurants mostly because I couldn’t match the price of the large commodity producers. My thought with the “chef business” had been that if our lamb was good, it was because of what the chef did. If the lamb dish was no good, it was because of what I did. Selling to restaurants was a dead end street.

But, after Jean-Louis, that all changed. We started being called by chefs from all over the country. Back then, it was a small group of chefs who were able to serve this quality and a fairly small group of purveyors who were able to supply it. So after a few years, by the early 1990s, we all knew each other by first names from either personal dealings or reputation. All these chefs were taking chances and pushing envelopes. Words of technique like “fusion”, “nouveau”, “nouvelle”, and “instinct” were defining cuisine from areas like France, Italy, The Caribbean, and Asia, and were soon to be coming to USA. The tide had turned and we were swept up in it's foam.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Happy Holidays!

A great year: 2014
Years ending in 4 have been important to us. In 1984, still living at our first farm, we shipped 3 boxes of lamb via UPS with both us and UPS having no idea what we were doing or where our farm business would go. In 1994, we bought our own USDA Meat Plant, not really knowing how to cut meat and certainly having only basic knowledge of slaughtering and aging procedures. We made this major commitment, knowing it would allow us to listen to both professional and home chefs suggest how they wanted lamb cut, how it should be aged etc. Indeed, a “tasty but rather tough leg of lamb”, she said, sent to Julia Child for Easter 1995 caused us learn about tough meat and to initiate a system to eliminate such a problem. We have always listened to our culinary customers rather than follow the fads of farming production. This simple philosophy has served us well. Sukey and I run the farm, Sukey and I run the Plant, and Sukey herself packs every box of lamb that leaves our farm. It is all very personal to us. We greatly appreciate the support you have given us for these thirty years. Thank You!

So, after getting that off my chest, Sukey and I were thinking about what special lamb package we could offer this year. We always look at offering an item that would be special for ease of cooking and another that would be just elegant. One cut that you can use for a family gathering of loud in laws and another for a special dinner where the only noise would be some “Sinatra” in the background.

We have many chef friends who use our racks of lamb for Christmas Dinner. They are chefs, after all, so they have to do something fancy; our Holidays though, are not always their Holidays. When they have limited time to cook, they turn to our racks as ultimate fast food. With Sukey’s recipe, you can have the elegant rack on the plate in less than an hour.
Sukey and I are having the “Seven Hour leg of Lamb” for Christmas this year. We will have customers picking up lamb at the farm as late as Christmas Eve. So between that, general chaos from the Christmas Rush, the vagaries of errant animals, tractors and hay bales, we lean towards cooking something that we put in the oven and don’t have to think about anything else other than what red wine I’m getting out of the cellar. We always liked this recipe because of ease but, it’s just so tasty. Jean-Louis Palladin had his version. See the story below.

What could be more of a Christmas dinner than a leg of lamb braised with root vegetables in white wine for five to seven hours? We first discovered this method of cooking lamb in Patricia Wells’ cookbook, “Bistro Cooking.” Our recipe is a slight variation of hers.

7 Hour Leg of Lamb

The Seven Hour leg of lamb is a fairly fail safe recipe as after that lengthy braising time, the lamb can be spooned off the bone, very moist, tender and flavorful. Conversely, as Jean-Louis created the recipe for our “Mama’s Stew”, he was very specific that we use only shoulder meat(not leg meat) for the stew meat in that recipe. He emphasized that leg meat would be too dry in the stew recipe as it is cooked for only an hour and a half or so. With a long slow braise of the 7 hour leg recipe, however, the lean leg muscles absorb the liquid totally changing the texture of the meat. It is a great cold season dish that lends itself to celebrating the harvest of all of the ingredients.

Serves 8-10
Preheat oven 425 degrees
6 medium onions, quartered
2 lb baby carrots
1 whole head garlic, peeled and halved
6 bay leaves
1 bunch fresh thyme if available(dried can be used)
1 bunch fresh basil if available(dried can be used)
1 leg of lamb(semi boneless) 4-5lb
Salt and ground pepper to taste
2 bottles white wine
4 lb red potatoes, peeled and quartered
5 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped or 1 can (28 oz) diced tomatoes
2 cans drained cannellini beans(optional)

  1. Layer  onions, carrots, garlic, bay leaves, spices on bottom of large roaster pan. Place lamb on top of vegetables. Roast uncovered for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and season generously with salt & pepper. Return lamb to oven uncovered and roast 30 minutes more.
  2. Remove roaster pan from oven. Place on stovetop. Slowly pour wine over the lamb, cover and  bring to a boil. Return roaster to oven and continue cooking at 325 degrees for 4-5 hours, until lamb is very tender and easily pulling off the bone. Timing will vary according to size of leg. Reduce heat and add more liquid if too much evaporation.
  3. During final hour, add and bury tomatoes and potatoes in liquid. Add beans final ½ hour if using. The lamb  should be very moist, tender and falling off the bone. As the French have said, “you should be able to eat it with a spoon!”

Our good friend, Chef Mike Ditchfield of the Pennsylvania College of Technology, School of Hospitality, in WilliamsportPA, likes to tell the story of his first meeting with our friend and mentor, Jean-Louis Palladin. Jean-Louis also had a recipe for a seven hour leg of lamb in “Art Culinaire” #29, with which Mike was familiar. As a visiting chef at Penn College, Jean-Louis, immediately upon arrival at the college went pheasant hunting with the President. Mike with his crew of students was expecting to do prep work all morning, learning at the foot of the master. Jean-Louis being Jean-Louis, finally arrived at about 11:00 am and then decided the young crew of students needed braised pheasant for the family meal. Jean-Louis was seen happily breaking pheasant necks and then deglazing the dish with a fancy Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, which had been saved for the VIP dinner, while the regular prep work was in progress. Mike, seeing Jean-Louis enthusiastically running through the kitchen working with his new audience, was searching for small talk with this famous Michelin chef. Amazed that this icon was first concerned with feeding the students, Mike uttered, “Chef, only you and my mother could get away with cooking a leg of lamb for seven hours!”

Who Would Be Calling?

Lambs at Pasture
Who would be calling at 9:30 PM on my cell phone? Sukey and I had just climbed into bed at about 9:00. We were off to a well-deserved sleep after a day of her working at the Meat Plant and me checking the sheep in our newly fenced pastures at the farm. I said, “Hello,” and then listened as a polite, enthusiastic, young voice went on about coming to the farm the next day for a photo shoot. I listened groggily until he said something about seeing the sheep when the “sun comes up.” When my first utterance in this previous one way conversation was, “That’s awful early,” my wife, previously catatonic, stirred, then muttered, “Now what?” before morphing back to being an inanimate lump in the bed.

One of our customers, “Meat and Potatoes” Restaurant in Pittsburgh had asked us to participate in a YouTube Video as part of a promotion Hyundai Motors was doing on tailgating at some name colleges across the country. Apparently, they were matching 13 national rivalries with top area chefs. In this case, it was Penn State, home at Happy Valley versus Ohio State; serious Big Ten Football. The designated chef would show off local products cooked his way for tailgating. The name of the show was, “Grill Iron” which was pretty cool. Chef Rick De Shantz was using our lamb from Latrobe to make Kielbasa and using pierogies from “Pierogies Plus” in McKees Rocks. Very Pittsburgh and very much about local ingredients.

So when one of your best customers asks you to be part of something that will be viewed by thousands, you sign up. Sukey and I bought tickets to Woodstock in 1969, but being seen as  ex hippies, senior statesmen rock star farmers was starting to seem like a lot of work. Not to worry. If a video crew from LA wanted to see our sheep as the sun was rising, that was fine by us. My concern was I had just moved the sheep to a fresh pasture in the back of the farm. While the sun still rises in the east there, it is blocked by a forest on the east side of the field.

At 5:30 am in the morning, I get up to get organized. I figure Sukey will take the video crew with all their paraphernalia in our Suburban to the back pasture where we have a group of about 200 ewes. I will lead the way in the UTV (utility terrain vehicle) opening gates into the maze of the newly finished divided pastures. I was deciding whether to use my male Border Collie Jim or my newly purchased female Lexi. Jim has been with me longer but he is a pretty strong dog who is better at driving, or pushing the sheep, than gathering them and bringing to me. Lexi can do a beautiful 200 yard outrun, running around one side the sheep, then bring them to me all in one bunch. It’s a beautiful sight, when it works. She and I are still getting used to working with each other, so sometimes we have a beautiful gather, sometimes we don’t. I finally decided to go with Jim, so I tied him to the UTV until the crew arrived.

At barely 6:30 am, just as I was thinking about what else I should worry about to get ready, a car drove up the lane. It was the video crew. After getting out of the car, the two introduced themselves as Gabriel and Ryan. We were talking in the dark, just trying to break the ice a little before we started finalizing a plan for the taping. I left to get something from the barn, when behind me, I heard Gabriel say, “Whoa!” just as I heard Jim growl. Jim’s not too good with male strangers, especially artsy types from L.A., apparently. I always figure people know a working dog is just that, a working dog. Some dogs can deal with the “nice doggie” when they aren’t working. In Gabriel’s defense, Jim is a pain in the neck. He’s not usually happy, but he can, at least, be bearable when he’s working sheep. He was up early, not knowing if he was going to work sheep or not. He was cranky. I decided to go with Lexi.

Lexi’s personality is totally different from Jim’s. Part Border collie, part Valley Girl, she is happy just being alive. Until it’s time to work, she just goes with the flow, reminding me of Muppet Janice from the Muppet’s Electric Mayhem Band, “Fer Sure”, “like whatever!” She’s fun to work because just when you think she’s running off to a Peace Rally, I’ll give her the “That’ll Do” (stop what you’re doing and come right back to me) command, and she’s at my feet in seconds. Lexi and I get in the UTV and take off for the first gate to be sure we’re in the sheep pasture before the sun is. We wait at the first gate for Sukey and the “videos guys.” After about a half hour, I call Sukey. She says cryptically, “Don’t worry, we’ll be right there.” In another five minutes, she shows up. We open three more gates to get back to the fields where I told them we should shoot.

It’s about 7:15 by now with the official sunrise being 7:41. It’s quickly getting lighter. We have two fields, one about 10 acres, the other about 7. The two pastures are connected by an alleyway about 200 yards long by 10 yards wide. My plan was to have Lexi gather the sheep in the larger bottom field as the sun was rising.

Gabriel looked at Ryan. I’m sure he was thinking, the first dog almost bit me, this one’s jumping around like a jumping bean, this is nuts. As I now know that Sukey’s delay getting in the Suburban was caused by the video guys looking for equipment, I’m thinking maybe they’re nuts. There was a questionable, if not, negative vibe in the air.

What the heck, I am thinking, I’ve been up since 5:30; we should just go for it. The sheep were scattered, about 200 yards away from me. I think Ryan, the camera man, may have heard me give Lexi the command, “away to me.”  Lexi, who had been standing still beside me, suddenly took off to the right like a bullet. She makes a beautiful counterclockwise gather, staying perfectly wide of the sheep so as not to bother them. I only say “Steady, steady” once to her to slow her down a little so she doesn’t split the 200 sheep into smaller groups. Within a minute, all the sheep are at our feet. A beautiful sight!

I think both Ryan and Gabriel were speechless until they finally realized what was happening. Then Sukey and I heard, “wow!”  “That’s amazing!” “I’ve never seen anything like that!” Ryan’s got a smile on his face a mile wide. Now he knew he had a gig. I’m happy because Lexi and I got the teamwork right for the first time since I got her a few months earlier. I’m also happy because I never tire of watching a civilian see a “good collie” for the first time, for real, not on TV, do what she was born to do.

The next two hours were pretty much non-stop. We did a bunch of gathers from one end of the field to the other while the sun was coming up. After that, Ryan would come up with some idea for a shoot, we’d talk about it, Gabriel would sell it, and Lexi and I would do it. We opened the gates on the alley way, and gathered from one field to another. After getting used to the sheep, Ryan stood in the alleyway, filming as the sheep came galloping through. He quickly picked up that sheep often jump when they enter a new field as they are excited about going to fresh pasture. He got some great shots. Sukey, Lexi, and I had a great time.

Pierogi and Grilled Kielbasa | The Grill Iron - Penn State