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.

ingredients

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

directions

  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)

ingredients

  • 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

directions

  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.

ingredients

  • 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

directions

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 stardesign@ainop.com.


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“them that works hard eats hearty!” (part 1)

369px-Amish_On_the_way_to_school_by_Gadjoboy2

In the mid 1700s, Anabaptists fled persecution in Europe, settling in Pennsylvania and 19 other states. They are now a presence in Aroostook County and other parts of Maine, and they have brilliantly colored my childhood memories. We are fortunate to have these talented folks in our midst. Known collectively as Pennsylvania Dutch, both sects, Amish and Mennonite share similar history, fashion style, and religious beliefs. The difference between them is lifestyle—Amish live off the grid and travel by horse-drawn carriage while Mennonites accept and use technology and embrace the convenience of motorized travel.

As a kid in Philadelphia I remember buying many delicious treats from the Mennonite booth at the flea market. Amish-style foods were available in all the grocery stores and bakeries. I learned how to prepare many of these dishes as a young girl. I enjoyed their humor, too—a humor they are famous for. We had plaques hanging in our home with Pennsylvania Dutch proverbs like, “We grow too soon old and too late smart,” “The hurrieder I go, the behinder I get,” and “Kissing wears out, cooking don’t.”

For the next couple of columns, I will feature food from these gentle, hardworking, devoted folks. Of course, most of the dishes derive, not from Dutch, but from German cookery (Deutsch is German for German!)—usually very simple with fewer ingredients than most other European fare. But hard work deserves good food, so these dishes do not lack richness and satisfaction!

dumplings (spaetzle)
Spaetzle is a German noodle they call dumplings . Great mixed with hot buttered whole green beans or as a side with schnitzel gravy. HINT: Dropping the batter into boiling liquid using a funnel or a metal colander will make it easier than pouring from a bowl. Batter can be thinned a bit if necessary. Cooking time is not specified so taste testing is necessary! Start testing after 3 minutes.

  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp salt plus 2 tsp for cooking water

Prepare a large pot of salted boiling water or meat broth. In a large bowl, place flour. Add milk slowly, stirring constantly to keep mixture smooth. Add 1 egg at a time, beating well after each addition. Salt and mix well. When cooking in boiling salted water or meat broth, pour the batter from a shallow bowl, tilting it over the boiling water or broth. With a sharp knife or kitchen shears, slice off pieces of the batter into the boiling liquid. Dip blades in the liquid before each cut to prevent sticking. Remove from liquid using a slotted spoon or spider. Drain well before serving,

amish cucumber salad
If you’re on a salt-restricted diet, skip salting the cukes and onions. Or if you’re too lazy to do it, that’s okay, too. You will need to eat it all up the same day, though, because the water will leach out into the dressing over time. My Aunt Myrtle taught me how to make this. It disappears from the table quickly.

  • 2 medium cucumbers, pared and thinly sliced
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • Salt
  • 2 Tbs vinegar
  • 2 Tbs sugar
  • ¼ cup sour cream
  • 2 tsp chopped fresh parsley or dill (optional)
  • White or black pepper

Sprinkle cukes and onion with a teaspoon of salt and let stand for a few minutes. Pat with towel or absorbent paper to remove moisture. Place cucumbers and onions in a bowl, dissolve sugar in the vinegar, add a pinch of salt and mix with sour cream. Toss thoroughly with cucumber mix to cover. Turn out to a serving dish; dust with pepper and parsley or dill. Chill. Best eaten same day.

amish red cabbage (rote kraut)

Place 4 Tbs of bacon grease in a large heavy pot. Brown one finely chopped onion till golden. Shred one 2½ lb head of red cabbage. Mix ¼ cup vinegar with ¼ cup water and 2 Tbs sugar.

Next, place cabbage in onion and grease. Pour vinegar and sugar mixture over. Salt and pepper to taste, and combine. Bring to boil over medium high heat taking care not to scorch bottom. Quarter 1 large pared, cored apple and place on top of cabbage. Lower heat, cover, and simmer 20 minutes. Makes 10 servings.

amish scalloped spinach

  • 2 lbs fresh spinach
  • 2 cups milk
  • 4 Tbs butter, melted
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups bread crumbs, divided
  • ½ cup chopped bacon
  • Salt and pepper

Wash spinach and remove tough stems. Drain and cook with a little water in covered pot over moderate heat for 8 to 10 minutes. Drain and chop finely. Add milk, beaten eggs, 1½ cups of the bread crumbs, butter, salt, pepper then mix well. Sprinkle the remaining ½ cup bread crumbs and the chopped bacon, on the top. Bake in moderate oven (350 ° F) 35 minutes.

amish corn soup with rivels
Rivels are miniature dumplings dropped into soup, similar to spaetzle, to extend the volume of the meal and add taste and texture with little effort.

  • 3 cups fresh or frozen corn
  • 2 qts water
  • 1 cup rich milk
  • 1 1/3 cups flour
  • 1 egg
  • 3 Tbs butter
  • 1½ tsp salt
  • Parsley

Add corn to water and cook for 10 minutes. Mix egg, flour and milk together in a medium size bowl. Pour this batter through a colander, letting it drop into the boiling corn. Add butter and salt. Cook slowly in a covered pan for 3 minutes. Test for doneness. Garnish with chopped parsley. Serve immediately.

amish pickled beets

  • 3 lbs. whole fresh beets
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 1 tsp whole allspice
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 1 pt. vinegar
  • ½ cup water

Prepare jars for canning by sterilizing in a large pot of boiling water or baking jars in the oven. See a book like Putting Food By (Hertzberg, Vaughn and Greene) for exact canning instructions. Remove greens and root strings taking care not to trim too closely or beets will “bleed” into the cooking water. Boil until tender. Cool a bit, remove skins, and cut into thin slices or chunks as desired. Tie spices in cheesecloth packet. Bring to a boil the vinegar, water, sugar, and spices. Add beets and boil 5 minutes. Pack in sterile jars and fill with hot liquid. Seal.

pennsylvania dutch red beet eggs
In high school I cleaned house every Saturday for a couple, both artists, who were of German descent. After working for a couple of hours, they would put out a spread on the kitchen table and their two children and I would enjoy these delicious beets and eggs along with thick slices of creamy Meunster cheese and dark pumpernickel bread. I still use their recipe for the beets to this day.

To make red beet eggs, thinly slice some red onions and add to hot pickled beets about two-thirds up in a large jar. Cool. Hard-boil six eggs. Remove shells and drop the eggs into the jar making sure they are totally submerged in the liquid. Refrigerate at least overnight. Longer is better. These take on a beautiful color and excellent flavor and are grand as appetizers served with crisp vegetables. They are also good sliced in sandwiches or salads.

Next time, I will post some delicious Amish and Mennonite desserts. Remember, “Eat yourself full!”

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that’s me at the national chicken cooking contest in 1983!

that's me at the national chicken cooking contest in 1983!

Not many remember I was the 1983 Maine Chicken-Cooking Champion. I won the state contest and was privileged to compete in the nationals in the chicken capital of the US, Birmingham, Alabama. I was given a plane ticket, a $100 check, hotel accommodations, all meals during the three-day event, a chicken tote bag, chicken tea set, and an engraved silver bowl. At the cook-off, we each had our own mini-kitchen. The only thing they did not provide were the pots, pans, and serving dishes I needed to use so I had to lug those on the plane. My recipe was published in the National Chicken Cooking Contest’s yearly cookbook. I didn’t win, but it was so much fun, and I met so many great people!

lemon-mint chicken thighs
Here’s the recipe that won me the state award, inspired by my love of Lebanese food served so often in Caribou, Maine.

  • 8 skinless chicken thighs
  • 2 large lemons
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 tsp salt, divided
  • ¼ tsp pepper
  • 1 Tbs dried mint
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 4 Tbs cornstarch
  • 3 Tbs cold water
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 2 Tbs pine nuts

In a deep saucepan, place chicken, 2 cups water, 1 tsp of the salt, and the juice and peel of one lemon. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, about 25 minutes or till tender. Remove chicken from broth and set aside to cool. Separate meat from bones. Reserve broth. Discard lemon peel. Add enough water to broth to make 3 cups. In a medium pan, bring broth to a boil over medium heat, add mint, pepper, oil, and remaining salt. Mix cornstarch with 3 Tbs water, reduce heat to low, and stir into broth till thick, about 5 minutes. Add chicken and heat through, then stir in yogurt, heating only till warm to prevent curdling. Serve over rice, sprinkled with pine nuts and garnished with lemon slices.

melt-in-your-mouth chicken
My friend, Pete Freeman, pharmacist extraordinaire at Shop ‘n Save, posted this recipe on his Facebook page. The name of this dish says it all. It is truly luscious and dancin’ good!

Preheat oven to 375°. Mix together:

  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • ¼ cup shredded parmesan cheese
  • ¾ tsp Lawry’s Seasoned Salt
  • ¼ tsp black pepper
  • ½ tsp garlic powder

Spread the mixture evenly over 2 boneless chicken breast halves. Bake 30-45 minutes till fork-tender and meat thermometer reads 165°. So golden good. Serve with rice or potatoes and a green veggie.

TIP: INVEST IN A GOOD MEAT THERMOMETER
With all the warnings about salmonella and E coli out there, be sure your food is safe to eat. Purchase a good meat thermometer. It will pay for itself in peace of mind.

original recipe KFC chicken
This is as close as it gets—11 herbs and spices!

Ingredients

  • 1 whole chicken, cut into pieces.
  • 3 beaten eggs
  • ¼ cup light olive or peanut oil

For the Coating

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp poultry seasoning (thyme, sage, marjoram, rosemary, and nutmeg)
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp tarragon
  • ½ tsp garlic powder
  • ½ tsp onion powder
  • ½ tsp celery salt

Directions
Pat chicken dry with a paper towel. Salt liberally on all sides. Place oil in a heavy skillet and heat to medium. Sift together all coating ingredients. Coat each piece of chicken with flour, dip in the egg then back into the flour mixture covering thoroughly. Place on a plate. When oil is hot, place chicken skin side down and brown slowly uncovered. When golden. turn over and cover. Reduce heat to medium-low and fry till fork tender, juices run clear, and a thermometer registers 165° when inserted in the deepest area of meat. Serve with KFC-recipe coleslaw.

“secret” recipe KFC coleslaw
There are several of these recipes floating around. Here’s the link to one with a 5-star rating: http://www.food.com/recipe/copycat-kfc-coleslaw-the-real-thing-67284

easy jerk chicken
This scrumptious dish is adapted from the traditional Jamaican recipe. There are many conflicting claims as to how to prepare this spicy sweet chicken. I used to buy a prepared Jerk Sauce, but the store stopped carrying it. This recipe is delicious. The number of ingredients is long, but it is totally worth it. You can use boneless chicken breasts or chicken parts. If using bone-in breasts, be sure to half and then quarter them so all pieces are the same size and cook evenly. Separate drumsticks from thighs. This makes a nice load of chicken with plenty for leftovers.

Ingredients

  • 2-3 lbs chicken
  • ½ cup molasses
  • 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tsp ground allspice
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 tsp dried minced onion or onion powder
  • 2 scallions, green and white parts, chopped
  • Non-stick cooking spray

Directions
Mix liquids and spices in a bowl. Pour into a storage container or a zip-lock bag, pop in the chicken pieces, and refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight. You can roast or grill.

To Roast: Preheat oven to 375°, remove chicken from marinade, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Spray a baking pan with non-stick cooking spray. Place chicken in pan and spray each piece lightly also. Roast till fork tender and a thermometer registers 165° when inserted in the deepest part of meat (20-35 minutes).

To Grill: Jerk chicken is best cooked slowly over charcoal or wood. If using a gas grill, heat to high and cook for 10 minutes to sear. Reduce heat to medium low, turning once or twice till fork tender and a thermometer registers 165° when inserted in the deepest area of meat. Times vary, so you be the judge. Do not overcook, please! Serve with rice and a green vegetable. Pass the lime wedges.

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