great grass = great lamb

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

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

Learning From A Master

Sukey and I had just walked across the large convention space to climb the stairs to the elevator. There she stood, overseeing her minions but seemingly somewhat embarrassed by the throng of fans wanting to ask her questions. She had forgotten she was in a public place.

Sukey walked up to her with a sense of familiarity to ask her how she liked the lamb we had sent her for Easter. Somewhat relieved to be looking at a recognizable face, Julia Child sweetly turned to Sukey and answered in her unmistakable voluminous voice, “Well, dear, it was very tasty, but rather tough.” This prompted our research into the problem, which led to an immediate change in the operation of our newly purchased U.S.D.A. meat plant as well as an almost continual discussion with Julia lasting for years of various procedures of meat processing methods in this country.

For all her icon status, Julia was a student, fascinated with butchery as well as all other aspects of the food business. I think so much so that she just felt very much more at ease with people who were in what she referred to in a congratulatory note to my daughter who is now a chef as “the best profession.” Indeed, the last time we saw her, we visited her kitchen in Cambridge to have coffee and “commune” as she said. We discussed aging methods of meat, the current status of culinary education, what restaurants were good and, if I remember correctly, general juicy gossip of the vagaries of various chefs. But it always got back to who’s cooking what and how.

After a half hour of this great conversation, my dutiful wife asked Julia where the coffee maker was. She looked at Sukey and said, “I don’t know where that equipment is; but I do have a lovely bottle of Chateauneuf de Papewhich we opened last night. We mustn’t let it go.” She then stood up, grabbing my arm with a vice-like grip and guided me into the famous pantry her husband Paul had modified by placing a diagram of his wine cellar with what was where and what had been consumed. She directed me to what glasses she wanted, refusing offers of help from everyone present, she poured the wine to her five guests. So there I was having Julia Child pour me white Rhone wine at 10:30 am on a gray October morning in Massachusetts. Life could be worse!

 A recipe that we use for our Easter dinner every year. Inspired by Julia’s book A Way to Cook.

1 leg of lamb (semi boneless) approx 4-5lb
3 Tablespoon olive oil
2 Tablespoon Dijon style mustard
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1 teaspoon crushed thyme or rosemary
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
Salt & coarse ground pepper to taste

Preheat oven 325 degrees. Place leg in roasting pan. Mix remaining ingredient in mini grinder and blend to make paste. Rub paste over leg. Allow to season for 30 minutes while preheating oven. Roast leg for approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes. Then raise temperature to 425 degrees, with lamb remaining in oven and finish roasting for another 15-25 minutes, depending on desired doneness. Remove from oven and let roast rest for at least 15 minutes before carving.

Our First Delivery
We have wanted to share this story for sometime. So now with the focus on Jean-Louis Palladin in the current Food Arts Magazine, we thought it would be timely. He was one colorful character, who was very loyal and supportive in our early years of novice "farm to table" farmers. While we began our farming studies with the big Ag universities, we quickly realized that our education in the food business would be through our connections with chefs.

Sukey and I were standing outside the kitchen door at “Jean-Louis at The Watergate” in downtown Washington DC, in the dark at 10:00 pm on a Friday night in May, 1988. I had two whole lamb carcasses on my back, and Sukey had one on hers. Sukey knocked on the door with her one free hand. Within seconds, the door flew open. His hand still attached to the door, seemingly deciding whether to open or close it, the impeccably dressed Maitre D’ asked in a French accent, “May I help you?” His manner impressed me as I figured he had just filled a glass of wine for Jackie Onassis and now was suavely trying to find out what these two people with three lamb carcasses were doing outside his kitchen door.

As I stumbled sideways through the door trying to negotiate my way into the kitchen dodging waiters, cooks and dishwashers, still balancing the two carcasses on my back, the sea of white jackets opened and someone said with a deep French accent, “Let me take it from you”. Taking one lamb off my shoulder was a tall character with a friendly air about him. He looked about my age. He was dressed in a chef’s Jacket, Jordache Jeans and Reeboks. He motioned to someone and another cook ran in and took the other lamb from me. He turned around, lamb in his arms, motioning to the staff to follow him. They circled around him as he carried the lamb to a stainless steel work table.

Sukey and I stayed back, partly out of respect and partly to be out of the line of fire, should there be a problem. All I could see was this tall chef with Brillo Pad hair and Tootsie glasses opening the paper and wildly waving his arms above his circled minions. What I could hear was a lot of Gallic expressions which meant nothing to me, emanating from his deep Gascon voice. I said to Sukey, “This is either very, very good or very, very bad.” He motioned for us to join him.

I noticed his eyes were teary. He said, “I am so happy to meet you. You have to excuse me because these lambs are so beautiful. They remind me of the ones I bought when I was an apprentice. These are a souvenir of my youth.” By this time, Sukey and I were speechless. He asked what we wanted to drink and 30 seconds later our now new friend, the Maitre D’ brought in two demi-tasse of Espresso on a silver tray with burgundy linen.

The chef then went on to tell me how old the lambs were. He was right within three days. He could tell by the color of the meat and the amount of kidney fat. I was spellbound; chefs weren’t supposed to know this stuff. The breeds were different from the Sheep which are used in his part of France. But as they are Dorset Crosses raised on our native grasses and legumes, the carcasses are similar.

He sensed our interest and curiosity. He then ripped off a piece of the butcher paper covering the lambs and drew a map of France. He explained that the two best types of lamb in France were in Paulliac in the Bordeaux country and in Sisteron in Provence. He told us that lamb tastes like whatever it eats and that the grasses and herbs in these areas produce the best tasting lamb in France. Since we had been strictly grass farmers for about ten years by then, as impressed as I was with Jean-Louis, I thought I could at least put in my two cents. So I asked him, “Chef, what about the famous Pre-Sale lamb that grazes on the salt marshes of Normandy? I have heard it is wonderful.” He looked me straight in the face and with that classic twinkle in his eye he said,” Non, non, non. This is fine if you want the lamb that tastes like the fish.” Well, that was that.