There’s a whole lot of stuff that gran’s generation knew how to do that we have forgotten. For some of them I don’t have much use – how to turn animal fat into soap, for instance. Or crocheting covers for clothes hangers. But when it comes to food, boy did they get it right. Gran knew that beef ‘drippings’ kept in a jug next to the stove made for the best lacy fried eggs and super crisp roast potatoes. She knew for the butter to be extra creamy, it had to be churned patiently and slowly by hand, sitting on the back stoep, thinking pleasant thoughts. But above all she knew what to do with meat. She may have stood a mere 5 feet in her socks, but she could process a carcass that outweighed her by a hundred kilograms faster than anybody else. (I know using words like ‘carcass’ may be a bit much for modern sensibilities, but on the farm we knew where food came from, and we weren’t weird about it.) But above all, she knew what to do with meat once she’d butchered it. Whole and low and slow was her preference, and lamb neck a great favourite.
These days lamb neck is invariably presented to us cut up, ready to be dunked into a stew along with chunks of knuckle. But it really is worthwhile asking your butcher to give you a whole lamb neck. Because roasting it whole transforms this seemingly humble cut into a dinnertime showstopper. Gran just dusted it with salt, browned it – yes, in those beef drippings! – and popped it in the oven. It was stupendous. I go one step further, by placing it on a bed of carrots, baby onions and plenty of fresh herbs. At the end I go a bit continental and smash butterbeans into the heavenly lamb and veggie flavoured cooking juices. And then I sprinkle it with gremolata, and serve it with wild rocket kissed with lemon.