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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memorial day ideas

Remembering loved ones, and especially those who have died for us, deserves a special meal and appreciation of family, friends, and country. Memorial Day weekend here is the time for raking the yard, getting the garden in, spreading the last of the snow around to melt, and unofficially welcoming in the summer season. With hopes the black flies haven’t started biting yet, we head outdoors to enjoy the warm air and share a meal or two.

I hope these dishes will bring a smile to your face as they are unconventional but delicious, and can become a tradition you can repeat year after year.

homemade onion dip
Once you’ve made your own, you’ll never go back to the old onion-soup-mix glop again! This one’s much less salty and tastes a lot better, too! All it asks of you is a bit of your time—and it’s totally worth it. Make this a day or two ahead for convenience. It tastes much better if the flavors have time to marry.

  • 2 large Spanish or Vidalia onions (2 cups diced)
  • 2 Tbs light olive oil
  • 2 pinches salt
  • 1 16-oz. container sour cream, brought to room temperature
  • 1 8-oz. block cream cheese, softened
  • 1 Tbs Gravy Master
  • ½ tsp garlic powder or use fresh 2 garlic cloves, finely minced (even better)
  • ½ tsp white pepper
  • Dash or three of your favorite hot sauce (optional)

Remove cream cheese and sour cream from the ‘fridge at least two hours before starting. Brown onions in oil over medium-high heat, taking care not to burn, till brown and well done. Set aside to cool.

Place all other ingredients in a medium bowl and mix well. Add cooled onions. Refrigerate, covered, overnight, or at least 4-6 hours. Serve at room temperature with chips, crackers, or pita bread wedges, then watch it disappear!

chinese chicken salad
I got this recipe from my friend, Dawn King and tweaked it a bit. It is so delicious your kids will gobble it up while getting some veggies in the process! You’ll need a tight-fitting plastic container—low, flat, and rectangular in shape—that’ll hold about 6-8 cups. You’ll need to get a small bottle of toasted sesame oil in the ethnic section of the supermarket, but it is totally worth it. It imparts a most memorable flavor.

For the salad, prepare the following:

  • 2 large or 3 small boneless, skinless chicken breasts, gently poached, cooled, and diced
  • ¼ cup sesame seeds
  • 1 cup slivered almonds sautéed in oil till golden brown and cooled
  • 1 sweet onion (Vidalia, if available, is best)
  • ½ head of medium size cabbage, finely shredded
  • 2 packages of Ramen noodles (discard seasoning pack)

For the dressing, mix together in a shaker:

  • 3/4 cup white vinegar
  • ½ cup light olive or peanut oil
  • ½ cup water
  • 4 Tbs sugar
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 3 Tbs toasted sesame oil
  • 1 Tbs soy sauce

Directions:
In a plastic container, break up squares of ramen noodles into 4-6 pieces. Pour mixed dressing over noodles, then add tossed remaining ingredients over. Cover and shake vigorously. Flip over and refrigerate at least overnight. If you are worried the lid will leak, be sure to enclose in a large plastic bag. Check in the morning to test that noodles are soft. Remove from refrigerator two hours before serving. Can be served in lettuce cups. Crunchy good!

mamie’s blubarb pie
A divine concoction of blueberries and rhubarb makes this pie a true celebration. Serve with a scoop of lemon sherbet!

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup quick-cooking tapioca
  • 3 cups diced rhubarb
  • 3 cups blueberries
  • Pastry dough, for double-crust 9-inch pie*

Directions:
Preheat oven to 400°. Combine sugars, salt and tapioca in a large bowl and mix well. Add fruit and toss until well coated.

Place fruit mixture in 9-inch pie pan lined with pastry dough. Top with second crust, and trim so the top crust hangs 1/2 inch beyond rim, then tuck edge of top crust under bottom crust and crimp or pinch to finish.

Bake 20 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350° and bake an additional 25-30 minutes, until pie is golden and the juices are bubbling. Let cool 2 hours and then serve.

*See my magical pie crust recipe below, OR use prepared rolled pie dough.

tip: crumb topping can replace top crust
My mother didn’t much like using a top crust on a pie. She loved to make a crumb topping—sweet, rich, and crunchy. I’ve kind of gone over to her side. This recipe can be mixed up quickly and doubled or tripled, always ready in your ‘fridge or freezer in a container with a tight-fitting lid. Keeps for a month or more. PLUS it’s delicious.

  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ cup flour
  • ½ stick soft butter (do NOT use margarine)
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ½ cup old-fashioned oats (optional)

Mix with fingers till crumbly.

cousin ralph’s magical pie crust
This recipe first appeared on cans of Spry—a solid shortening—back in the 1960s. My wonderfully creative cousin ripped the label off his Spry can and gave it to me when I raved about the crust on the pie he’d served me in 1963. I can’t understand why this method never caught on with the pastry crowd or with anyone, for that matter. When I tell you this is the easiest crust you’ll ever make, I mean it. You’ve probably never made crust like this, and the process flies in the face of all those pastry experts and seasoned bakers out there who’ve always preached that pie crust must be prepared cold—very cold—and that is a real pain to do correctly. This crust uses hot liquids, but it works and is a snap to prepare. It is easily doubled, tripled, or quadrupled and freezes well, so you can make it two months ahead and pull it out to prepare a delicious homemade pie any time! Great for chicken or beef pot pies, too. You’ll never go back to that pastry blender!

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup solid shortening (plain, NOT butter-flavored)
  • 6 Tbs water
  • 2 tsp milk
  • 2 ½ cups flour
  • 1 tsp salt

Directions:
Measure out flour and salt; mix and set aside. Place shortening in a medium bowl and spread it evenly over the bottom. In a small saucepan, bring water and milk to a boil, and pour over shortening. Beat with a fork till smooth and thick. Add flour and salt. Stir gently with the fork, then mix with fingers gently so as not to toughen till well blended.

Form two equal balls of dough, which will be soft and warm. I like to roll it out between two sheets of wax paper to a thickness of about ¼-inch. It’s easy to peel off the top paper, pick the whole mess up and flip it on to the pie pan. Carefully peel the other paper off,. If you tear the crust, it is easily patched. Position, trim and pinch taking care to eliminate any air bubbles. (I prick them with a fork then pat it to close the holes.)

Makes 2 crusts

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I’d love to hear from you if you try this or any other recipes on A Cook’s Journal. Just scroll down to the end of this post to comment. Happy cooking!