|Aroostook Republican photo/Natalie Bazinet
They say everything’s better when it’s cooked with love, but the Sunrise Farm meat is already chock-full of love well before it hits the grill. Flavor isn’t the reason Phil and Jackie Doak of Sunrise Farm lovingly dote on their lambs, as their attentiveness and quality care produces delicious lamb that’s been a staple at the Caribou Farmers’ Market. A testament to how loved the lambs are, Phil is shown here holding one of the 5-day-old baby lambs at the farm. Every morning, he and Jackie carry the little lambs from the barn to the pasture; it’s not a very long walk, less than 100 yards, but Phil qualified the extra effort. “They have a hard time keeping up with mom and the rest of them, so we carry [the baby sheep] down and back,” he said. Shown in front is Finnegan, the happiest little lamb there is. Being bottle fed four times a day by the Doaks as a baby, Phil speculated that the little lamb might very well think he’s human.
By Natalie Bazinet
Customers come to the Caribou Farmers’ Market to purchase foods they can feel good about eating — it’s fresh, healthy, locally grown and often organic. Knowing where that nutrient dense food comes from has become an increasingly important question on consumers’ minds, and the Market’s vendors can expertly provide those answers.
In the case of Phil and Jackie Doak of Sunrise Farm, they can tell their customers more than where just their food comes from — they can tell them what time it went to bed, what time it woke up and which lambs it hung out with during the day.
Customers are often skeptical when it comes to lamb, and the Doaks easily understand why.
“Forty percent of people in this country have never tried lamb, and those that have probably had a bad experience because it was old mutton,” Phil said, adding that the odds are high that old mutton was probably processed incorrectly and cooked wrong so it came out smelling greasy and tasting even worse.
The Doaks wouldn’t eat that kind of meat themselves and they don’t expect their customers would, either.
Instead, the farmers eat the same quality meat eagerly purchased by customers — young grass-fed lamb that tastes nothing like the jaded stereotype.
Phil says that when the lamb is cooked right, processed right and raised right, “It’s a wonderful meat.”
Flavor, texture and deliciousness aside, lamb is also particularly good for individual with digestion issues, particularly elderly or very young individuals.
“The lamb works really well for them; it’s very easy to digest,” Phil explained.
While customers do purchase the Doaks’ lamb for its health benefits, most buy it for its famed flavor and texture. Lamb has a very similar texture to beef, which is one reason why lamb and barbeque are perfect companions.
Though customers still like to use ground lamb to make dishes like Kibbeh and cabbage rolls, lamb burgers are becoming more and more common on Aroostook grills as the word gets out that lamb is much more than just chops (though lamb chops are still immensely popular).
“People love lamb chops and around this time of the year, people are getting into grilling,” Jackie said. “You can brush the lamb chops with olive oil and put them on the grill or you can marinate them first.”
Garlic and rosemary really bring out the best in lamb, and “a little thyme is also good,” she added. “The secret I think to cooking the lamb is not to over cook it.”
“Cook lamb low and slow,” Phil advised.
Garlic, rosemary and thyme compliment lamb, but the meat is best known paired with the quintessential mint jelly — as loyal customers know, Jackie makes her own locally grown mint jelly.
Mint jelly — and over 20 other flavors of jelly — is sold at the farmers market, all homemade and uniquely Aroostook. Made without any preservatives and entirely from ingredients found right here in Maine, Jackie prepares the jams and jellies similarly to the way Aroostook’s ancestors did.
Traditional flavors like strawberry (Phil’s favorite) are found on their farmers’ market table right next to crabapple, chokecherry and black currant. Though these unconventional flavors may not be readily found on supermarket shelves now a days, they were a pantry staple once upon a time.
“A lot of these berries were very beneficial for the colonial women and the strong Acadian culture here,” Jackie said. “A lot of the chokecherries and cranberries were saved [in a similar manner] and they got people through the winters flues and colds.”
While Jackie’s jams and jellies are kind of like little jars of history, modern society can use the historic flavors the same way Aroostook’s forefathers did: slather thickly on toast and enjoy.
Phil and Jackie like knowing where their food comes from and they want their customers to have that same experience, which is why they’re hosting the farm’s second open house of the year.
On Sunday, May 27 and Memorial Day, (Monday, May 28) everyone’s invited to Sunrise Farm to meet the animals — like little Finnegan.
As his mom was unable to feed the infant lamb, Phil and Jackie bottle-fed the tiny, fuzzy Finnegan four times a day.
Now that he’s grown, Finnegan still seems to prefer the Doak’s company above his own species.
“I think [Finnegan] thinks he’s human,” Phil said.
All of the cows and sheep at Sunrise farm have a place in Phil and Jackie’s heart, apparent by the fact they greet each animal by name as they rush over to the couple looking for an affectionate pat.
“That’s another thing we like to stress about our animals,” Phil explained. “Whether it’s the cows or the sheep, they’re all humanely handled.”
Jackie says visiting the farm and meeting the sheep and cows is a fun experience for everyone — families with children and older folks looking for an afternoon out.
Open farm hours on May 27 are from noon until 3 p.m. and on Monday from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. Sunrise Farm is located at 571 Margison Road in Woodland and the couple will be at the Caribou Farmers’ Market this afternoon.