Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Mutton - The Unsung Hero of Hill Farms

My family is from the north of England. They grew up poor and worked a hard life down in the mines for generations. But talk about hardy people! (and short!) Even the farmers there are extra rugged and are often out on the fells with their sheep in all weather just making sure everyone is ok. If you ever get a chance to visit the Yorkshire Dales or other hill country you'll see lots of sheep and they're again out in their natural environment helping to maintain the beauty of the countryside through their grazing. They really are a wonder.

In our house we love making lamb stew, curry and even sausage. I've written about it before if you want to search for it. And we use our mutton the same ways we use lamb and find it delicious. Mmmm sausage! But in much of the west the thought of mutton is almost as repulsive as eating horse meat. Despite the fact that in most of the rest of the world it's very common due simply to availability. It's the same with goat meat. Many young people have just never tried it and their grand parents remember the horrid canned sheep meat produced during WWII that they had to eat because there wasn't anything else available. Why the sudden cull of sheep and other livestock? Because during the war the government couldn't import all the food it had previously relied on so they ordered all available acres of farmland ploughed up to produce grain for human consumption and for growing flax for rope and parachute cords. There simply wasn't the space to just let cattle graze.  It was more efficient and vital to feed the people than the animals and so the sheep who had shaped the rural landscape were canned up and fed to the hungry troops who after eating it day in and day out, often cold and without any seasoning, came to despise it. Despite a history of being eaten the World over we suddenly had a generation who grew up eating chicken, beef and pork with turkey for special occasions. All mass producible meats. And goose, rabbit, duck and lamb were off the menu.

I think other contributing factors were women in the workplace in large numbers who didn't have time and energy to cook large elaborate or time consuming meals and consequently a desire for cheap and easy to source ingredients from a grocery store instead of the garden and their local farmers market or farm gate. If you think about it, the 'super' market that we're all familiar with today really didn't exist before WWII. Then you had the green grocer (veggies), the butcher (meat and fat) and the dry goods store (fabric, flour and other staples). People also grew their own produce and kept a few hens for eggs and that was normal. We were connected in a much more intimate way to our food and it was 'slow food'. I know it's trendy now but back then that's just how it was. Macaroni and cheese involved actual cheese and an oven, not a box. Children knew how to shell peas and where to find the potatoes in the cellar. I'm not advocating for a return to some imaginary idyllic way of life but anything we can do to connect with our food, especially for our children I think builds both a sense of belonging and self-worth when you can grow some yourself. Being self-sufficient and learning to grow and cook even one meal a week all by yourself is a wonderful thing! A very tangible and life sustaining success.

If you grow lettuce, radishes, cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes (maybe you won them in the contest announced yesterday) and raised 4 hens who lay you eggs, you're well on your way to a Denver omelet with garden salad. That's a family supper one day a week that maybe took 2 hours in total labour and was fun too. We call it 'chicken TV' when we sit and watch the hens just going about their lives doing the things chickens do. So how hard would it be for you to do something like that? I'd love to be able to help people set this kind of thing up and it's so easy! People use them as therapy for their children so why doesn't every family have one? It builds a sense of responsibility and confidence and connectedness to nature that so many of us lack.

Growing herbs is also cheap and easy. If you have them in pots that fit on your windowsill it's possible to cook with fresh herbs all year round. And you can dry your surplus for those recipes that dry herbs work well in. I'll confess I was sneaking leaves of baby basil in my greenhouse the other day and that flavour burst in your mouth is SOOOOO delicious! Especially after a long winter without. I can hardly wait for that first batch of pesto.

Well I'm making myself hungry now so I'm going to get dressed and head out into the greenhouse to re-pot some seedlings. They go on sale soon at the Country Store in Middleton this week as soon as I get my stuff together and get them delivered and labelled.

Have a wonderful day. I'm picking up bees this evening so I'll let you know how that all goes. Maybe there will be some pics of us hopping around if a bee gets inside our suits lol.

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