A Peaceful Community of Cooks

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This well-worn treasure of a book is one of my old favorites, published in MCMLIII (1953- a time when publishers still used Roman numerals).  The author, Caroline B. Piercy, tells us that the sole purpose of the Shakers was to establish a Heavenly kingdom here on earth, with their hands, minds, and hearts wholly dedicated to that end, and therefore, their vast kitchens and workshops were as sacred to them as were their meeting houses.  In the kitchens, Shakers put their expressions into pies, dumplings, pickles, and preserves, just as they did with their wooden household utensils and fine skeins of yarn.  To them, Heaven on earth is where universal peace, genuine brotherly love, and complete honesty reign.  Like their predecessors, the Quakers, these “Shaking Quakers” constantly kept attuned with prayer, asking guidance in whatever task they performed, be it a pie or souffle, seeking the best ways to perfect their duties on earth. 
The Shakers invented many kitchen items such as a pea sheller, butter churns driven by water power, a self-acting cheese press, an apple parer, a revolving oven, and an improved wood-burning stove.  They seldom applied for patents on their inventions because they felt it was contrary to the Golden Rule.  The Shakers were also skilled horticulturists, developing new and better species of apples, plums, and peaches.  They were also pioneers in raising, packaging, and distributing garden seeds in early America.  Probably the most far-reaching Shaker influence on American cookery was the fact that they were pioneers in the canning industry.  Records show that they distributed thousands and thousands of items of preserved food to markets as far away as New Orleans, which was quite a journey back then from New England.  Each item was carefully inspected and labeled before it left their competent hands.  The Shaker label was considered a mark of integrity on any item which bore its name.  
These faithful laborers of the kitchen believed man did not live by bread alone, which is why this cookbook is filled with comforting recipes ranging from beverages to desserts.  The recipes for Shaker beverages are ones that you will want to make even now, like fresh juices and mulled cider.  The breads range from the very basic to maple sugar bread.  Many of the desserts involve fruits such as apple dumplings and strawberry cakes, and the candies use maple syrup and maple sugar.  My favorite chapter is the canning and preserving using cranberries, concord grapes, tomatoes, sour cherries, peaches, strawberries, and applesauce.   
The Shakers used the term “Shaker your plate,” which came from the custom of not taking more food than one could eat.  Shakers did not believe in waste, and had the following posted in their kitchens:  “Nothing edible is to be left upon the plate when a Shaker has finished his meal.”  Good thing the Shaker women were all great cooks.  That’s why you will love this cookbook.


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