#440 Primitive Lamb with Blueberry Sauce

Here’s the second of the two recipes in English Food that uses primitive lamb. Regular followers will know that I acquired two legs of Hebridean hogget earlier this year. A hogget is a sheep that’s too old to be lamb, but not yet considered mutton. It was wonderful to go to the farm and chat with Helen, the farmer who works so hard to keep this rare and primitive breed alive and kicking. Here’s a link to my interview with her that made up the last episode of my recent podcast series all about Lent. Primitive breeds such as the Hebridean need help: help from specialist farmers and help from us, because they won’t survive if there is no demand. Primitive breeds are excellent for the smallholder – they are small and easy lambers, meaning their husbandry is much less stressful than large commercial breeds with their giant lambs! They have great character too: they are brighter and are excellent foragers that display more natural behaviours. If I ever get a bit of land, I will definitely be getting myself a little flock.

In that episode we focus on the one breed, but I thought I’d give a mention to the other primitive breeds just in case you are thinking about getting hold of some. Aside from the Hebridean there are the Soay, Manx Loaghtan, Shetland, Boreray and North Ronaldsay. They all belong to the Northern European short-tailed group, and they were probably brought to the Outer Hebridean islands by Norse settlers. They are small, very woolly and extremely hardy sheep. The islands upon which they were found were the St Kilda archipelago, and had been there since the Iron Age. Some moved and adapted, the Manx Loaghtan obviously went to the Isle of Man, but some remained on the islands and adapted too. The North Ronaldsay, for example, lives on the small rocky northernmost islands and has become a seaweed-grazing specialist.

Of all the breeds, the Soay sheep are considered to be the most like their ancestors, and it is found on several islands in the archipelago. On the island of Herta, a feral population of around 1500 was discovered; their name is befitting because Soay is Norse for sheep island.

A plane’s view of the islands (pic: Flying Fish World)

This recipe is exactly the same as the other one except the lamb is served with a blueberry sauce rather than a gravy. Although we are at the tail-end of the blog, I actually made this sauce for my first ever pop up restaurant all the way back in 2013 which took place in my little terraced house – a lot has happened since then, that’s for sure! It sounded so delicious I couldn’t wait until I found some primitive lamb. The usual fruit to serve with lamb is of course the tart redcurrant, usually in jelly form. Blueberries are usually sweeter than currants, but Jane is not daft and makes up for it with the addition of a vinegar syrup.

And, if you are thinking this is some kind of American abomination, don’t be so sure: although all of the blueberries we buy in  shops are undoubtably American varieties, don’t forget its close relative, the more humble blaeberry, which I suspect is what the lamb would have been served with. It’s appeared in the blog before, and scored full marks: #xxx Blaeberry Pie

Anyway, enough waffle: here’s what to do:

Roast the lamb or hogget as described for #438 Plain Roast Primitive Lamb with Gravy, but instead of making the gravy start to make this blueberry sauce as it roasts:

In a saucepan simmer eight ounces of blueberries with ¼ pint of dry white wine, ¼ pint of lamb stock and a tablespoon of caster sugar. Remove a couple of dozen of the best berries for the garnish and blitz the remainder in a blender and pass through a sieve.

Dissolve 2 teaspoons of sugar in 6 tablespoons of white wine vinegar in a small saucepan and boil down until quite syrupy, then add to the blended berries along with some finely chopped mint or rosemary. Set aside and return to it when the roast had been taken out of the oven.

Skim any fat from the meat juices and pour them into the blueberry sauce. Reheat and add some lemon juice – I used a little shy of half a lemon here – and then season with salt and pepper, and even sugar if needed. When ready pour into a sauce boat, not forgetting to add in the reserved berries.

#440 Primitive Lamb with Blueberry Sauce. Well you won’t be surprised that this was, again, delicious, how could it not be? I did a better job of roasting it this time I feel. I really enjoyed the blueberry sauce and it went very well with the slightly gamey meat. I think I may have preferred the plain gravy to the blueberries though, but there’s not much in it. Because of this doubt, I am scoring it a very solid 9.5/10

P.S. The leftovers made an excellent #84 Shepherd’s Pie.

Refs:

‘British Rare & Traditional Sheep Breeds’ The Accidental Smallholder website: www.accidentalsmallholder.net/livestock/sheep/british-rare-and-traditional-sheep-breeds/

‘Soay’ RBST website www.rbst.org.uk/soay

‘Manx Loaghtan’ RBST website www.rbst.org.uk/manx-loaghtan

‘Hebridean Sheep Characteristics & Breeding Information’ Roy’s Farm website: www.roysfarm.com/hebridean-sheep

‘About Shetlands’ North American Shetland Sheepbreeders’ Association website: www.shetland-sheep.org/about-shetlands/

‘The Origins of Registered Boreray Sheep’, Sheep of St Kilda website: www.soayandboreraysheep.com/

‘Boreray’ RBST website: www.rbst.org.uk/boreray-sheep-25

‘North Ronaldsay’ RBST website: www.rbst.org.uk/north-ronaldsay

#402 Blaeberry or Blackcurrant Pie

Wild blaeberries (from berryworks.com)


The flitterin faces come doun the brae
And the baskets gowd and green;
And nane but a blindie wud speer the day
Whaur a’ the bairns hae been.
The lift is blue, and the hills are blue,
And the lochan in atween;
But nane sae blue as the blaeberry mou’
That needna tell whaur it’s been.


Blaeberry Mou,
William Soutar

Here’s recipe from English Food that I have found extremely difficult to cook; blaeberries and blackcurrants simply don’t crop up in greengrocers. Almost all of the blackcurrants grown in this country are snatched up and turned into Ribena, the leftovers being very expensive, assuming you can track them down. Blaeberries are not commercially grown and therefore you have to rely on happening upon bushes – many bushes; you’ll need between 1 ½ and pounds for this recipe!

But then I came across some huge punnets of them at a greengrocer called Elloits in Chorlton, Manchester. I couldn’t believe my luck so I bought a couple and skipped away clutching my precious bounty back home.

 So – and I know you are quite likely to be thinking this – what the heck are blaeberries!? They have many aliases: tayberries, bilberries, whortleberries, whimberries, wild blueberries….the list goes on. Blaeberries are very commonly found in the very north of England, Scotland and Ireland. They are quite popular in France – where they are called myrtles – and are generally used to make liqueurs.

 Jane Grigson tells us of a rather disturbing song she used to sing at school as a child where a young mother is left distraught when her baby is stolen by faeries whilst she picks blaeberries:

I went to gather blaeberries, blaeberries, blaeberries,
I went to gather blaeberries, and left my darling baby-O.
I found the track of the swan in the mist,
The swan in the mist, the swan in the mist,
I found the track of the swan in the mist,
But ne’er a trace of my baby-O.

So the blaeberry is steeped in the history of the northern climes of the British Isles, but people are trying to get this wild, rather niche, delicacy cultivated and into our shops. Susan McCallum of the Hutton Institute is asking for people to keep an eye out for blaeberry hotspots so that the most productive plants can be bred. This is because they match the American blueberry for their health benefits, and sales of blueberries are on the increase. Here’s the post all about the project.

In this recipe, Jane says we can use blaeberries or blackcurrants in this recipe; I assume because they are both found in Britain, but I think that you should use blueberries as alternative fruit because their flavour is so very close to that of the blaeberry. Jane also uses the Yorkshire trick of spiking the tart with some freshly chopped mint.


Pick over 1 ½ to 2 pounds of fresh blaeberries or blackcurrants, removing leaves and stalks. Weigh out 8 ounces of caster sugar and mix it with a heaped tablespoon of cornflour and a level tablespoon of chopped mint leaves. Layer the fruit and sugar mixture alternately in a pie dish, making sure the fruit is humps up in the centre and cover with some sweet shortcrust pastry. Brush the pie with water or egg whiteand sprinkle more sugar on top. Bake at 220⁰C for 15 minutes, and then turn the heat down to 190⁰C and bake for a further 20-30 minutes. Serve with cream.


It’s worth mentioning that it can be made as a double crust pie too.

 #402 Blaeberry or Blackcurrant Pie. I decided to make this pie for one of my Pud Clubs, and not only did it go down very well, but won – pitched against six other puds! It was so delicious; a deep jammy and tart filling that was so intensely flavoured it was almost a shock, and the aromatic mint took it to another level. This might be up for the award of best pud in English Food! 10/10