Friday, April 22, 2011


Julia Child walked up behind me, and looked over the buffet table laden with sliced lamb roasts. "Ooohed," she cooed in that famous weird voice. "That's not lamb, that's mutton!" She turned and looked at me, and asked, "Can't you smell the fat?"
She then leaned in and whispered, "Americans just don't know that lamb is supposed to be harvested while young, while still small and tender." Julia had taken a shine to me at this food writer's conference because I am six feet two, the height she used to be, and wore big shoes like she did. I was just in awe, struck by her consummate interest and passion for foods, in her late 80s. I wanna be like her when I grow up!
I wish I could have introduced Julia to Craig Rogers, the shepherd presiding over a flock of 600 Texel and Katahdin blended sheep, bred for their fat. His sheep graze on rye, tasty white and red clover, and timothy or orchard grass seeded on rolling hills that butt up next to the Blue Ridge mountains in Patrick Springs in southwest Virginia, and are kept in line with border collies that Rogers breeds and competes. Thus the name of his farm - Border Springs Farm.

He's such a jolly fellow who truly loves what he's doing that I refer to him as "Mr. Rogers" in THE NEW BLUE RIDGE COOKBOOK. But Dr. Rogers is more like it, as he is a former dean of engineering. He and his wife, Joan, bought the farm for horses when he got a job at VA Tech. On campus one day, they both watched a demo with border collies, and well, a dog or two was brought to the farm. To compete, these super smart dogs need something to herd, so thus, six sheep joined the farm. But as Craig says, his competitive spirit got in the way. The more sheep trainers had, the better their dogs did, and so more sheep were added.
But then what to do with all those sheep?
Well, why not raise them for food?

Julia Child would have loved the lamb from Border Springs Farm, especially their fat.
Craig sought out breeds that would produce a good fat profile and yet have a mild flavor. He like the Katahdin breed because they shed their wool and thus he would not have to shear them. They "...don't have a lot of lanolin, which is where the musky taste comes from in the fat. But the meat tastes too mild," he said in a recent Washington Post profile. So they are sired by Texels, who provide an earthy flavor.
Their offspring are weaned naturally, then grass-fed on that gourmet salad bar Craig re-seeds every other year. They're slaughtered at between seven and 10 months, when they are just under 100 pounds.
Their meat is just fabulous. It's full of flavor that's sweet and not at all muttony, and nicely marbled with a mild, creamy fat. Craig says the thick layer of fat on the racks are used by some chefs to make bacon! And unlike some pasture-raised meat, it is not so lean that it requires slow and low cooking. He takes exception to that general rule, and says that other farmers must not be providing good grasses for their animals.
Notable chefs in New York, Washington DC, Richmond, Atlanta and other Southern cities receive lamb from Border Springs Farm, some hand-delivered by Craig. You may also order from his website,

Yes, lambs are cute, as well as delicious. So how can we rectify our human consumption?
Craig's farm and lamb meat are Animal Welfare Approved, which means the animals are treated humanely at all times. The lambs at Border Springs Farm are treated with respect and lovingly attended. Happy animals make good meat, Craig says. And he and Joan bring lambs into their kitchen and bottle-feed those rejected by their mothers. Those with names become pets. Note that Joan is a vegetarian.
As the Native Americans did, it behooves us to give thanks and our respect to those animals sacrificed for us.

Craig appeared this week on Roanoke's WSLS 10 noontime show, OUR BLUE RIDGE. See video footage of his gorgeous farm, and his thoughtful comments.

A food writer told me recently that Craig loves to cook as much as he does raising his lamb and training his dogs. And it's true, he says with a laugh. He shared recipes for lamb burgers and lamb meatloaf that are just dynamite in THE NEW BLUE RIDGE COOKBOOK.
At the bottom of the taping below, you'll find his recipe for his version of rack of lamb, as well as mine. Craig sears his rack, then finishes it by roasting in the oven.
Watch me on the same segment of OUR BLUE RIDGE showing how to execute Craig's recipe.
Here's our favorite way of preparing a rack of lamb, by grilling. First, the meaty part is rubbed with olive oil, then coated with chopped herbs and garlic, and set aside to marinate before grilling. RECIPE FOLLOWS!

© Elizabeth Wiegand, author THE NEW BLUE RIDGE COOKBOOK

1 rack of lamb, 8 frenched ribs
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme or oregano
1 to 2 tablespoons minced garlic, or to taste
sea salt
freshly ground pepper
aluminum foil

1. Preheat charcoal or gas grill.
2. Coat lamb with olive oil.
3. Mix herbs and garlic together on a cutting board or plate, then press both sides of the lamb rack in the mixture.

4. Cut small squares of aluminum foil, and wrap the end of each exposed bone to prevent charring.
5. Let lamb sit at room temperature for about an hour, or marinate in herb mixture in the refrigerator for up to six hours.
6. Place lamb on grill, fat side down, and cook until nicely browned, about 8 to 10 minutes. Watch for fat flare-ups. Turn and cook until a thermometer reads about 130 for medium rare (the best temp for lamb!), for another 8 to 10 minutes.

7. Remove lamb from grill and allow to sit for about 5 minutes. Slice between the bones, and serve.
YIELD: 4 servings (2 slices each)

Monday, April 11, 2011


We were looking for morels. I'm sure I should look for "morals," too, but last week when Alan Muskat lead another couple and I out into the woods near Barnardsville, he thought we just might find this coveted gastronomic treat, even though it was a bit early in the season for them.
As soon as we got out of his car at his friend's farm, he gave us a challenge: Find a mushroom. Alan is known as Asheville's Mushroom Man, the one who forages for chicken-in-the-woods, lobster mushrooms, morels and other gourmet treats for local chefs, and leads folks on mushroom hunts along the Blue Ridge.
And that's when I discovered how hidden and camouflaged wild mushrooms can be. If they had been a snake, I'd been bitten. Brown, floppy fungi, about ten in all, were just up under our noses and I must admit I don't remember their names. But he placed them in his basket along with some creasy greens and dandelion leaves, to add to his own sauteed dinner, foraged for "free" out in the wilds, as per his usual.
We trudged up a steep driveway to a house that he once lived in. It's being torn down now, its gardens abandoned, with no one to appreciate the bright yellow sundrop blooms. And that's when one of us spotted the gray morel nestled among fall's leftover leaves. Note "the." For that was the last of morels we were to see, despite our hopes.

A gray morel, one of three varieties found in the Blue Ridge

Alan led us up steep ridges and down to a valley floor where it took little to imagine that's where the early Native Americans would have camped, right beside the knobby tree that signaled the headwaters of a prominent creek. No morels, but we found acorns to taste, a spice berry tree just leafing out, and more cressie greens along a tiny stream. All of which we tasted. And that was my biggest "take-away" from this outing, that there are lot of things that grow wild that are there for the eating - IF you know what's what, and what's toxic.
Completing the seemingly miles-long hike up and down steep hills, we came upon the backside of the farm's livestock barn. As we stood talking, someone pointed at a "stand" of bright green across the hillside. We sauntered over. Were they daylilies left from someone's forgotten garden? Or better yet, were they ramps, that odiferous but tasty springtime treat?
Either way, Alan would eat them. Daylilies are delicious chopped and sauteed, he says. And if they were ramps, well, we had hit a motherlode, as there were several large gatherings of greens spread among the bare trees.

The beautiful dark green leaves of ramps remind you that they are a member of the lily family. Chewing on one, I could definitely taste the oniony-garlicky flavor that is unique to ramps. I laughed, remembering when one old mountain fellow told me that he had been sent home from school because of his highly odiferous breath after finding and eating a "bait" of ramps.

We had only knives with us, so with no way to dig up the bulbs, we could only harvest the leaves and stems down into the moist, loamy earth. And that's just as well. Ramps are being somewhat depleted from their natural growing habitats, so it's recommended that just the leaves be harvested, or in the very least to only take a few of the bulbs to ensure future growth.
Kneeling on the soft earth, carefully harvesting the pungent leaves, was a rather sensuous experience, one that I know has been repeated through the ages. I felt encased within that "circle of life," gathering food out in the wild. Alan just shook his head. It's just there for the taking, and it's his mission to educate the rest of us.

Alan Muskat, Asheville's Mushroom Man, harvesting wild ramps

I doubled bagged those leaves before putting them into my ice chest. I had a few days left before getting home, and didn't want to stink up the car, as I had once when given a few ramp bulbs.
So what to do with my ramps?
We had some leftover cooked potatoes, so I chopped up a few of the whole leaves and stems, and added them to the potatoes while they were being sauteed in olive oil. I replaced onions and garlic with the ramps while making shrimp and grits. We coated some leaves with olive oil, then placed them on the grill with a rack of lamb. My grillmeister misunderstood and they became charred but still tasty as a bed for the lamb.


And there's a great recipe for Rampalicious Chicken Soup in my book, THE NEW BLUE RIDGE COOKBOOK, which you will find below. Can't get ramps? Then substitute those strong smelling green onions you'll find at the farmers market during the spring and early summer. It's a bit involved, but we love this hearty soup.

RAMPALICIOUS CHICKEN SOUP from THE NEW BLUE RIDGE COOKBOOK, by Elizabeth Wiegand, Globe Pequot Press, 2010.

Hearty, spicy, and soul-satisfying, this chicken soup could almost be called a chili. It’s delicious, even without the ramps.

Strong-smelling and wild, ramps are dug from mountain coves during the early spring. A “bait” of them are sold at farmers markets or shared with neighbors. If ramps are not available, substitute spring onions, or just yellow onions with an especially strong taste. Palette Butler serves this soup for the lunch crowd at Veranda CafĂ© & Gifts, co-owned with husband Jeff in Black Mountain, NC.

1 whole chicken, about 4 pounds

1 or 2 bay leaves

12 black peppercorns

1 cup diced carrots

1 cup chopped yellow onion

2 15-ounce can red kidney beans

28-ounce cans diced tomatoes

1 6-ounce can tomato paste

1 15-ounce can beef broth

2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced

2 to 6 whole ramps (to taste), leaves and bulbs chopped

1 large sweet onion, chopped

½ to one 4-ounce can chopped green chilies, to taste

1 teaspoon oregano

1 teaspoon ground cumin

½ teaspoon chili powder (or more, to taste)

1/8 to ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (to taste)

1 ½ teaspoon salt, or to taste

freshly ground pepper, to taste

1. Place chicken in a stockpot with the peppercorns, carrots and yellow onion. Barely cover with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Skim off any foam. Cook the chicken for at least 45 minutes to an hour, or until the chicken is cooked through and fork tender.

2. Remove the chicken from the pot. Using a fork and sharp knife, shred the chicken into bite-sized pieces and toss the bones and cartilege. Strain the broth from the stockpot and reserve.

3. Add the shredded chicken back to the stockpot. Add kidney beans, tomatoes, tomato paste, beef broth, garlic, ramps, onion and green chilies. Add enough reserved chicken broth for desired consistency, about 4 to 6 cups. Stir in oregano, cumin. chili powder, cayenne pepper, salt, and black pepper.

4. Simmer for at least one hour or more to allow flavors to meld and onions to soften.

NOTE: Freeze any leftover stock for use later.

YIELD: 8 to 10 large servings