Friday, March 11, 2011

Vending at the Winter Farmers Market + an Irish Lamb Stew Recipe for You!

We’re going into our third year of selling our lamb meat at local Farmers Markets. This winter, Julia and I have been doing the Amherst Winter Market at the Amherst Middle School. It is a good space for a market (nice open room, not too crowded, pretty close to the center of town) but a bit off the beaten track. It’s been a challenge for everyone to get the word out about the market since it is its first year. Frankly, I think consumers haven’t really caught on to the Winter Market thing yet. Have you? With all the snow and ice, it’s a bit hard to think about buying from a farmer in the middle of the winter. But when we get them there, they do buy!

Most of the vendors at our local markets sell produce. In the winter, they are selling veggies that they store - carrots, potatoes, turnips, beets, onions, kohlrabi, apples, cider and radishes. I am so amazed by the products they keep hauling in the door. I can feel the energy and anticipation of the produce vendors building. They are planning, seeding and many will be bringing spinach and fresh greens within the next couple weeks that they grow in their greenhouses.

There are a few of us “meat vendors” at this market. It is funny to say but I really feel like an outsider to the group. I think all the meat vendors do in fact. We are a different breed, that I will admit. Leyden Glen Lamb is a new farm resource for the Amherst clientelle because we don’t sell regularly at the summer Amherst Market on the Common. I’m hoping and praying that they will give us a spot a few times in 2011 - fingers crossed. We did "guest-vend" a couple times at the end of the year and it was fabulous. 

I spend most of my days at the market telling the people about our farm and where the heck Leyden is. (Leyden is one of those teeny tiny towns that has very few people living there and nothing happens.) The other huge part of my day is teaching customers about the different cuts of lamb meat and how they should be cooked. I love this part of the job because I love to cook! I amaze myself sometimes with how I can sell an odd piece of lamb with enthusiasm and by sharing the knowledge I have developed through cooking lamb for over 30 years.

I’ve been developing some recipes to hand out at the market. Last weekend, I tried out a “St. Patrick’s Day” Promotion by suggesting to customers on my “signage” that they cook some Irish Lamb Stew to celebrate. This week, I worked on my recipe and have it down. I’m sharing it here with you first on the blog.

I did quite a bit of research on-line and in my cookbook collection about the “really truly” official Irish Lamb Stew. Most of the sources say that it should only be made with potatoes, onions, and lamb. For my version, I wanted to help the other vendors sell their product so I have included onions, potatoes, turnips and carrots in the recipe. It may not be totally “traditional” but it sure iss good. And besides, I like the different textures that happen by using different kinds of root vegetables. I made a second pot of it today to make sure I can follow my recipe and to photograph. Here is the lamb browning. It is difficult to take a good photo of this and I can tell I'm on another learning curve!

My thanks to Marie Duprey, knitter, blog reader, folk singer and three time "whole lamb" customer from eastern Massachusetts. She and her husband buy a lamb every spring just before St. Patty's Day to eat through the year. They start off their lamb year by making lamb stew for St. Patrick's Day. 

Since I now have to write recipes for our lamb website, I was happy to find a blog by Dianne Jacob called Will Write For Food. There was a great interview on it with Amanda HesserHow to Adapt and Write Recipes which I found very useful. Diane has written a book about food writing also called "Will Write for Food." Check it out.

Leyden Glen Farm’s Irish Lamb Stew
 Print the recipe

I love cooking lamb stew (or stew of any kind for that matter). The scent of the bubbling meat stock on the kitchen stove warms my insides as soon as I walk in the door from doing farm chores. I chop all the veggies in the morning after breakfast and begin the stewing process. After lunch, I add all the extra veggies that I have already cut up and cook the stew until the veggies are just done. I let the pot sit and cool on the stove to develop the flavor. It is always better the second day.  

Traditional Irish lamb stew does not contain any vegetables but potatoes, onions, and leeks. I’m not a traditional girl so I add some great winter storage root crops including carrots and turnips. They add an interesting texture to the stew and a bit of color since it can verge on mushy and brown.

Potato Notes: It’s nice to use a mix of both a floury potato (traditional bakers including Russet and Idaho) and a waxier potato (Yukon Gold and small reds). Add the floury potatoes in the beginning of the stew. They will fall apart and make the sauce thick. I add the waxy potatoes with the rest of the vegetables and only cook them until they are just done so they will hold their shape.

I use lamb stock as my liquid but I’m a sheep farmer and frequently have leftover bones to cook up a good flavorful stock. You can substitute water or beef or chicken stock for your liquid. A bottle of Guinness might add an interesting flavor. Feel free to use more lamb if you want a meatier, chewier stew. The small amount of meat in this recipe will give great flavor but if you’ve got a house full of die-hard carnivores, use at least 2 pounds of lamb.

What You Will Need to make Irish Lamb Stew for 6 people:

1 to 1 1/2 lb. Leyden Glen Farm lamb stew meat or 1/2 lamb shoulder (bone-in)
2 small to medium onions
1 1/2 lbs. potatoes (see potato notes above)
1 small to medium turnip
7 carrots
salt and pepper
2 T. olive oil
16 oz. water, lamb stock or beef stock
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf

Chop the onions. Heat the 2 tablespoons olive oil in a soup pot and brown the onions until translucent. Remove and reserve the onions leaving a bit of the juice in the bottom of the pot. Add the lamb and brown. Add salt and pepper. Remove the fat if your lamb is too fatty. The fat from the lamb will add flavor but too much isn’t pleasant.

Step One: Peel and dice the potatoes. I like to dice the floury potatoes small and leave the waxy ones in larger chunks. When the lamb is brown, add half the potatoes (use the smaller floury potato dice) and the reserved cooked onions. Add your liquid of choice (water, stock or beer) and dried thyme and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a very low simmer. Cook for 1 1/2 to two hours. It may be necessary to add more water to avoid scorching. By the end of the cooking time, the potatoes should have disintegrated and become the thickener for the stewy-sauce. If they haven’t, use a potato masher and squash them down to thicken the stew.

Step Two: In the meantime, peel the carrots and turnips. Cut into chunks about an inch square. Add the remaining waxy potatoes, carrots and turnips to the stew and cook until the newly added vegetables are to your liking. A half hour usually does it for me. Some people like their veggies more whole and crunchy and some like them mushier. You decide!

Crock Pot Instructions: If you want to use a crock pot, throw all Step One ingredients into the crock pot and cook until the meat is tender. On top of your stove, cook the remaining vegetables in water until they are as you like them. Drain them and set aside. About 1/2 hour before you are to eat, add the cooked veggies to the crock pot, turn it to high and finish it all up.

For either version: Correct the seasonings and if you have time, let the stew sit overnight to develop the flavor. A sprinkling of chopped parsley adds a nice bit of color and will make your stew more appealing. Serve with a green salad, a loaf of crunchy bread and a pint of Guinness.

How do you like your stew? Potatoes only or potatoes plus other veggies?


Sojourner Design said...

The more vegetables the better! And I left the potatoes out of my last stew, cooking them separately, mashing them, and ladling stew over mashed potatoes. Yum!

Bonnita said...

We enjoy green beans in our stew, along with carrots, and corn. I love the color!

Bonnie said...

I've been to the Winter Farmers Market at the Amherst Middle School several times. The quality of everything on offer is really great, so is the variety of vendors. The atmosphere is usually lively and fun. I hope it continues next winter!

Teresa said...

This is our towns first year for a winter market and it has been a huge success. It helps that it is in a store front off the parking lot where our regular market is so not much problem getting people there. I can't wait for tomorrow to see what comes to market this month.

Kaydeerouge said...

Your Irish stew sounds delicious, but it is quite different from the one my mum (in the UK) used to make. She always used a cheap cut of lamb - like scrag end - so it was very bony (actually quite nice). But its really defining feature was pearl barley. Oh - that was so good - flavoured with all the meaty and veggie ingredients. I think I'll have to cook an Irish stew this week.....

Melissa Morgan-Oakes said...

Mine looks a little like that only with garlic, garlic, garlic and barley. Always barley.

Unknown said...

I like to add other veggies, but our girls (11 and 8) will only eat the meat and potatoes. :(
Ah, well. Maybe someday. . . . :)

kingshearte said...

I'd just like to support the notion of adding Guinness. Guinness is always a good addition to any stew.

Tonya said...

potatoes, carrots, peas, beans, tomatoes-as many veggies as you can get in there.

Annie said...

Well, around here we use all the veggies and skip the lamb.

I'm curious as to your comment that one of your customers buys lamb in March. When are they born? Ours are just starting to be born now and we sold them all last fall. Do you keep yours over winter and sell the older ones in spring?

emcs said...

A lovely post. Was lambing with a farmer the other week, it never gets boring. Happy Paddy's Day from Ireland!

Anonymous said...

Irish lamb is so completely different from what we get here in the States that your recipes are not likely to work. Irish lamb is like a white meat; in the US we get meat that looks like beef.

Alice K. said...

I go to the winter farmer's markets specifically to find meat. I can find local produce at the stores, but local meat is much harder to find. So I for one am very happy to see you all there.

India said...

Made your lamb stew yesterday. Couldn't give it the overnight treatment, so I made it in the morning and let it sit for the day. It was delicious! Didn't have any Guiness so I used a local IPA, and it's possible that I added a little garlic to the onion/shallot saute... I used the higher amount of lamb, but also upped the potatoes and carrots to make a bigger pot. Looking forward to the leftovers tonight!

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