St.Paddy’s Day is just around the bend, and no matter your heritage, you can be Irish for a day. If nothing else, it’s a great excuse to capture the Gaelic spirit with drink and celebratory food. Corned beef and cabbage is the first dish that comes to mind – Lord knows I’ve blogged that recipe to death – and this year I want a change.
After a bit of investigation, I’ve concluded that an Irish Lamb Stew is, perhaps, more representative of traditional Irish food then the other famous duo I’ve been concocting for years. After all, according to wikipedia, tradition has it that St. Patrick, after being brought over to Ireland and enslaved, found God while he was herding sheep. After a day of rugged shepherding, the patron saint of Ireland might have appreciated a bowl of rich and savory stew.
Today Ireland is undergoing a culinary renaissance, and the farm to table movement is sweeping the bonny, bucolic landscape. But it wasn’t always so.
According to food writer Gerry Galvin , “The whole idea of eating for pleasure was not acceptable in Ireland until recently. With the ghost of famine always hovering in the background, it seemed almost sinful to approach the table with sensual gratification in mind. Conspicuous consumption of food for sheer joy, on the French or Italian model, would have been unthinkable in most Irish households until the latter part of the 20th century.”
Times have changed on the Emerald Isle, and itineraries to Ireland can be built around sampling the food. Indeed, my husband Richard and I are planning to explore Ireland’s culinary landscape in early summer.
But we’ve our own fields of clover close to Ann Arbor. Lamb Farm is nestled on 250 acres in Manchester by the Raisin River, and the rolling acreage is well-suited for pasture-raised lambs. The lamb has a rich complex flavor, which is a direct result from the farmer – John Smucker’s – attention to the cultivation of diverse flora in his fields, maximized by the use of organic growing techniques.
“There is so much more to this farm than just being ‘organic’, ” said John. “Organic can mean an animal is put in a small pen its entire life and only fed grain. Industrial organic farms provide their marketing departments the generic ‘organic’ name to label an entire herd of livestock as a selling point.”
“Being able to call ourselves ‘sustainable’ is more important than our certified organic designation,” he continued. “Sustainable agriculture for us means not pushing the limit. It all begins with the soil. To have healthy animals you must have healthy soil for quality grass to grow.” One could surmise you are what you eat, eats.
For this recipe, I purchased Lamb Farm lamb from Arbor Farms, as well as a Michael Faricy’s Stout, brewed by Arbor Brewing Company – a nice local take on a traditional Irish stout. The brew’s bittersweet chocolate flavor, with the slight smoky finish, was the perfect complement to the stew.
If you’d like to try lamb from Lamb Farms, you’d best shake your tail; the season will be over shortly after Easter. Arbor Farm’s Robert Cantelon tells me after that they switch to whatever Michigan lamb they can find, but not off of a certified organic farm, like Lamb Farm.
A toast to yours and The Luck of the Irish!
(The following recipe was inspired by Gumbo Pages “Irish Stew with Lamb and Guiness“.)