How Do I Love Ewe? (With apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning)
How do I love ewe? Let me count the ways
That lamb tempts the taste buds and any hunger stays.
Of course I love ewe roasted, but still a little rare.
And I love ewe butterflied, from all the bones carved bare.
I love you chopped or diced and threaded onto sticks,
With capsicum and onion to get my vege fix.
I love you minced with salad in a burger bun
And chewing on the chop bones is always lots of fun.
I love ewe tender barbequed, the smokey taste sublime,
And hocks cooked long and slow for flavour that’s divine.
I love ewe marinated, with mint or coriander,
And many other ways my appetite ewe pander.
Though proud Kiwi that I am, would be hard to find one keener,
My favourite way to cook ewe is how it’s done in Argentina:
It’s a date on which the history of New Zealand changed – February 15th, 1882, William Davidson and Thomas Brydone launched the first shipment of frozen sheep meat to London from Port Chalmers in Otago.
New Zealand wasn’t the first country to export frozen meat:
Canning was started in 1869 in New Zealand but only the best meat was preserved. The rest of the carcass was boiled down for tallow and all offals were wasted. The returns from these processes were poor and sheep were principally grown for their wool. In some districts the only practicable way of getting rid of surplus flocks was to drive them over the cliffs into the sea. (A practice still followed in the Falkland Islands).
With this background, it is not difficult to imagine the interest which must have been aroused in New Zealand by the various attempts made by the pioneers of refrigeration to transport carcasses across the seas. The first exports of cooled meat to Britain originated in the United States in 1874. Natural ice chilled the beef. A trial shipment of frozen meat from Australia was planned in 1876. Ammonia refrigeration plant was installed in a ship, with brine pipes used to provide chamber cooling. These pipes leaked, causing the failure of the shipment before the vessel left harbour.
The first successful shipment took place between San Nicholas in the Argentine and Le Havre in 1877-1878. It took seven months because a collision and subsequent repairs delayed the the ship, “Paraguay”, but the eighty tons of hard frozen mutton was in perfect condition. The freezing plant used ammonia compression.
The “Strathleven” inaugurated the Australia trade to London the following year, and by 1881, it had become established. . .
The next year New Zealand’s first frozen shipment took place:
In 1881 the Albion Line fitted a Bell-Coleman plant to its sailing ship Dunedin and at Totara Estate, just outside Ōamaru, the Land Company added a slaughterhouse to these late 1860s farm outbuildings. Davidson and local manager Thomas Brydone supervised the slaughtering of 300-400 sheep a day. Ōamaru’s harbour works were incomplete, so they railed the carcasses to Port Chalmers for freezing aboard the Dunedin, which sailed for London on 15 February 1882. The ship landed the cargo in perfect condition. Over the next few decades refrigeration reshaped the New Zealand economy, making meat and dairy products new staple exports. ‘A new economy and society was created’, the New Zealand Historical Atlas noted: ‘one of sheep bred for meat as much as for wool, of owner-occupier farms rather than stations with large numbers of hands, of freezing works and their associated communities, and of ports, some of the activities of which were dominated by this industry.’ By 1902 frozen meat made up 20% of all exports. . .
New Zealand’s sheep numbers peaked at more than 70 million, we’re now down to fewer than 30 million.
The quantity of sheep is down but the quality and variety of meat cuts has improved.
It doesn’t earn the farmer as much as it did or should, but today’s National Lamb Day – the day to celebrate my favourite meat.