Celebrating Community with a Backyard Lamb Feast in Bovina, NY

The rolling hills and red clay roads of Bovina were exactly where my husband and I wanted to be for the Fourth of July — the indisputable apex of summer — a holiday that encapsulates everything that this slow, hazy, lush, green season represents. We were already heading north when the invitation to attend a Francis Mallmann-inspired lamb dinner was unexpectedly extended to me. I, of course, said yes.

The dinner was hosted by Carver Farrell, owner of The Pines in Brooklyn, Bovina native Mark Foster of FosterBuilt Coffee, and Alex Wilson of Wayside Cider. It was a true collaborative effort that took place in Mark’s sprawling backyard, the three of them working tirelessly to prepare a feast that celebrated community, friends, the local farmers and the food they grow. “The lamb dinner came out of a longer conversation Carver and I had been having for the last couple of years about a cuisine that is specific to the Western Catskills,” says Alex. “I had been reading old books about early Catskill settlers cooking game and foraged food over campfire. This was almost a test of a concept that we would like to do monthly at the Wayside Barn — cooking over fire and using amazing local ingredients.”

Guests gathered in intermittent clusters, engaged in warm conversation, while children ran around in excited flight patterns. A scan of faces revealed familiar friends: Taylor Foster of Heaven on Main Street and artist A.J. Mason, Catskills-based maker of lingerie and swimwear Siobhan Barrett, Erin Lindsey and Denny Brownell of Escape Brooklyn, Thomas Callahan from Brooklyn’s Horse Cycles, and Tianna Kennedy, owner of Star Route Farms, to name a few. “Delaware County has always been for us an escape from city life — dinners like this summer lamb roast bring us all together,” says photographer Andrea Gentl of Gentl and Hyers. “It gives us a little pause in our otherwise hectic lives and connects us to our community of ever growing farmers, chefs, vintners, and artists.”

With the ease and familiarity of gathering in a close friend’s backyard and the sheer endless possibilities of summer unfurling before us, we gathered around the tallest bonfire I have had the pleasure of knowing — expertly built and ruthlessly tended to by Denny — before heading to an intimate fireworks display to close out the evening.

Brooklyn-based Lisa Przystup is a freelance copywriter and the talented florist behind James’s Daughter Flowers. Visit her website to learn her story and take a peek at her stunning floral arrangements.

Lamb Dinner in Bovina, NY. Photos by Andrea Gentl. andnorth.com

  The lambs, sourced locally from Argyle Farms, were stretched out on roasting racks and cooked in the Argentinian “al Asador” style — a slow-cook method that involves mounting a whole lamb to a rack and cooking it for six to seven hours while basting it with “salmuera,” a saltwater brine made with garlic and herbs.

Lamb Dinner in Bovina, NY. Photos by Andrea Gentl. andnorth.com

  As we approached the nook that harbored the plancha, we were greeted with a flurry of activity, the kind you normally associate with the hum of a bee’s nest. “We got the fire going under the plancha early in the day and seasoned it with olive oil before cooking in it,” says Carver, who welded the plancha together in his barn early that morning using a sheet of hot rolled steel and adding tubular steel for legs.

Lamb Dinner in Bovina, NY. Photos by Andrea Gentl. andnorth.com
Lamb Dinner in Bovina, NY. Photos by Andrea Gentl. andnorth.com
Lamb Dinner in Bovina, NY. Photos by Andrea Gentl. andnorth.com

  The dinner payed tribute to the area’s rich farming history with a focus on supporting local farms, such as Star Route Farm in Charlotteville, Bovina Valley Farms in Delhi, Argyle Farm and Dirty Girl Farm in Andes. Steve Burnett from Burnett Farms — a beautiful, 150-acre mountain farm in Bovina that he runs with his wife Kristie — couldn’t attend the dinner, but that didn’t stop him from dropping off produce earlier in the day. The farm’s sustainable growing methods were evident in the vibrant flavor profiles of the produce.

Lamb Dinner in Bovina, NY. Photos by Andrea Gentl. andnorth.com

  “Dry Town is named after Bovina which, until recently, was dry,” explains Alex. “It’s a blend of wild apples foraged from the hills of Bovina, with an addition of macerated crab apples from one of the only groves of crab apples we know about in the county. We wanted to produce an unadulterated, honest cider, still, unfiltered and completely dry. This is cider at its most naked and, we feel, most authentic and delicious.”

Lamb Dinner in Bovina, NY. Photos by Andrea Gentl. andnorth.com

  “The dinner party perfectly embodied the zeitgeist of collective supportive community that Bovina has been fostering for generations,” says Tianna, who came bearing beautiful fresh produce from Star Route Farm. “In the past, farming and farm-related businesses up here were necessarily community-oriented and collectivized. We’ve moved back to that more traditional value-system and away from ‘me generation thinking.’ It feels good and is fun and, ultimately, our collaboration is buoying our businesses and projects. It’s a great talent pool and an even better group of friends.”

Lamb Dinner in Bovina, NY. Photos by Andrea Gentl. andnorth.com

  Long buffet-style tables laden with a canvas of fennel fronds were covered with various sides like beet salad with goat cheese from Dirty Girl Farm, roasted fennel with parmesan from Bovina Valley Farms, blue corn polenta with tomatoes and fresh ricotta, and mixed greens and cabbage slaw from Star Route Farms.

Lamb Dinner in Bovina, NY. Photos by Andrea Gentl. andnorth.com

  Danny Newberg from NYC’s Joint Venture, a company that curates food-related pop-up events, was in town for a collaborative dinner the next night at Brushland Eating House — a local favorite helmed by Sohail Zandi and Sara Elbert. “Danny saw that I had a lot on my hands so he and his crew jumped in to help,” says Carver. “He helped man the plancha and also made the green salad and slaw with the produce from Star Route, while Jed, one of his crewmembers, helped break down the lamb.”

Lamb Dinner in Bovina, NY. Photos by Andrea Gentl. andnorth.com

  The lamb was served with a variety of different sauces: a chimichurri made with fresh parsley, oregano, garlic and dried chili peppers — the most traditional accompaniment to Lamb al Asador — simple and not too spicy; Venezuelan guasacaca; and a salsa verde made by Andrea Gentl — the spiciest of the three — that left my lips warm with spice long after I had ladled heaping spoonfuls over the tender meat.

Lamb Dinner in Bovina, NY. Photos by Andrea Gentl. andnorth.com

  Guests helped themselves to a variety of beverages, from cold Coronas and Wayside Cider, to a pitcher of fresh watermelon juice left out on Mark’s coffee cart with a bottle of mezcal.

Lamb Dinner in Bovina, NY. Photos by Andrea Gentl. andnorth.com
Lamb Dinner in Bovina, NY. Photos by Andrea Gentl. andnorth.com
Lamb Dinner in Bovina, NY. Photos by Andrea Gentl. andnorth.com

  Mark roasts his coffee beans in his backyard shop, which provided a highly photogenic backdrop to the impressive Lamb al Asador display.

Lamb Dinner in Bovina, NY. Photos by Andrea Gentl. andnorth.com

  At the end of the evening, we found ourselves piling into a car to catch an impromptu backyard fireworks display that was so close, the burnt paper fell on us like snow, and the sparks danced behind our eyelids for many hours after the show ended.