Spring officially started last month, at least according to the calendar. For the farms affiliated with Saratoga Farmers’ Market, preparations for warmer weather have been underway for a few months already. During the colder season, vegetable farmers order seeds; those who raise chickens and ducks order day-old birds; sheep farmers spend a lot of time in the barns with new-born lambs.
At Elihu Farm in Easton, Bob and Mary Pratt saw their first lambs arrive on February first, and by the end of the month, 77 lambs from about 45 ewes were racing through the barn. “The lambs did much better than we did through the cold weather,” Mary Pratt said, shivering with the memory. “We didn’t need to use any heat lamps to keep them warm.” Later this month, when the weather is supposed to be more benign, another 35 ewes will be presenting their offspring to the world.
The Pratts have been farming 150 acres in Easton since 1986. They have never used growth-promoting substances like hormones or low levels of antibiotics, and have never fed animal byproducts.
“Our sheep and lambs graze pastures and regrowth from hayfields for three seasons, or eat hay in the winter, as well as a small amount of locally grown grain.”
The farm’s market table usually offers lamb in many forms, from legs to chops to ground lamb, as well as ground mutton and three flavors of mutton sausage. For seasonal holidays, the Pratts schedule visits to the butcher so they can offer fresh cuts of lamb to their market customers and to some local restaurants.
With Easter right around the corner, they’re now taking orders for any cuts of lamb to be delivered fresh on April 19. “We offer legs of lamb in many forms,” Mary Pratt explained. “Customers can order legs bone-in, whole boneless, boneless butterflied, or Frenched, as well as shank and sirloin halves.” The farm offers other cuts fresh at this time of year, especially fresh racks of lamb.
If a customer wants to order a whole or half lamb, that’s also a possibility. The butcher will cut the lamb exactly as the customer prefers, and there’s a savings of about 10 percent over buying the cuts individually from the display cases.
“The customer decides how and when to prepare their lamb, over the course of several months. Unlike buying a side of beef, which takes up quite a bit of space, a freezer lamb is easier to store in a standard freezer.”
Lamb Tagine (Adapted from Arabesque by Claudia Roden)
(*Ingredients available at market)
1¼ to 1½ lbs Elihu Farm boneless lamb shoulder*
5 tbs oil or clarified butter
1 onion* chopped
Lots of freshly ground black pepper, and salt to taste
1 lb or more small white ‘boiling’ onions, or yellow* or red onions* cut into thick wedges
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp saffron threads soaked in ¼ cup hot water (see notes)
2 large crisp pears (such as Bosc or Comice), or substitute crisp, sharp green apples*
2 or more tbs butter
Cut the lamb into approximately 1½ inch pieces and brown in 2 tbs oil. Add the onion and black pepper and simmer on top of the stove, or in the oven at 325 degrees for about 1½ hrs.
Blanch the small onions in boiling water for a few minutes, cool, and remove skins and roots. Or use onion wedges. Add onions to the meat and cook 30 more min, until the onions are soft.
Wash the pears and cut into eights. Do not peel. Sauté in butter to brown and caramelize.
Add cinnamon, cloves and saffron with its liquid. Stir into the stew. Put the pear slices on top of the stew, and simmer gently until the pears are softened.
Adding spices near the end will prevent the flavors from evaporating.
The dish will still taste great without saffron, but it won’t be the same. A tin of saffron is worth the splurge, and will keep for years in the freezer. Buy at a local fine foods store or order online at Atlantic Spice, Penzey’s or Saffron.com.