Lamb with Mint Sauce and The Country Fair

Back in the day when expectations were so much lower and excitement meant being given an ice block, we were on a family holiday, just a few hours north of Auckland.  It was a little town of mostly rural residents where the pace of life was relaxed and the setting idyllic.  I must have been about five years old and not looking out for much; just hoping to be taken to the beach where I could play in the sand, visit the rock pools, collect sea shells and be given the occasional treat like an ice block or a barley sugar lolly.

Slow-roasted shoulder of lamb with homemade mint sauce

But one day my father announced that the town’s annual fair was on and that he would be taking us there for the day,  the very next day.  In one more sleep.  I had no idea what to expect but I was so excited I barely slept a wink.   I’d been told there would be  a Ferris wheel and a merry-go-round and I could have rides on both.  It seemed too good to be true.

Early the next morning and after a sensible breakfast we drove off to the fair that was held in a paddock.  It was a glorious day full of sunshine and as soon as I stepped onto the paddock I could smell farm-type smells of hay and sheep and horses.  We went from stall to stall visiting the animals and I saw pigs with piglets and baby lambs that still had their tails and ducks with ducklings and cows feeding their calves and mares looking after their foals.

And I had a ride on the Ferris wheel where I went up so high and went round and round and enjoyed the fact that we were the last to be removed before the next ride.  I went on the merry-go-round where my father lifted me onto one of the outer horses because he said I’d travel a greater distance.  There were also tractor rides where the tractor towed behind it a row of sacks.  Children would sit on the sacks and hold on to a bit of rope then the tractor would start and we would be towed all over the paddock getting bumped along and breathing in exhaust fumes.  You had to hang on for dear life or be strewn across the paddock and left there as the tractor continued on.  There are many reasons why you don’t see that kind of an amusement ride these days but back then it was nothing but sensational fun.

Homemade mint sauce

I was also given a wooden stick with sticky pink fluff on it called ‘Candy Floss’.  I had never seen it before in my life.  I loved it.  I also had a toffee apple.  Another treat I’d never had before either.

I was so sad when it was time to go home.  I hoped to be taken to a country fair another time but that was the one and only occasion where I went to a country fair that was genuinely ‘country’ and not an overly commercialised and orchestrated event.

What everyone used to enjoy back then after a day working in the paddocks was coming home to a family roast.  The most popular roast was lamb and everyone grew mint and from the mint they would make their own mint sauce.  Here’s how my mother used to make her mint sauce using mint from her own garden (of course).

The meat just falls off the bone

Slow-Roasted Shoulder of Lamb with Mint Sauce

Serves:  4-6

Degree of Difficulty:  2/5

Cost:  The shoulder is one of the least expensive parts of the lamb and it has the most flavour.

For the shoulder:

  • 2kg lamb shoulder with shank
  • olive oil
  • small bunch of rosemary
  • bulb of garlic broken into cloves, unpeeled
  • seasoning

Preheat oven to 160C.

Place lamb in a large roasting dish.  Scatter rosemary and garlic cloves around the lamb.  Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Cover with foil and place in the oven for 4 hours.

For the mint sauce:

  • 3/4 bunch mint
  • 1 tbspn raw sugar
  • 1/4 cup boiling water
  • 1/2 cup malt vinegar

Place mint on chopping board and sprinkle with sugar.  Chop mint finely.  Place mint and sugar mixture into a jug.  Add boiling water and stir until sugar has dissolved.  Add vinegar and stir until combined.  Use immediately.

Serve with roasted vegetables and steamed greens

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  1. What a lovely memory, Charlie. And that lamb…OMG. I’ve only just started eating lamb because I never really liked Ontario lamb and my personal trainer persuaded me to try New Zealand lamb. Ontario lamb has a distinct taste and smell (more like odour). I will put this recipe on my list to try when we return from vacation in October. Have a great Thursday.

    • hotlyspiced says:

      Hi Eva, I would say if the lamb has an odour or strong flavour it is probably old as in more like mutton or hoggatt. Actual lamb doesn’t have a strong smell. I know the Thai’s don’t like to cook with lamb because they don’t like the strong smell but they’re not eating actual lamb, they’re eating something much older that has that stronger smell and flavour. Spring lamb is mild and lovely but you have to trust your butcher in that what you’re being given is actual lamb and not mutton. Do try this if you can source some good lamb. I hope you have a great holiday in October and I’m looking forward to reading all about it xx

  2. I love how you relate all your great stories and memories to a recipe. It’s always woven together so well. I love a good country fair, and totally would have loved that tractor ride!

  3. I love fairs and fetes when I was a child as well – Hopefully i’ll be able to take my (future) kids (lol) to something as nice one day!

    This lamb looks seriously awesome. Pinning for later because I have always sucked at making decent lamb – but I’m sure I’ll have a bit better luck with this recipe!

  4. Lovely memories for your first time at a country fair. I’ve been to a few as a teenager and just didn’t experience the same magic that you must have had at your early age. 🙂

    I quite enjoy lamb though I buy it so rarely due to the cost. I’ve heard of traditionally serving lamb with a mint jelly but this pesto-type one seems so much more satisfying flavour and texture wise.

  5. I LOVE reading your stories 🙂 This one brought back fuzzy memories of joy rides of fairs from my childhood, not too different from yours. I remember seeing all kinds of stuff….including a little boy once who had legs growing out of his tummy. Today, I still feel for that kid, and often wonder what happened to him. Carrying a dead twin for life had already made him a spectacle…wonder what happened later.
    This slow roasted recipe looks sensational, and I can almost taste the blast of flavors.
    Oh, and please come to my Weekend Dinner Party at The Lady 8 Home – my very first :))

  6. Such sweet memories! I still love times just as you describe–the simple, smaller pleasures that aren’t rushed. I still love our County Fair, and hope to find a time to visit ours which just opened. That’s often the problem…we are so busy, that we don’t make space for the simple pleasures. Hmmmm. Lots to think about, Charlie. What a great recipe. We love a lamb roast. And it’s always your sauces that really grab me, and this one is great!

  7. Such a sweet memory, Charlie. You have me at the description of ‘the meat just falls off the bone’….must be really yum!

  8. yummychunklet says:

    I just love the idea of mint sauce. It looks so delicious. Great post!

  9. What a wonderful memory! I used to go to a great fair during the summer near our vacation house but after we sold it I never got to go again 🙁 This lamb looks amazing….I’ve never heard of making your own mint sauce before, but it sounds so great. In america (or at least in my family) we serve lamb with mint jelly. Somehow i think your sauce would be much better.

  10. Victoria at Flavors of the Sun says:

    Nice memories, nice recipe. I love the look and sound of this mint sauce. And how I wish I could get my hands on some Australian or New Zealand lamb!

  11. What a wonderful memory to share my friend 😀
    I think I must have felt like that the first time going to the Easter show! There is so much to do and see 🙂
    A lovely recipe as well thank you for sharing!

    Choc Chip Uru

  12. “Candy floss”, that’s interesting! I know “Fairy Floss” in Australia and “Cotton Candy” in America; NZ must have conflated the two!

  13. Mint sauce is my husband’s favourite sauce of all time, he will eat it on almost anything, drench his food in it given half a chance, nothing comes close to it. He also likes mint chocolate, mint custard, anyway you get the drift. We love lamb too! I really enjoyed reading your description of the country fair and the Ferris wheel, such pleasures and such vivid memories you conjure up and trigger my own childhood memories. Great writing 🙂

  14. Glamorous Glutton says:

    It’s always candy floss here, I loved it when I was little. Those very traditional fairs are special. GG

  15. I only went to one fair and I’ll never forget it. I went with my best friend’s family because my parents thought the fair was filled with ne’er do wells and we needn’t go there. It was the Skowhegan State Fair (the oldest agricultural fair in the United States, I might add AND it’s in Maine – one of the most rural states) and I was only 9. I had my first cotton candy and my first corndog and I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.

    Then I went on one of those spinny rides and threw up for the next hour. I haven’t been back.

    After all that I was starving by the time I got home but I doubt we’d have had slow roasted leg of lamb with homemade mint sauce. Nobody in the states could have afforded lamb except on a special occasion. It’s widely available now though.

  16. Nothing beats a country Show/ Fair, at my parents town they still have a local public holiday for Show Day. I love looking at the cakes and preserves and garden produce now, but when I was little I just wanted to play the Clowns and win a prize!
    We too grew up with lamb roasts and home made mint sauce, but would use strong tea instead of the boiling water. It’s still one of my perennial favourites 🙂

  17. When I think about some of the “rides” I went on when I was little, it’s amazing how we all survived!! Your story brings back some good memories. And coming home to that lamb roast really made the day special! It’s an interesting recipe from you mom on the mint sauce, a little sweet and a little tangy. Great post Charlie!

  18. says:

    I remember going to the Kiama fair ever Christmas holidays when I was a child. Sadly there were no tractor rides that could have torn us limb from limb cause we would have loved them. How funny is it now that we cant even do cartwheels in school let alone ride on a bag behind a tractor?

  19. Claire @ Claire K Creations says:

    What a wonderful memory! I was such a wimp when I was little I don’t remember going on any rides like that. I do remember the thing at Luna park that is a spinning cone and you run to get to the top then get flung off it. I loved that ride!

    I’ve never thought to make mint sauce. Silly I know. I might have to give it ago.. could be a good present for my dad he loves mint sauce.

  20. Thing definitely were much more simpler times 🙂 now kids aren’t excited about these things anymore it’s all about ipads and computer games hehe you’re making me crave fair food now! 😀

  21. How quickly things have changed. We all took vacations by car, travelling for days to get to the destination. Take a plane? Are you nuts? It was good enough to go to the airport once or twice a year to have Sunday breakfast and watch the planes land and take off. And a trip to the county fair was just about the best day ever!
    Your lamb roast looks delicious and could have easily been found on our dinner table, Charlie, except there’d be no mint sauce. Mint just wasn’t used in our kitchens and I’ve no experience with it. Thanks for giving me a recipe to try.

  22. I think some things were definitely better in the ‘old days’. I love the image of that tractor ride 🙂 And this roast looks beautifully traditional – suitable for an English pub even!

  23. When I was growing up on the farm, we had the Easter show up in Auckland once a year and that was a major highlight as it was the only such fair. Still to this day, I love fairs of all kinds because they conjure up that same feeling of excitement and expectation I had as a child.

  24. Mandy - The Complete Cook Book says:

    Life was so much simpler when we were growing up and my Mom also always makes her own mint sauce. I was always in charge of picking the mint and chopping it.
    Have a lovely weekend Charlie.
    🙂 Mandy xo

  25. justonecookbook says:

    As always Charlie, I enjoyed listening to your story. I was thinking that you would say only thing you look forward to after having such a fun day is to eat delicious food like this!! I’d be so looking forward to going home if this was waiting at the dinner table. Well, for kids, they play even without eating, so that may not work, but what a lovely roast. Meat falls off the bone? Yum… my imagination is busy now. 🙂

  26. Shoulder of lamb was one of my mum’s favourites too, probably also because it was cheaper. I couldn’t remember last year how my mum used to make her mint sauce and had a hell of a job tracking down the right combo of ingredients. My mum used to make it by “eye” with not much measuring involved, she would taste it as she went along to see if it needed more sugar or more vinegar! Ahh those were the days!

  27. Juliet Batten says:

    You bring back lots of memories with this one Charlie. Kids are so protected now, but we had some pretty rough and ready country fairs too, and exciting they definitely were. And my grandmother made roast lamb with mint sauce just like this. Nice post.

  28. Karen (Back Road Journal) says:

    A fall off the bone piece of tender lamb and mint sauce sounds terrific.

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