shakers exemplify simplicity

Shaker Village

The United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing (called the Shakers) was founded in the 18th century in England as a branch of the Quakers. The sect fled to America to gain religious freedom.  Known for their communal lifestyle, pacifism, and practice of celibacy, they also established model for equality of the sexes. Shakers are famous for their simple living, food, architecture, and furniture. Their credo is, Hands to work; hearts to God.

Because they relied on evangelism alone to grow their numbers, today only one active Shaker village remains in the U.S.—Sabbathday Lake, near New Gloucester, Maine. The village grows all its own herbs and includes them in most of their dishes. I was privileged many years ago to host a Shaker exhibit at the Nylander Museum in Caribou and to take a cooking lesson from the wonderful staff of kind, gentle folks. Here are a few of the dishes they prepared, and I’ve adapted their recipes for today’s cooks.

shaker chicken tarragon
Four ingredients? How can a recipe be more simple or easy? Tarragon is a type of mint with a mellow grassy flavor that pairs perfectly with chicken or fish. That’s why this dish is so flavorful. If you buy a free-range, organic chicken, you don’t need a ton of ingredients. And you’ll actually taste the chicken! Totally worth it.


  • One 2½ lb. free-range, organic frying chicken
  • Butter or cooking oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Dried tarragon


  1. Preheat oven to 300° and prepare a small roasting pan by coating inside with a small amount of butter or oil.
  2. Thoroughly wash the inside and outside of the chicken with cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Rub entire outside of chicken lightly with oil or butter. Sprinkle salt in cavity and rub in. Sprinkle salt and rub all over outside of chicken. Repeat with the tarragon inside and out.
  3. Place in pan and tuck wings under. Tie legs together with cotton twine. Bake about 2 hours or till thermometer inserted in the meatiest part of the breast reads 165°. (Tent with foil if breast or legs get too brown.)
  4. Remove from oven. Cover with foil and let rest for fifteen to twenty minutes while you prepare the table. Serve in halves or quarters as needed.

shaker herb biscuits
The secret here is to not overwork the dough. Overworking develops gluten, which is fine in yeast bread, but not in biscuits. Herb biscuits can be made with any herb—totally up to you. This is great because you can make dill biscuits to serve with fish; basil and oregano to serve with Italian food; or thyme and sage to serve with pork. Measurements are given for dried herbs, but fresh herbs can be used at the ratio of 4 times fresh chopped to 1 dried (1 tsp fresh to ¼ tsp dried)


  • 4 cups flour
  • 3 rounded tsp baking powder
  • 3 Tbs sugar
  • 3 tsp total of any dried herb or combination: thyme, dill, basil, chervil, marjoram, sage, oregano
  • 1 tsp table salt (or 2 tsp kosher salt)
  • 6 Tbs shortening (lard or solid shortening work best)
  • 2 cups milk


  1. Preheat oven to 425°.
  2. Sift together flour, salt, and baking powder. Stir in herbs.
  3. Cut shortening in small pieces and blend into flour mixture with fingers or a pastry blender till it is in pea-size pieces.
  4. Gradually mix in milk very gently till well mixed.
  5. Turn out onto a lightly floured board and roll to a thickness of one inch, and, if it resists stretching, allow dough to rest if necessary.
  6. Use a round cookie cutter or simply cut dough into squares. Place on greased cookie sheets
  7. Bake for 20-30 minutes till raised and browned.

TIP: Just read this the other day, and this might very well be the reason why my and many others’ biscuits fail to rise as high as they should. Apparently, if you use a cookie cutter or jar rim to cut your biscuit dough and, like most of us, TWIST the cutter, it can seal the layers and prevent the biscuits from rising! I had no idea, and intend to test this very soon with twisted and non-twisted cutting. I would imagine the same goes for cutting the dough in squares—no sawing. Just cut straight down. Write to me if you discover anything. 

dill dip
Chop up those celery sticks, baby carrots, mushrooms, and bell peppers. Here’s a wholesome veggie dip to make at home (store-bought jars of veggie dip are loaded with sugar and chemicals!) that is healthy and nutritious.


  • 2/3 cup mayonnaise or Miracle Whip®
  • 2/3 cup sour cream
  • 1 Tbs minced onion
  • 1 Tbs minced fresh parsley or ¾ tsp dried
  • 2 Tbs fresh dill weed or 1½ tsp dried dill weed
  • 1½  tsp kosher salt


Mix all ingredients and place in the refrigerator for 8-24 hours before serving. A squeeze of lemon or lime juice and some rind will improve the flavor even more. Serve with prepared veggies and crackers if desired.

TIP: You can buy herb seeds at any local grocery or hardware store and start your own herb garden on your windowsill. Transplant small plants outdoors or grow in containers on your deck or dooryard steps. You can clip them as needed all summer long and cut and dry them for winter use! If you have any questions about growing or drying herbs, please write to me at


you do not knead your daily bread

crusty-artisan-bread-1Bread is so basic, yet what beats the aroma of freshly baked bread filling the kitchen? There are two types—yeast bread and soda bread. I’ll give you one of each here—both made in rather unconventional ways. If you haven’t tried to bake your own, I encourage you to. It’s satisfying, and the varieties of flour, other additions, and forms they can take can jazz up your meal times. Not to mention, the nutritional value beats that soft airy loaf you buy at the grocery store. You know exactly what goes into your masterpiece. No chemicals or transfats. Pure, wholesome, and delicious.

The first two recipes appeared in my newspaper column. The third recipe is for a quick and easy Tabouli Bread made using frozen bread dough. Enjoy!

no-knead crusty artisan bread

“Artisan” means individually crafted, sometimes rustic. That describes this loaf, which is far from looking mass-produced. I first heard about this bread, which calls for only four ingredients and no kneading, from several sources online. My first was from Paula Fowler, a former director of the Presque Isle Chamber of Commerce. Paula lives in Kentucky now, and we stay in touch on Facebook. Paula says, “I am completely obsessed with this bread. This is insanely easy. It literally took 2 minutes to stir together. Let it sit overnight and bake in the morning.” This is a great way to get your kids introduced to bread making, and yourself if you’ve never made bread in your life!


  • 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 3 tsp coarse (Kosher) salt (or 1¾ tsp table salt)
  • ½ tsp dry instant or rapid-rise yeast
  • 1½ cups lukewarm water


Special cookware needed: Dutch oven or any large oven-safe dish/bowl with a lid

  1. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, salt, and yeast. Add water and mix until a shaggy dough forms. Don’t overwork. Cover bowl and set aside for 8-18 hours or overnight till risen and bubbly-looking on top.
  2. When dough is ready, preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Place your Dutch oven, uncovered, into the preheated oven for 30 minutes.
  3. While your Dutch oven preheats (no greasing needed), turn dough onto a well-floured surface and, with floured hands, form the dough into a ball. Cover dough loosely with plastic wrap and let rest.
  4. After 30 minutes, carefully remove Dutch oven to a hot pad or rack. Remove the plastic wrap from dough, and with floured hands, place the dough into the hot pan. (Place a piece of parchment under the dough if your dish isn’t enamel-coated.)
  5. Cover and bake 30 minutes. Remove cover and bake another 7-15 minutes, uncovered, till golden brown and crusty.
  6. Cool about a half-hour and slice with a bread knife. Enjoy!

Skillet Cornbreadskillet cornbread

This bread uses toasted cornmeal that makes it extra good tasting, plus it is gluten-free since it contains no wheat flour. It is a soda bread that requires no kneading—just a little jockeying around of pans.


  • 2 ¼ cups cornmeal (I prefer Arrow Mills as it is organic and not genetically modified)
  • 1 ½ cups sour cream
  • ½ cup milk
  • ¼ cup lite olive oil (not extra-virgin)
  • 4 Tbs butter
  • 2 Tbs sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ¾ tsp table salt
  • 2 large eggs


  1. Set oven racks to middle and lower middle positions and heat oven to 450°. When hot, place a 10-inch cast iron skillet on the middle rack for 10 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, spread cornmeal in a rimmed baking sheet and toast in oven on the lower rack about 5 minutes, then transfer to a large bowl. Mix with sour cream and milk.
  3. Add oil to skillet in oven and heat another 5 minutes. Remove from oven and add butter. Melt and pour it, mixed with the oil, into the batter in bowl.
  4. Whisk in remaining ingredients with eggs being last. Quickly scrape into hot skillet and smooth the top of batter.
  5. Transfer skillet to middle rack of oven and bake for 12-15 minutes, rotating to lower rack midway through. Bread is done when edges are golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the middle of the bread comes out clean.
  6. Cool 10 minutes. Best served immediately, but will keep a few days in the refrigerator—if it lasts that long!

tabouli bread

This is a delicious stuffed bread with a Lebanese flair. Frozen bread dough gives you a distinct head start. I defrost mine in the microwave, but you can take it out of the freezer early on the day before, and it will thaw just fine. Follow directions on the package. Bulgur is a type of cracked wheat (also called burghul) that can be found in larger grocery stores and also in Sleeper’s in Caribou.


  • 1½ cups warm water
  • ¾ cup bulgur wheat
  • ½ cup plain tomato sauce
  • 1 medium tomato, peeled, seeded, and chopped
  • ½ cup snipped fresh parsley
  • 1 Tbs lemon juice
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp fresh mint leaves, finely chopped OR 1 tsp dried, crushed mint
  • 2 Tbs pine nuts, toasted (optional)
  • 1 16-oz loaf frozen bread dough, thawed
  • 2 tsp butter


  1. In a bowl, combine warm water and bulgur. Let stand 1 hour. Drain, pressing out excess water.
  2. Combine bulgur with tomato sauce, chopped tomato, parsley, lemon juice, cinnamon, and mint. Set aside.
  3. On a floured surface, roll dough out to a 20 x 10-inch rectangle. (If dough is too elastic, let it rest for 15 minutes.) Once it is rolled out, cover top of dough with the olive oil.
  4. Spread the bulgur mixture over the dough to within 1 inch from the edges. Evenly sprinkle on the pine nuts.
  5. Roll up the dough jelly-roll style from the long edge. Moisten and seal edge and ends.
  6. Starting from one end of roll, coil roll loosely in a snail fashion and place seam side down in a greased 9 x 1½-in round pan. Cover and let rise till nearly double, about 45-60 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375°.
  7. When risen, bake 35-40 minutes, covering with foil the last 15 minutes if necessary to prevent overbrowning.
  8. Spread butter on top of hot loaf. Cool on a wire rack and cut into wedges to serve.


Thaw bread dough in the refrigerator overnight if you can’t watch it all day.