Posts Tagged ‘Erlin Farm’

A Dinner Invitation

Friday, July 6th, 2012

My Neighbors Trina and Jerry in their Kitchen

When I was growing up, my father frequently sat down at the dinner table here in rural Massachusetts, looked at some gourmet concoction prepared by my mother or a neighbor, smiled, and murmured, “Simple country food.”

He meant his words ironically. Parts of our meals often came from far away. And the cooks had frequently spent quite a lot of time preparing them. Nevertheless, the words “simple country food” also contained a core of truth.

At its best, food in the country is prepared by people who appreciate that simple flavors can be the best flavors. All those flavors need is a chance to shine.

I was reminded of that truth a couple of weeks ago when I received a last-minute invitation to dinner from my neighbors Jerry and Trina Sternstein.

I have written before about Erwin and Linda Reynolds of Charlemont, who raise delicious local lamb at their Erlin Farm.

Erwin called me a month or so ago and informed me that he had sold several cuts of lamb to the Sternsteins, who are notable gourmet cooks.

“You should get Jerry to tell you when he’s cooking something,” said Erwin. “You could put the recipe on your blog.”

I ran into Jerry at our local general store one Saturday afternoon and told him about Erwin’s call. “I’m cooking lamb right now,” said Jerry. “Come to dinner tonight.”

So I joined Jerry and Trina (plus two charming out-of-town guests) for delicious lamb and lively conversation about food, taxes, art, Paris, politics, and weddings … among other things.

Jerry is a historian, and Trina is an artist. Hawley is a more sophisticated town than one might imagine, and the Sternsteins are among our most cosmopolitan residents. Food is a serious passion in their household. They look for high-quality ingredients (raising quite a few of them themselves; in this case the fava beans and snap peas were from their garden) and take the time to cook them right.

This sign hangs on my Francophile neighbors’ kitchen door.

They love France and French food so Jerry’s lamb dish was definitely influenced by French cuisine. It was amazingly tender, thanks to Erwin’s care of the lambs and Jerry’s careful slow cooking. Each ingredient kept its own flavor but also blended with the others.

I recommend the dish highly. It has quite a number of steps, but the only really hard part of it is trimming the lamb of fat.

I wish I could tell you how to replicate the evening’s lively conversation—but you’re on your own there……

Lamb à la Jerry


3-1/2 pounds boned, trimmed lamb shoulder, cut into 2-inch cubes (it will weigh more before it is boned and trimmed of fat!)
4 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon sugar plus another teaspoon later
1/4 cup flour
2 to 3 cups beef broth OR water or a combination of the two
(If you use the water, add 3 onions, roughly chopped, and 3 carrots, roughly chopped, to it.)
1 cup crushed tomatoes
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 bouquet garni (4 to 5 sprigs parsley, 1 bay leaf, and several sprigs of thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, all tied together with string)
1 teaspoon kosher salt (2 teaspoons if you’re using water instead of broth)
5 to 6 turns of a pepper mill
6 to 10 small potatoes
4 carrots, quartered lengthwise and cut into 2-inch pieces
4 turnips, quartered
12 to 16 small onions (about 1-1/2-inch thick)
1 cup cooked and peeled fava beans (optional)
1 cup barely cooked peas (optional)
1 cup barely cooked snow peas (optional)
2 tablespoons chopped parsley


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Sauté the lamb pieces in the oil in a sauté pan over high heat until the meat begins to brown nicely on the outside, about 5 minutes.

Remove the meat from the oil and place it in a 4- to 5-quart stove-proof casserole dish or Dutch oven.

Add the first tablespoon of sugar. Stir it around over a medium-high flame until it caramelizes (about 4 minutes). Add the flour and place the whole mixture in the oven for about 4 minutes, until it gets brown and crusty.

Remove the pan from the oven. Add the liquid (and the extra vegetables if you are using the water). Add the tomatoes, the garlic, the bouquet garni, the salt, and the pepper.

Return the casserole to the oven and bake it, covered, for 1 hour.

Remove the pot from the oven. Remove the meat. Strain (and reserve) the liquid. Skim the grease from the liquid. (This is easiest to do if you have time to let it cool so that the fat will rise to the top.)

Return the meat and the strained liquid to the pot, mixing them well. Add the potatoes, carrots, and turnips. Return the pot to the oven and cook, covered, for another hour.

While it is in the oven cook the onions. Peel them and cut a small “X” on the bottom of each. Place them in a small sauté pan with the second teaspoon of sugar. Cook, stirring, for 3 to 4 minutes.

Cover the onions with water. Cook, covered, for 20 minutes.

Drain them and set them aside.

When the lamb has cooked, add the onions and the peas and/or beans and/or snap peas. Taste for seasoning, and add more salt and pepper if they are needed. Top with parsley.

Serves 6 to 8.


If you enjoyed this post, please consider taking out an email subscription to my blog. Just click on the link below!

Subscribe to In Our Grandmothers’ Kitchens by Email.

Springtime Irish Stew

Monday, March 9th, 2009



We still have a lot of snow in the hills of western Massachusetts, but I know spring is on its way.

The sun shines in on my bed a little earlier every morning, delighting my cat Lorelei Lee. (I don’t have to look out the window or feel the sunlight. I can identify the exact moment the rays land on the quilt because I suddenly hear purring.) Of course, losing the hour of sleep this past weekend was a little hard on both Lorelei and me, but we love having more light in the evening.

Maple syrup taps have begun appearing on neighborhood trees, and sugarhouses are starting to boil down the sap to make New England’s best known elixir.

Best of all, new baby animals are making their way into the world. Erwin and Linda Reynolds in Charlemont reported the other day that they had THIRTY-ONE little lambs at their Erlin Farm! Naturally, my mother and I had to pay them a visit.

(Courtesy of Leon Peters)

(Courtesy of Leon Peters)

I think my mother may have been more excited to see our friends than the lambs. Erwin and Linda embody the extended meanings of the terms shepherding (guidance) and animal husbandry (love). They have within them huge stores of common sense and heart. My mother is as sensitive to those qualities as the lambs seemed to be.

The lambs we saw at Erlin varied in age between six days and five weeks. The oldest were just learning to use their little knees to leap into the air. One would suddenly execute an awkward jump on all fours; then a couple of others would try and ALMOST manage. I’m sure within a day or two many will be airborne.

My mother and I fell especially in love with one of Erwin and Linda’s “bottle babies,” Bandit. Erwin explained that sometimes the ewes have too many lambs to feed or just don’t come up with enough milk. At that point, Erwin and Linda take over with formula. They have take extra care of the bottle babies since these lambs don’t get the natural immunities that come from drinking mother’s milk. Bandit looked pretty happy and healthy—and utterly darling. I’m hoping she gets to be a mother next year instead of being turned into lamb chops.

It makes me a little sad to think that most of these adorable babies will someday become food. Nevertheless, I’m happier cooking and eating lamb from Erwin and Linda or from my neighbor Paul Cooper than I am consuming lamb from far away. I know that these lambs led happy lives in a beautiful place. (I also know that they were fed a healthy diet.)

Erwin and Linda gave me a bunch of recipes from the American Lamb Board, some of which I’m sure will make their way into these pages soon. Meanwhile, in honor of spring—and Saint Patrick!—here is a recipe for lamb stew.

The recipe gives the potatoes and carrots maximum flavor by mixing them in with the lamb from the very beginning of the cooking. Its drawback is that by the time the stew is done the pieces of potato and carrot have become very small. If you like, you may wait until after the first hour to add them to the stew pot. They will have more integrity that way.

I like a crazy mixed-up stew so this method suits me just fine.


Erwin and Linda with Baby Bandit

Erwin and Linda with Baby Bandit

Springtime Irish Stew


1 head garlic
2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (for roasting the garlic)
salt and pepper to taste (for roasting the garlic)
1-1/2 pounds boneless lamb shoulder
8 baby potatoes, cut in half
1 onion, sliced
6 carrots, cut into chunks
a handful of parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary (or 1 teaspoon dried)
salt and pepper to taste (I use a generous teaspoon of salt and 10 turns of my pepper grinder)
2 cups (possibly more) stock: lamb if you have it, but beef or chicken will do


First, roast the garlic. (If you are disinclined to roast, you may skip this step and chop up a couple of cloves of raw garlic for the stew instead. I think the roasting is rather fun.) Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Pull the outside skin off the head of garlic, but leave the individual skins on the garlic cloves.

Cut off the tips of the garlic cloves. (See photo.) Place the garlic head in a small baking dish. (An ovenproof ramekin does nicely.) Drizzle oil all over the exposed parts of the garlic, using your fingers to make sure the oil touches all the visible garlic. Sprinkle salt and pepper overall. Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil.


Bake the garlic until it feels soft, about 30 to 40 minutes. Allow it to cool until you can touch it; then squeeze the individual cloves out of their skins and into a bowl. Mash the garlic with a fork. Set it aside while you prepare the lamb.

Trim off any excess fat you can from the lamb, and cut it into small chunks.

Place about 2/3 of the potatoes in the bottom of a Dutch oven. Arrange the onions and garlic over the potatoes; then put the carrots on top of the onions and garlic. Place the meat on top. Sprinkle at least half of the parsley and all of the rosemary on the meat, plus the salt and pepper. Top with the remaining potatoes.

Pour the stock over all, and place the Dutch oven on the stove top. When it boils, turn it down and cover it. Simmer the stew for 2 hours, stirring occasionally to keep the food from sticking to the pan and adding more stock if necessary.

Just before serving sprinkle the remaining parsley on top of the stew to give a hint of fresh green.