Of Sheep Coats and Mutton

I’ve sold all but the last 20 or so skeins of yarn produced in July.  Now that I’ve seen how yarn sales go, I have some sense of what to do next year.  As fun as dyeing the yarn was, I’m not so sure that it actually helped sales after all.  Ironically enough, after I dyed most of the white I found several people looking for  white yarn and was unable to supply them.  Dang it!   I suspect that the higher prices of the dyed yarn discouraged some people.  I’m thinking of buying a compatible gray fleece from a neighboring farm and adding it to my white to create an intermediate gray color yarn.

Esther's not-so-clean natural wool
Esther’s not-so-clean natural brown wool

My other fiber hope for next year was to sell some fleeces to handspinners.   Though many are willing to wash a fleece and pick out some hay and detritus left by the sheep who owned it, many seem to understandably prefer a very clean, well-protected fleece for spinning.  Many shepherds put jackets on their sheep to protect the fleece from hay contamination during the winter, while some jacket their sheep all year to produce fleeces as white as snow.

Here's Earl, back when his fleece was protected...
Here’s Earl, back when his fleece was protected…
Sheep and Pickle Farm Natural Colored Wool
A few coated sheep out there. Now there are none.

Unfortunately, the nylon jackets that my mother lovingly made my little sheepies were unceremoniously removed by same.  I tried coating Agnes, Esther (the black lamb) and Earl, who had been jacketed since birth.  After 24 hours, Esther was out of her jacket.  Another day and Agnes was found with hers dragging from her hind legs after she completely split the front seam.  Finally, after about two weeks, patient Earl succeeded in removing his somehow, but not before making it filthy and tearing several holes in it.  I’m feeling discouraged about coating my sheep, so I think I’ll hold off on selling to handspinners for another year or so unless I find ones who don’t mind a bit of hay.

In other news, I have a preliminary invitation to write an article about the wonders of mutton (which I LOVE) for Vermont’s Local Banquet.  We’ve been eating pound after pound of Janet the sheep since sending her to her reward.  My favorite?  Shepherd’s pie made with mutton is hard to beat – the flavor of mutton is stronger than that of lamb and it really lends itself to the dish.  Indeed, shepherd’s pie surely originated as a use for mutton!

Shepherd’s Pie Sullivan-Bradeen:

Serves 6-8

1 1/2-2lbs ground mutton or 1 1/2 lb ground lamb

one small onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 1/2 lbs potatoes + 1/2 lb carrots, peeled and chopped for boiling  (four or five good sized potatoes and two or three good sized carrots)

2 tb butter

1/4 cup milk

1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese

1 cup frozen garden peas, sweet corn or both (we grow our own)

coriander and cumin, pinch of cinnamon and cloves, salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Boil three quarts of water in a large pan.  Boil chopped potatoes and carrots until fork-soft.  Drain.  Mash with grated cheese, butter and milk, salt and pepper to taste.  Set aside.

Brown the mutton or lamb in a large pan until little or no pink remains.  Drain grease as desired.  My mutton is high in fat and I drain the grease generously which is why I call for a little extra meat to start.  Add chopped onion and garlic and saute until flavor is released and onion is wilted.  Add 1/2 tsp each of coriander and cumin, and a pinch each of cinnamon and cloves.

If you are using an oven-safe pan such as cast iron, leave the browned meat in the pan at this stage.  Otherwise, transfer the meat to a suitable casserole pan.

Crumble the peas and/or corn over the top of the browned mutton mixture.  I crumble them still frozen and they cook in the meat juices.

Daub the mashed potatoes on top of the meat and vegetables to fully cover the lower layer.

Set pan in 400 degree oven for 30-40 minutes or until top dries and browns lightly.


One thought on “Of Sheep Coats and Mutton

  1. Huh. I’m married to you and this is not how I make shepherd’s pie. Interesting we could be so different in our flavoring. Garlic? Coriander and cumin? I like yours, but I’m surprised. Is that really what you do? I go more British-Isles and do marjoram, a little thyme, freshly ground black pepper, then put a touch of sweet paprika on top of the mashed potatoes & carrots, which have more like 6 Tbl butter and 3/4 c grated sharp cheddar, plus salt & pepper. Never any garlic, and you know I love tons in other things. And definitely more like 2 c peas or corn. –JB

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