Conversations with a Lamb

The carcasses would normally arrive Saturday morning, sometimes three or four of them. They would be laid on the kitchen table, covered by a cool white sheet as we had no cold room. The smell of dead meat and almost rancid fat would pervade the house. As the day wore on specks of blood would stain the sheet where the brown paper had broken and the flesh was exposed. Sometimes, in the early days of farm animals, a leg would peep out, a small patch of white fur calling for help on the white sinews.

We would wait until my father arrived, and then we would spear the lamb carcasses onto the spit spears, tie the neck first, sometimes breaking it to get it parallel to the spit. Then the legs were tied to the clamps we had locked on the spit. Finally we would sew up the abdomen, leaving the blue kidneys attached inside. If the weather was warm, we did the tying up on the veranda, in the fresh air; if it was cold we worked in the kitchen. Either way afterwards we left the carcasses on the kitchen table.

Remember we had been fasting for a week, not eating meat, so the incongruity of what we were doing was somewhat removed. The event was tense, as we often did not do it right, and always got poked by the wire ends and mixed our blood with that of the lamb. And we did not need the kitchen table that evening, as after the Resurrection Mass we would all go to Aunty Marina for a late supper, to break the fast with avgolemono soup.

Early on Sunday morning we would all be up, helping to make the fire, doing the final adjustments on the homemade frame that would turn the lamb for six or seven hours. There was always an obligatory discussion on improvements to the machine, usually by complicating the mechanism. It seemed to be a Greek thing, to complicate things. I wonder what we would have done if we were German?

The cooking , however, was simple: on the fire turning for five hours and then another one or two hours basted with a simple mix of fresh lemon juice, sunflower oil, salt and oregano from the village. As the basting started the aroma would transport the sacrificial lambs to heaven, and a select few family members would be allowed to pick at pieces of the skin; their appreciation showing in the smacking of lips and thankfulness at eating meat again.

I remember the first spits were fresh poplar stems, with the fire in a hole in the ground, and having to manually turn the lamb. Then we got a single motorised spit. In time,as money became available Uncle Peter made a three lamb affair under my father’s direction, and shortly afterwards extended it to hold five. This caused much stress, as it was difficult to manage the fire for the middle lamb and the whole thing sometimes set up harmonic motion, usually to a Tsamiko, and danced all over the garden.

Until the day the shaft of the spit broke in the middle, and delivered the half cooked lamb into the fire. I was traumatised and it took a long time for me to be able to cope with lamb on the spit again.