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Our Bountiful Wild Harvest

At Cloverworks Farm, we raise lamb as an enterprise plus chicken and ducks for our own use.  We also have some wild foods on the farm – you may recall that a few months ago, we were hastily picking a variety of berries.  Now is the harvest time for our apples, crabapples and rosehips.

We are overrun with apples this year.  In all seriousness, we have literal tons on the trees, and they are more than I can physically pick or utilize.  We are considering getting some clean tarps and gathering all we can to bring to local cideries.   We considered cider presses, but I don’t think we can justify adding another significant enterprise to our farm at a time of year when we are already fraying at the edges with hay and breeding season planning.

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We have had an embarrassment of apples this year.  Last year was a poor year for apples, but this year has made up for it and then some.  We have thousands of apples, some small and scrawny, other juicy and snackable.  It feels a shame that I can’t pick every one – I hate to think of them going to waste in any way, since I imagine we even have more than the wildlife can handle.

We have one particular tree that is clearly not a wild field-apple.  It has a dwarf habit, an identifiable graft, and the juiciest, best apples in the whole place.  I feel a special connection to this tree, so I carefully protect it from the sheep.  This year, it has already given at least five bushels of apples, while more apples await on the top.

I feel guilt for the apples that have hit the ground.  Wasting a food resource is anathema to me.  Feeding apples to livestock feels fine, but leaving them to rot on the ground feels so painfully wasteful, but yet I cannot physically cope with the tonnage of apples here.  That said, I have made and frozen several pies, I have donated apples to be made into cider, and I intend to have a little cider made so we can add yeast and enjoy the consequences.

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We also have rose hips on hand.  I juiced these rose hips with crabapples to make another batch of my favorite jelly- crabapple rosehip.  The rosehips lend a floral richness to the pungent crabapples.  Crabapples grow right under our deck.

Not everything I put up in the last week has been my own – I traded apples for these tomatoes, which proved to be absolutely wonderful in flavor.  Just a little tomato puree in the freezer to help beat the winter blues later on.

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Our Chef Dinner

Yesterday got a little hectic, I won’t pretend otherwise.

At the farmer’s market, a family of five came by and expressed interest in joining us for our Chef Dinner.  I was feeling prepared for our small contingent, but almost doubling the guest list meant we needed to kick into high gear.  I was so excited by the prospect of our new guests that I went to another market vendor and commissioned some bouquets.  When Peggy from Newfield Herb Farm came by with her flowers, she spontaneously offered to run to the local nursery to pick up some chrysanthemums for me!  She kindly brought me back three ‘mums about 45 minutes later.

Nadav and Bru arrived around 3:45 to set up.  I had gathered all of my most quaint and charming items, but I am not really much of a decorator.  Bru swiftly set up my mason jars, straw bales, lamb fleece and photos to create more ambiance than I have ever seen in any other hastily-tidied carport.

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The apples and the leaves strewn artfully about was 100% Bru.  It was really a treat to get to chat a little and get to know Nadav and Bru while we worked to get this set up.  There’s something magical in taking ordinary objects and arranging them artfully so they lend gravitas.

Soon after the table was set, we received an unfortunate phone call.  The family of 5 was having a family emergency and would not be attending.  We appreciated their call but it was hard not to feel a little disappointed.

Our joy was renewed, however, when our first guests arrived.  Dan and Marda have been friends ever since I worked at Fat Toad Farm in Brookfield.  They purchased and refurbished the drafty old farmhouse I lived in during those years into a house with the same charm as the old place, but with modern conveniences and full insulation.  They are kind and generous people, so getting to show them around my sheep farm dream, realized, was a real privilege.   Dan and Marda raise bees, harvest apples and boil maple syrup, among other endeavors.

Then Matt and Reeni arrived.  They are friends of Matt’s from before he and I knew each other.  Matt and Reeni also appreciate the journey Matt and I have taken in our relationship and in creating this farm as it stands today.   Matt works in management at a large food co-op in Chittenden County, so he has perspective on the other side of food-dom.  Reeni’s family is Egyptian, so we got to discussing her family lamb recipes with Nadav, who is Israeli-American.  Reeni is interested in writing a recipe book that we can offer alongside the lamb we sell.  She would get paid per-book, and we would have recipes at-hand to help people get the most out of their lamb orders.

Seeing our friends was wonderful, but I imagine you’d like to hear about the food:

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Our first course was braised lamb riblets over a fall salsa with a currant glaze.  I am completely in awe of how Nadav made the riblets so tender, yet crisp.  I usually get one or the other.   The salsa, entirely sourced within 10 miles of the farm, provided a sharp, tangy contrast to the lamb.

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Our salad course provided another flavor and texture contrast with three layers of vegetables.  On the top, a variety of the freshest local tomatoes.  In the middle, lightly wilted greens with a subtle dressing.  On the bottom, local brussels sprouts over discs of beet and carrot.  The carrot was braised in beet juice, creating a delicious and original flavor and texture.   The sprouts were sauteed in lamb sausage fat and apple cider, which eliminated the bitter undertones and left a pure brassica bliss.  On top, crumbled lamb sausage and goat cheese.  Delicious!

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The main course was Nadav’s most creative venture yet.  We were advised to play with our food, and handed a little glass of opaque pinkish-orange juice.  We learned that the juice was raw tomato water.  The tender, thin, ravioli revealed tomato puree inside.  Underneath was a subtly-seasoned pulled lamb.  So we mixed our ravioli and lamb while drizzing tomato juice on top.

You know that tangy, sour flavor you get from cooked tomatoes?  That canned flavor?  Imagine lamb with tomato sauce where the tomatoes don’t have the slightest hint of that sour, metallic, “cooked” flavor.  Just pure lamb with pure, fresh, bright tomato.  I didn’t really think that there could be a new way to put lamb with tomato, but Nadav found one and it was amazing.  Real creativity in cuisine is a marvel to behold.

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How to top this series of lamb revelations?  Why not have a generous slice of apple pie with local ice cream on top.  Nadav said that our apples are as good as he’s found.

I am very grateful to Nadav, Bru, Dan, Marda, Matt and Reeni for coming to celebrate our harvest of lamb and apples.  Next time, you should join us!

If you are interested in learning more about Chef Nadav and his farm dinners and private chef services, check out his website: http://chefnadav.com/

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Doner Kebab

Have you ever experienced the magic that is a vertical stack of meat, slowly rotating and barbecuing, then shaved into a pita or flatbread with lettuce and sauce for eating?

I have.  In a perfect word, I would have a vertical Doner Kebab spit, but this is not a perfect world and I don’t tend to favor “unitasker” kitchen implements anyhow.

When I discovered the Spruce Eats “shortcut” Doner Kebab recipe, I was elated.  And friends, it works.  It’s not QUITE like the vertical spit kind, but it’s crispy and good and close enough to fill that void in my life.  And it’s so simple: in short, make a spiced lamb loaf, then finely slice and fry the slices.  Nothing elaborate needed, no special skills required.

Here are my lamb loaf slices, cooking up crisp.  I didn’t have good pitas available, so I just ate it on bread like a sandwich – delicious, nevertheless.

We have ground lamb available in all of our Lamb Boxes – order today and I’ll deliver as soon as I am in your area in NH, MA or VT.

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Berry Picking

Many days leave me feeling utterly spoiled.  Even with a huge bruise on my leg from handling a lamb who didn’t want to be medicated and scratches on my arms from moving through rough brush, I feel like the most fortunate person alive.

After a long day of work, I took a moment to walk slowly around my property, gathering berries.  Black raspberry season is just wrapping up – I was able to find about a cup of sweet, crunchy berries on my walk.  We do not have a large population of true blackberries with their vicious thorns and inevitable large spiders (what is it with the large spiders in the blackberry patches?).  Black raspberries are my favorite for saving for later.  In the depths of winter when nothing is in season, they are my go-to for a milkshake to boost my vitamin levels and shake the blues a bit.

I also found a few raspberries.  We have raspberries near the murderbarn.  I am not sure if they were intentionally planted or if they are wild volunteers, but the berries are not as sweet as I would like.  I only located and picked a few.

Our apple crop is out-of-control this year.  Our property contains dozens of old, shaggy apple trees dotted with mealy, dry, feral apples.  Only one tree produces tasty fruit, so I watch that tree carefully.  Last year was an off year, with only a few apples on the good tree.  This year, the tree is weighted with the bulk of crisp, lovely apples.  I’m already digging up that apple chutney recipe that was so delicious.

Our land does not support blueberries, which need a very acidic soil.  I am spoiled, again, from having access to wild mountain blueberries back in New Hampshire, where I grew up.  Planting cultivated ones doesn’t really appeal to me.  To me, cultivated blueberries are sour, not sweet, and lack the rich flavor of the wild-type berries.  So I will go to New Hampshire for blueberries and leave the cultivated ones for others to enjoy.

We do, however, have gooseberries.  I don’t recall the gooseberries fruiting before this year, but we have quite a few plants.  Anyone know what to do with these weird, blandish berries?  They have a texture like a kiwi and a bland sweet/tart flavor.  I’m open to ideas!

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Riblets

Raise your hand if you like Barbecue.

Alright…

Raise your hand if you like the crispy parts where the sauce and the fat melt into tasty meat.  Is that your favorite bit?  Would you nibble on bones all day?

Congrats, you are my barbecue twin.  Because that’s my favorite bit.  I’m all about texture in food, and the crispy/juicy contrast has to be my favorite.

Cue the Lamb Riblet.

I dry-rubbed some of my lamb riblets with Memphis Dust and cooked them at a low temperature on our Weber kettle grill for 3 hours.  I probably should have stopped at 2.5 hours- they were a little overcooked in spots.  The meat had a rich pink smoke-ring and the fat was well-rendered.  I love that unlike pork, which is kind of a neutral flavor substrate, lamb tastes lamby no matter what.   I paired it with a sour beer that broke up the unctuous fattiness nicely.

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Instructions for cooking riblets vary a great deal depending on your grill or oven setup.  I recommend amazingribs.com for real, tested recipes.  Don’t let the shouty, blinky nature of the site fool you- I promise it is the real thing for food science-based recommendations and techniques for making great barbecue on any kind of grill.

We have 18 more sets of riblets, so get some for your next barbecue at the next Craftsbury Farmer’s Market!

 

 

 

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Lamb-burgers

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Matt kept saying “MMMMMMM” when he tried this simple lamburger.  It was hard to focus on my own lamb burger with all of the UMMM in the background.  The richness of the lamb, the creamy tang of the cheese and the tart mineral of the capers blends into a delicious medley.

As an aside – too many food blogs hide the recipe under a semi-relevant novel of personal experiences.  I’m going to share recipes on the top

This burger is incredibly simple:

  • 1/4-1/3 pound of ground lamb per patty
  • salt and pepper
  • 1-2 oz goat cheese
  • 1 heaping teaspoon of capers, without liquid
  • homemade or purchased bun of your choice (or no bun at all if you are avoiding carbs).  I recommend toasting and buttering the bun.

Naturally, we made this burger from lamb raised here on the farm.  I recommend buying grassfed lamb – 1 pound of ground should feed 3 adults or two adults and two children.   You can always buy pastured lamb from here, of course!

The key to a really succulent burger is salting and peppering the meat before you form the patty.  It takes a little trial and error to find the right amount of salt for you, but once you gain some confidence, your burgers will start to sing.

I prefer grilled burgers to pan-frying.  I like to semi-smoke them slowly over a lower heat.  Medium to medium rare is the rule in this house for optimum juiciness.  I have to credit Matt for helping me to learn to appreciate the texture of a medium rare burger.

I considered melting the goat cheese onto the burger, but found it was actually a nice temperature contrast on warm day to have cool goat cheese.  Plus, I didn’t have to worry about valuable (and pricey!) goat cheese dripping off the burger into the flames.

Assembling the burger is simple – toasted bottom bun, burger, cheese, capers nestled into the cheese, top bun, GO.

Enjoy this perfect weekday-dinner burger and let me know what you think!

 

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On Cooking

This spring, we arrived at the point in our farm lives where leaving the farm, even for a day, requires planning.  Leaving overnight demands hired help.  So we have stopped leaving the farm that much.  Going to Boston during Dad’s acute illness was a major effort.

Being thus isolated, it really was news to me that Americans don’t cook as much anymore.  A quick Googling tells me that 28% of Americans don’t cook at all, while on average people are eating 4-5 commercially prepared meals a week.   Prepared meals represent a lot of climate carbon in the form of plastic and transportation – they also change our relationship with food.  “Quick” and “Easy” supercede “Source” and “Relationship”

Selling at farmer’s markets in Vermont showed us how true this is.  Many visitors to our booth seemed intimidated by the idea of cooking lamb.  We sold much more ground lamb and stew lamb than fancier, fussier cuts.  Sausages sold well.  We noticed that most people felt comfortable heating and serving a sausage, but far fewer were comfortable with shoulders, breasts or racks.   We began sampling simple recipes made from lamb to demonstrate how lamb can be a fun weeknight meal feature.   Sampling certainly helped inspire our customers to try cooking new lamb dishes and to see lamb beyond just roasts for Easter, Passover, or Christmas.

I understand that I am tremendously privileged to have the time and energy to prepare almost all of our meals at home.  Being at home all day most days affords me the chance to use long cooking methods, to experiment with new techniques, and especially the opportunity to raise our own meat.  We raise almost everything we eat, but we occasionally purchase something special locally.  We are truly lucky in this respect.

The other area where I am fortunate is that I was taught to cook by my parents from a young age.  I remember breaking eggs in to peanut butter cookie mix and helping to mix up the dough.  I remember shaking the Shake’n’Bake chicken in the baggie to coat it fully.  Nothing special, but formative experiences of sights and textures.  At 17, I was mostly vegetarian and by 18 I was completely vegetarian.  I had struggled with the textures of meat and was worried about factory farming.  I did much of the cooking in my early adulthood, replicating and tweaking my favorite vegetarian foods from college.  When I met my now-ex spouse, I had been exposed to small farms and was ready to try meat again.  We cooked our way through inexpensive cull mutton and anything else we could afford as we tried to get our farm off the ground.   Eventually, we went our separate ways, but I kept on cooking and learning more.

The rise of meal kits and meal replacements like Soylent and various replace-your-meal-with-a-smoothie came out of nowhere, in my mind.  I’m not ready to cede that cooking is dead, however.  It’s too soon to just eat nutri-algae.

So what can I do to promote the idea of cooking at home?  I do understand that increased work hours hamper many home cooks, so I will share recipes that are generally quick and simple.  I know that not everyone learned basic skills growing up, so I will explain methods.

Many of my recipes will feature lamb, since pursuing this interest also needs to serve the goals of the farm itself.  We raise chicken, duck and beef for ourselves, so virtually any meat mentioned is home-raised or locally-raised.  I sincerely hope you will enjoy these recipes from our farmhouse and feel inspired to eat better!

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Barbecue lamb breast.  It was chewy, ‘cue-y and delicious!