Good Life

Eats & Drinks: Local farmers meet growing demand for lamb

Mike Arthur carries buckets of water for his sheep. Mike Arthur and Jan Jenkins own Tamarack Farm, in Spring Mills, where they raise sheep March 31, 2015.
Mike Arthur carries buckets of water for his sheep. Mike Arthur and Jan Jenkins own Tamarack Farm, in Spring Mills, where they raise sheep March 31, 2015. CDT photo

When you send an email message to shepherd@tamarackfarmsheep.com, the handle conjures up a bucolic image of a man with a shepherd’s crook ambling up a hillside. But at Tamarack Farm the shepherd is petite and pert, dressed in knee-high rubber farm boots as she tends her flock. Jan Jenkins raises Icelandic, Tunis and Merino sheep and sells breeding stock, wool and wool products. Her cottage industry is fully supported by her husband, Mike Arthur, a Penn State geoscience professor and the man behind their table at the Boalsburg Tuesday and Millheim Saturday farmers markets.

Jenkins spearheads the sheep breeding, focusing on the colors and quality of the fleece. There is a shearing scheduled for Monday and she will use the wool to spin into yarn for scarves and mittens or for her many artistic felting projects.

“We started out raising sheep to breed them and then reluctantly got into the meat business; now that part is a big deal,” said Arthur, describing how the activities at the 27-acre farm have progressed since they bought the property located outside Spring Mills in 1991.

They sell frozen cuts of lamb such as leg, Frenched racks and stewing cubes from the fall through the spring, and also sell a variety of lamb sausages. Their smoked lamb sausage is fully cooked but the other varieties — Tunisian, rosemary and garlic, chorizo — are best cooked on the grill. In the summer they add a line of heirloom greens and vegetables to their farmers market table.

Even better than raising sheep, the couple also raised two daughters at Tamarack Farm, Paige and Tess, who both shared in the many responsibilities of animal husbandry. Paige is working on a master’s degree in sociolinguistics in Washington D.C., and Tess attends Penn State and works at the Good Intent Cidery in Bellefonte.

Easter, the “am” holiday, is upon us. Will it be ham or lamb on the dinner table? We were always in the ham camp when I was growing up, mainly because my mother’s Polish heritage dictated an allegiance to all things porcine. I know that Aunt Sophie will be serving white borscht with hardboiled eggs and kielbasa on Easter Sunday, and ham will be on the table as well.

But I have migrated to the lamb camp for the supper table. Lamb seems so much more celebratory, so appropriate for a feast day. Lamb harkens back to Bible times, both Old and New Testaments, and carries a timeless and sacred message. Early Christians customarily roasted a whole lamb for Easter, and the tradition continues in Greece.

If you are headed out to the Elk Creek Café + Aleworks for brunch today you will have the opportunity to sample Tamarack Farm leg of lamb in Chef Andy Rose’s Braised Lamb Benedict dish. Or find it at the Boalsburg Tuesday or the Millheim Saturday farmers markets through, Arthur estimates, the end of May. Bill Callahan of Cow-a-Hen Farm, another Boalsburg vendor, added lamb to his meat offerings about a year ago, with various cuts available frozen. Demand for local lamb is growing.

Lamb consumption in the United States is much lower than in other countries, but the taste is excellent when it is prepared properly, with a cooking method that is appropriate for the particular cut. Most lamb on the market is between 6 and 12 months old and the term mutton refers to lamb 2 years old or older. It is not generally available in our country and has a much stronger flavor and tougher texture. If you are celebrating Easter with lamb today, count your blessings.

Jan Jenkins’ Tuscan Lamb and Artichoke Stew

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, chopped

1 1/2 teaspoons rosemary, fresh or dried

1/2 teaspoon chile pepper flakes

1 stalk celery, chopped

2 tablespoon chopped pancetta

1 pound lamb stew meat

1/2 cup dry white wine, or chicken broth

2 cups chicken broth

2 tablespoons tomato paste

114-ounce can artichoke hearts, drained

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Salt and pepper to taste

Chopped Italian parsley

Olive oil to drizzle

Heat olive oil in skillet or Dutch oven. Add onion and cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Add garlic, rosemary, pepper flakes, celery, and pancetta and cook another 5 minutes. Add lamb & cook until browned. Add wine (or 1/2 cup broth), increase heat to high and cook for about 5 minutes. Add broth and tomato paste, stir well. Continue cooking at low heat for 45 minutes to an hour, or until lamb is tender. Add artichokes and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in lemon juice, salt and pepper. Serve stew in bowls, as is, or over polenta, rice or pasta (our favorite is orecchiette). Top with chopped parsley and a drizzle of olive oil.

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