Filling in the cutting order

When you order a half or whole lamb, the meat is cut up at a custom butcher shop. You, the customer, get to fill in your own cutting order so your freezer will be filled with the cuts and package sizes that most meet your needs.

To plan my cutting order I think about what happens at our own table.

  • What are we already eating? Chances are you can use lamb in any recipe you already enjoy.

  • How do we already cook? Lamb adapts to grilling, quick sautéing, slow cooking and roasting.

  • Who is sharing our table? Meat cuts can be sized to serve the small household or a large group celebration.

A few preliminary thoughts:

  • Every part of a lamb can be ground and left plain or mixed with spices and turned into sausage. At the butcher shops I have worked with, the sausage can be packaged loose or stuffed into a sausage casing. Even if you have most of the lamb cut into roasts, chops and cubes, the trimmings will be packaged as ground.

  • If you order your roasts with the “bone-in”, you can use the bones for flavorful broth. If you wish, the butcher will save the removed bones for you too.

Shanks - Bottom of the legs.

  • Because of the work the legs have done, this cut is best if slow cooked. I usually order 4 shanks to a package so we have leftovers.

Leg of lamb

  • These roasts are the centerpiece of a meal, they can be left whole or split, depending on the size of the occasion. Like beef, I season, quick sear and roast in a low oven. I usually keep the legs whole so we have leftovers for sandwiches, salads, and stir fries.

  • I also had a leg of lamb brined and smoked, like pork, to give us “lamb ham”.

  • With a youtube video as a guide, I have boned the leg, rolled it with spices and tied it for roasting. The butcher can bone it for you.

  • Sliced leg of lamb cooks a lot like a ham steak and can be quickly seared.


  • The loin can be left whole as a roast or cut up into chops. I usually have the loin cut into chops so we grill or sauté them.

Tenderloin and Backstrap

  • These cuts are very tender will work like the tenderloin from a beef, but they will be significantly smaller.


  • Although I have never ordered this cut, the butcher can offer it boned and rolled.


  • This is where you find the chops or rib roast. If you select chops, you will to choose your thickness; we order a heavy 1.25”. Although I never have had the ribs “Frenched”, the butcher can trim and clean the ends of the ribs for this presentation.


  • Portioned into roasts (bone-in or boned) or cubed, the shoulder meat becomes very tender with slow cooking.


  • Steaks or left whole, the neck is flavorful and tender with slow cooking.

Organ meat

  • I have not cooked the organs for our consumption, but our dogs, cats and chickens have enjoyed them

Don’t let filling in the cutting order deter you from ordering and enjoying lamb from Lilac Hill Farm. I love talking about food, especially our lamb and mutton, so I will be more than happy to walk you though the cutting order.

Please contact Lilac Hill Farm to preorder your fall lamb.

Grape Filling for Pie, crumble or cobbler

When we bought our place here in the Muncy Hills, it did not have running water or other modern amenities, but it did have an apple orchard and two Concord grape vines. The hardy grape cultivars endured my how-to-take-care-of-grapes learning curve and now are reliable producers. Compelled by roadside signs advertising "Grape Pie" in the Finger Lakes and our family's love of fruit pies, my internet search for a recipe led me to a blog post by Chism Heritage Farm. I love reading the story of Aunt Marian and with adjustments made to her pie filling recipe to accommodate for our preferences, we enjoy all of the fragrant grapes from our sturdy vines.

Grape Pie, with notes outlining my adjustments.
5 1/3 c Concord Grapes
1 1/3 c Sugar (I usually add about 1/3c. less of sugar since the grapes are usually sweet enough)
4 T Flour (because of the celiacs and my preference for a clear fruit pie filling, I use instant tapioca to thicken my filling. I measure the amount of filling and follow the directions on the side of the box for blueberry fruit pies.)
1 1/2 t lemon juice
Dash of salt
1 1/3T Butter
Remove and save the skins from the grapes.
 I squeeze the pulp right into a small saucepan.
Put pulp into a saucepan without water and bring to a rolling boil.
While hot, put through a strainer to remove seeds.
 I usually put the strained pulp right into the bowl with the skins.
Mix strained pulp with skins.
Mix with sugar mixture (and flour, salt and lemon juice) and put in crust in 9" pie pan.Dot with butter
 Instead of the flour, I add the correct amount of instant tapioca. I stir it and let it sit for 15 minutes, per the instructions on the tapioca box.
Bake at 400'. At this point, the filling can go into a pie crust or under a cobbler or crumble topping.
For a crumble I butter the baking dish before adding the filling and top with a nut/oatmeal/butter/sugar topping. I do not add spices to the crumble topping but I sometimes toast the nuts before chopping them. 
If the filling is for a cobbler, I stir my final  grape mixture in my cast iron skillet. When spooned on top of hot filling, cobbler dough doesn't seem to get "gummy" on the underside when it bakes in a hot oven.

The prepared filling freezes well.

Lamb shanks

From a 2010 NPR article
If someone asked you what part of the lamb the shank comes from, you'd probably guess right: It's the lower part of the leg, from the knee down. The kneeward part is the meaty part; there's practically nothing as you get toward the hoof. As in any animal, the most-used muscles are the toughest ones. 

In spite of being "one of the toughest cuts," shanks can be the centerpiece of a simply seasoned braise. Quickly seared in a hot pan, then braised (cook slowly in liquid in a lidded pot) at a low temperature, it takes very little effort to bring a richly flavored meal to the table. When the meat is cooked, I usually remove it from the pot and cook down the braising liquid to make an easy sauce to top the meat.

Lilac Hill Farm Cassoulet

Cassoulet is a rich, slow cooked bean  dish, traditionally prepared with pork sausages, duck/goose pieces and pork skin.  The combination of the tender meats, creamy beans and caramelized crusty top is very satisfying, especially in winter. Once the dish is assembled and set to slowly bake, it requires little attention.

 A few cooking notes for adjusting this recipe:

  • Since our larder does not always have the exact meats listed in the recipe, I follow the techniques listed in this recipe, but substitute lamb shoulder chops, lamb or pork sausage and our pasture raised chicken and duck legs and thighs.
  • Until our next pig butchering when I will add enough garlic sausage to our cutting order to satisfy our cassoulet cravings , I add garlic to our ground lamb or pork. 
  • I do use rendered duck fat from our birds. Even if we do not raise many ducks this year, I will raise a few especially for the fat.
  • Our cassoulet has more beans and less meat than recommended in the recipe because we really like the beans and my cast iron pot fits fewer pieces of meat neatly on top.

Jamaican Jerk Lamb Chops w/ Sweet Yam Mash

From Kate Krukowski Gooding's SIMPLE GOURMET LAMB

From Kate Krukowski Gooding's SIMPLE GOURMET LAMB

I needed a cold day meal with spicing that did not resemble holiday fare and could be assembled with ingredients in the house. Of course, we didn't have everything in the ingredients list so I made the following changes-

  • the 2 yams were replaced with 3 sweet potatoes
  • we didn't have Scotch bonnet peppers so I opened a can of jalapeno peppers instead
  • after scraping the marinade off the chops (I used shoulder chops) and searing the chops, I added the marinade to the cast iron skillet, covered the pan and put it into a 300' oven for about 45 minutes 

The combination of warm spices, ginger and hot peppers was perfect. 



Slow cooked pork roast

Yesterday morning we took the chickens to the butcher shop. Because we like to have some of the whole birds vacuum bagged, pick up is delayed until late afternoon. After a day of errand running, returning to a delicious meal, not chicken, is soothing.

I have slow cooked pork roast in the past; yesterday I followed Shannon Hayes' recommendations for a slow cook pork roast. I rubbed the thawed roast with a slurry of olive oil, half a head of garlic, salt and pepper. I placed the roast into the slow cooker , topped it with a sprig of rosemary and set the cooker on low. I did not add any liquid to the pot. During the cooking process, some of the fats melted and mixed with juices of the roast. At the table yesterday evening, I served the sliced roast with a small bowl of the strained liquid from the bottom of the crockpot. Without my usual tomato puree, wine or cider added as a braising liquid, the flavor of our pork was the star. Delicious.

Roasting a whole lamb, without a spit or a deep hole.

In an effort to expand my repertoire of lamb recipes, we roasted a whole lamb for Easter.

With a wether lamb in the barn, a houseful of easy to please guests, roasters locally available and an experienced pig roasting friend, I was ready to attempt this new venture.

Honestly, the recipes I read on the internet were a bit daunting. The ground is still partially frozen, so digging a big hole for a fire was out of the question and an expensive spit did not seem like a good investment, for our first try.  So we decided to apply the “low and slow” method of roasting meat to create a tender, evenly cooked product.

Here’s what we did:

I brought the lamb in from the cooler an hour before roasting.

We started the charcoal with two chimney starters in the belly of the roaster. Once the coals in the chimneys were hot, they were poured  out and 50 more pounds of briquets and a few pieces of apple wood were piled on top. Our roasting expert ( friends with skills are this cook’s blessing)  used a shop vac to blow air on the briquets, to get the coals burning quickly.

While the fired was building, I blended a rub for the lamb: olive oil,chopped garlic and parsley, and homemade basil, lemon and chili salts. We covered the whole lamb with the seasoned olive oil and added a few heads of garlic and quartered oranges to the abdominal cavity and stitched it up.

Once the coals were hot, the drip pan was set in the roaster then the grate to heat.

We placed the lamb, belly side toward the fire, legs splayed and inserted  digital thermometers into the leg and shoulder.

Thanks to the wise advice and watchful eye of our friend, the grill was kept at 225’.

Although I would have preferred to take the lamb off the grill at around 145’, it cooked much quicker than expected, and we pulled it off the grill when the leg thermometer read 166’. (This took about 2 1/2 hours of roasting.) The shoulder, which takes longer to cook was about 145’.

We set the lamb on a clean tablecloth on the picnic table and covered it with pieces of foil.

After half an hour of rest, I sliced the lamb.

The meat was moist and slightly smokey.

Perfect for our celebration.

Next time, to protect the bottom of the legs from over roasting, I’ll wrap them with foil.

And, I will remember to take pictures.


Pork Chop Cook Off

Last weekend I had the opportunity to man the pork chop station at Owens Farm  pork tasting event. After a walking tour of their dynamic farm, Caroline and Dave  served pulled pork, ham, bacon and baked goods produced with farm rendered lard. The pork chop tasting offered visitors an opportunity to compare grocery store chops and farm raised Tamworth chops.

As a disclaimer, I am a home cook, my favorite meals tend to employ simple, rather old fashioned cooking techniques which highlight whatever is fresh or in abundance from our own or nearby farms. Even though this was not an America's Test Kitchen trial,  I tried to treat both meats evenly. Armed with two non-stick skillets, I trimmed a bit of fat from each chop and rendered a bit of liquid fat to fry up the chops. 

The Owens farm chop sizzled and developed a lovely caramelized crust, surrounding the moist meat.  Even without a resting period, the cut up samples were moist and full of flavor.

The grocery store chop was frustrating to cook, I just could not get that rich caramel color. Initially the grocery chop did sizzle but I believe that was the " added broth" listed on the label, cooking away. Once the broth cooked off, I could not not develop a rich crust and risked cooking all the moisture out of the chop. The store chop had little flavor.  I wonder how much of the flavor and weight of the store chop came from the added broth?

Beyond its intense, beautiful flavor, farm raised pork requires more effort and resources. Arranging for a pork share, managing the freezer so there is enough bacon for summer BLT's, flipping to the back of the recipe box for a picnic roast recipe, and paying for the yearly delivery is an investment.

As a farmer, of course I believe it is worth the effort. I love what I do and I love the food we grow. I believe that small farms, like Owens Farm and Lilac Hill Farm are good not only for our tables but benefit our land and support our communities. But honestly I am conflicted; how do families with increasing demands on their time and wallets make room for my products?  For that I do not have an answer, I am just working towards making a place for our farm raised foods at the table.

Freezer Management- How I handle stew hens

After butchering I do not always have time to cook the stew hens. I have the butcher leave the necks on the birds that need to be slow cooked so I can find them easily in the freezer. I have not come up with a way to id parted birds that need slow cooking as some unfortunate guests discovered this past summer.


Bottom Round Roast Beef

Last night, while we ate dinner, I roasted two bottom round roasts, the last two in the freezer.This lean, boneless roast, also know as a rump roast is cut from the upper part of the outer leg (round). Because it its not very tender, I put the salted roasts in a 275' oven until the meat thermometer read 125'. After I removed it from the oven, the meat thermometer continued to rise, into the low 130's, perfect medium rare. Before bed, the meat was cool enough for storing in the refrigerator.  The pan drippings were a treat for the barn cats.


This morning I trimmed the meat of fat, much to the delight of the dogs, and dusted off the slicer. My ebay purchased US Slicing Machine is the enamel and chrome monster that sits in the corner of my counter;it is perfect for across the grain, thin slices that we like for sandwiches. I placed individual portions of beef on waxed paper on a cookie sheet and put them in the freezer  By lunchtime the portions will be ready to put in a container for storage. The thicker bits of meat, too small for the slicer but too thick for a sandwich will be be featured at dinner in a rice, greens and beef dish.

When we first started putting 1/2 a cow in the freezer I was daunted by the unfamiliar cuts of meat. My early cooking years did not include many roasts so I had alot to learn, a whole freezer full of learning.  With plenty of research I learned that some cuts of meat have multiple names, all with their own best method of cooking. Armed with an accurate, digital meat thermometer, a sharp knife, and entries from Cook's Illustrated magazine and Pure Beef by Lynne Curry (BTW-my favorite resource, have loved 16 of the recipes, still working our way through the book and my freezer), I am learning to cook from most of the cow.

Braised lamb shanks.

Yesterday I poked around the freezer and came up with a couple bags of frozen lamb shanks.  Following my Cook's Illustrated, January '95 recipe I browned then braised the shanks in the oven at 350' in a liquid comprised of 3 parts of broth and 2 parts of red wine. The slow cooking in the liquid resulted in tender, non-sinuous, flavorful meat. 

Using sour raw milk

soured milk spice cake sm.jpg

In our community we can purchase raw milk from Jersey cows that spend time outside daily. After pouring off a quart of cream we still have 3 quarts of rich milk in the jug. Sometimes the milk gets ahead of us and starts to sour. Raw milk is filled with beneficial enzymes and bacteria and sours when those beneficial bacteria start to use up the lactose. Sour, fermented milk is a boon for bakers and old recipes abound. This week moist spice cake and lofty biscuits benefitted from its inclusion.