The Foot and Mouth Crisis in Devon
and a recipe for foil-roasted Exmoor lamb

Topsham, Devon March 14, 2001 As we emerge from a winter of floods and unseasonal climate swings blamed on global warming, we now find ourselves in the midst of another natural catastrophe, aided, one can't help but feel, by the inadequacies and greed of Man. Britain is in the grip of a Foot andMouth epidemic, and the situation here in Devon, one of the worst hit areas, is indeed dire. For all of us, it is impossible not to be affected by it.
A suspected case has been identified on a farm about six miles from Topsham on the edge of Woodbury Common, an area that I usually cycle over at least a few times a week. The herd has been slaughtered and the entire Common is now out-of-bounds, with all car parks closed and footpaths, bridleways and cycle tracks off-limits. We drove across Dartmoor a few weeks ago, and it too is similarly now completely closed to the public. The Devon section of the South West coastal footpath is a no-go area, as are all public footpaths and bridleways in much if not all of Devon.
One of Guy's classmates lives on a farm whose entire herd of pedigree livestock has now been destroyed: the farmers, family, and farm workers are quarantined and Guy's friend cannot return to school, for who knows how long?
It's hard to imagine the devastation that this is having on the personal and communal lives of farming communities in this region, and in all the regions of the country so affected. When we see on the television the grief of the farmers as the carcasses of their beasts are craned into piles or onto burning pyres, we realise that this is not just an economic crisis but a cataclysmic countryside crisis of the highest order, where the very foundation of people's lives, the certainty of their being, has been destroyed before their very eyes.
"I knew them all by name," wept a farmer'swife on the news last night.
It is impossible not to be deeply moved by the horror of it, by the local pictures of dead animals with bags over their heads and hooves, left rotting for days because they cannot be incinerated quickly enough. Over the past few days, from our garden, we've seen the plumes of black smoke billowing across our green and lovely hills.
We are not farmers of course, but even simply as members of the public living in this area, we can't help but feel personally under seige. Areas of the countryside that we consider ours are now off limits. It feels strange, sinister even, not to be able to go freely where we've always gone before.
This is not just an inconvenience that affects our recreational lives(serious though that may be for some of us, me included): it is having a wider and more damaging impact on the fabric of our region. Much of the Devon economy, both in our local area (East Devon) and in the region as a whole, depends on tourism: people are simply not coming down here in the present climate. And why would they, when they can't even walk along the coastal footpath, visit National Trust properties, or explore such wonderful areas as Dartmoor or Exmoor? If this continues much longer, the knock-on effect from lost tourism revenues combined with the already catastrophic losses suffered by the farmers will be considerable for our region, and for many individuals and families who we know.
As for the meat situation, we are fortunate in Topsham to have two excellent independent butchers, Arthur's and Gerald David & Sons. The windows of both are still stocked amply with excellent quality beef, pork, lamb and chicken.
Gerald David has six shops all supplying grass fed meats slaughtered in their own abbatoir in Porlock (North Devon). I was in this morning and we spoke about the current situation. Since there are no suspected cases within the requisite radius of their abbatoir, they were able to apply to MAFF for a license to allow them to slaughter beasts from within 5 miles -- in fact, almost all their meat comes from local farms within that radius in any case. And so it is very much business as usual, with no price rises for the forseeable future. But dark clouds on the horizon remain: there is talk of culling the ewes, which of course would mean no spring lamb (one of the great specialties down here), and would inevitably lead to a shortage of lamb as present stocks would not be replenished. And it seems likely that there may be a shortage of pork sooner than with other meats. Gerald David, too, since their reputation has been built on supplying grass fed meats from local Devon farms slaughtered in their own abbatoir, would not source from outside as they would not be able to control quality. So their security depends very much on no cases of F & M reaching their part of Devon, something that may be determined by a factor as fickle as the direction of the wind.
In these circumstances, are people panic buying and stocking up? Not really, I was told. There was a little of that when the news first broke, but as everyone has seen that meat has remained plentiful in the shops, then most have now gone back pretty much to their normal buying patterns.
Yet with new cases in Devon being reported every day, it's hard to see where it will all end, when it will all end. So virulent is the disease, so easy is it apparently spread, that it seems inevitable that there will be many more cases before it is eventually brought under control, if not fully eradicated.
Perhaps, we should all eat more fish. And vegetables. That, certainly, is something that we are already doing, though not yet exclusively. It may yet come to that, but in the meantime, we are continuing to enjoy the excellent Devon bred meats that we love.

Richard Ehrlich's Foil-Wrapped Roasting Method applied to local Exmoor lamb

Richard, my friend and fellow member of the Guild of Food Writers, created this method to cook brisket of beef, one of the most undervalued yet tastiest of all cuts. Would it work with a shoulder of local Exmoor lamb? I tried it and the result is sensational. Cook this when you are going out for the day (on a walk on the Devon Coastal footpath or across Dartmoor, once these great natural spaces are open to the public again): put in a low oven before you leave, and on your return the house will be filled with the most irresistable aromas of meat and spices, a fitting feast for appetites made keen by hours spent out of doors.

1 lean whole shoulder of lamb, trimmed of excess fat
4 tablespoons of olive oil
1 generous teaspoon ground cumin
1 generous teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon coarsely crushed mixed peppercorns
5 cloves garlic, peeled and finely sliced
A handful of bay leaves

Pre-heat the oven to 130 degrees C. Mix the spices and flavourings with the olive oil. Place the trimmed shoulder of lamb on a large sheet of aluminium foil and massage in the oil and spice mixture thoroughly. Place the sliced garlic and bayleaves under the joint of meat and on top, then wrap loosely in the foil to make a packet. Place this on another larger piece of foil, and this on yet another piece, wrapping securely but loosely.
Place in the pre-heated low oven. Go out for a walk, watch the Test match, make love, anything at all: just forget about the meat.
About an hour before you want to eat, peel and slice some potatoes. Parboil for a few minutes, then coat in olive oil, salt and freshly chopped rosemary. Put in the oven and turn up the heat to around 170 C. If you are worried the lamb will overcook, take from the oven and leave wrapped in the foil. It will easily stay hot for upwards of an hour.
Wine: Something good and rich and spicy, perhaps a Ch’teauneuf du Pape or a CÙteaux de Baux-en-Provence. A Rioja Reserva would be an excellent choice, too, hard to beat with well flavoured lamb.

Copyright © Marc Millon 2001

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Copyright © Marc and Kim Millon 2001