Spring Lamb

Sheep

It is Spring, which means carnivores like me will turn their thoughts to all of the delicious lamb we will be eating in weeks to come.

“Spring lamb” is something of a misnomer as baby sheep are generally born in fall, nursed through the winter and then slaughtered (not born) in spring. In many traditions, lamb is the preferred meat for religious celebrations. Widely consumed for Easter and Passover, lamb represents the rebirth of earth after the winter cold.

The Italians refer to “spring lamb” as Abbacchio, which derives its name from the stick traditionally used to kill lambs: “In ancient times, the Roman dialect differentiated between ‘to kill’ and ‘to sacrifice,’ and they spoke of nursing lambs, tender symbols of innocence, with compassion and nuance…. Every ounce of the animal is consumed with relish, from legs to ribs, organ meats to intestines and brains. This affirms the lamb did not die in vain.”

In many contemporary western societies (especially America these days), it is generally not socially acceptable to slaughter animals in sacrifice to cultural beliefs. I learned that lesson most poignantly in South Africa when I oversaw my first slaughter of a sheep.

It was 1996 and I was planning an “msebenzi.” In BaSotho culture, that means to “do the work” of thanking God for your blessings.  Something else occurred at the same time that underscored my desire.

An African woman named Peggy Sue Khumalo (what an incongruous name) had just been chosen as “Miss South Africa.” She was the first black woman to be so accoladed. Reacting to her victory with glee, Peggy Sue enthused that she wanted to celebrate by “slaughtering many oxen.” In response, white South Africans erupted in a frenzy of dispute, declaring her a “savage,” unworthy of her newly bestowed title and all that South Africa was intended to be.

My reaction to the outcry was to incorporate Peggy Sue into my msebenzi and sacrifice my sheep (couldn’t afford an ox) on her behalf. The matter was reported in a major daily newspaper with the caption “Sacrifice in the Leafy Suburbs …. Sharon Leslie Morgan says prayers of thanks to her ancestors ‘for always being on her side’ while the lifeblood of a sacrificial sheep gushes out.”

City Press News Article

As a lifelong student of history and culture, I have grappled many times over what is or is not acceptable as cultural practice. Having grown up in America, my sensibilities are undeniably informed by European culture. It is a hard earned acculturation forced upon my enslaved ancestors by chains and whips. My learnings were upended when I lived in countries where people do many things that are neither understood nor appreciated by the Europeans who compromised my world view. The people who dominated the world, decimated Native Americans, enslaved Africans and brutally plundered almost every nation on earth can be quite sanctimonious when it comes to the “barbaric” practices and beliefs of others.

After committing my public act of outrage in South Africa, I surprised the men who officiated the sacrifice by cooking absolutely every ounce of our “victim’s” body. They thought I couldn’t do it. But I did. And it was GOOD! We ate, laughed and drank nqombothi (traditional South African beer) all through the night.

Here is my recipe for roast leg of lamb (a small part of the bounty we shared).

Leg of Lamb

INGREDIENTS
1 kg leg of lamb (meaty hind shank)

SEASONING
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp mint leaves
4 basil leaves (crushed)
6 cloves garlic (crushed)

DIRECTIONS

SEASON meat and allow to marinate overnight
PLACE meat in baking pan
BAKE @ 325° for about 2 hours until meat is well done and very tender

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