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Eating the Past: Massachusetts

 Collecting tree sap from trees to make maple syrup

Hi, I'm Tammy Proctor. For today's episode, I visit Massachusetts, home of a
major Shaker settlement to talk about shaker cuisine. Today, I'm using
one of USU’s library's historic cookbooks, entitled “Shaker Sweetmeats,”
which was produced by Hancock Shaker Village and which contains some
heritage recipes.

So, who are the Shakers? They are a religious group called the United Society
of Believers in Christ’s second appearing who emerged in England in the mid-19th
century. their Shaker nickname comes from some of their ecstatic
worship practices, such as trembling and shaking and dancing.

Their leader, Mother Ann Lee, built a following and then travelled with a
group of Shakers to the new world to seek religious freedom in 1774. They
built communities in New York and New England, including Massachusetts
initially, but then spread to the midwest (Ohio and Kentucky, especially).

Altogether Shakers founded nineteen communities in the United States,
Shaker belief was unique in many ways – they believed in communal work
and property, absolute celibacy and the certainty of a second coming.

One issue for Shaker longevity as a community was the celibacy
requirement. That meant that Shaker communities had to rely on
converts in order to grow and sustain their groups. The nineteenth
century proved to be a time of growth for many of the Shaker
settlements, but by the twentieth century, their numbers dwindled.

Back to our cookbook from Hancock Village. Hancock was a community
of about 300 at its height, and today it remains as a testament to the
creativity and life of Shakers in Massachusetts. You can visit and tour
Hancock Village in order to learn more about the Shakers.

Perhaps many people know the Shakers because of their impact on cultural life in the
United States, including popular Shaker forms of furniture and the song,
Simple Gifts, that became a staple in the folk revival movement of the
1960s and 1970s.

So, what did shakers eat? Mostly they ate food they produced themselves,
with an emphasis on what we might call healthy, sustainable meals. All
Shaker inhabitants had a job to do in the settlement, and one such job
was "kitchen sister" – these women were responsible for the communal
meals the whole village ate. Many of the meals were simple, vegetarian
affairs, with soup, home-baked bread, fresh vegetables and herbs, but

Shakers also consumed meat and fish – often the part of the country
where the Shakers lived helped determine their cuisine.
Shakers were also known for growing foods for local markets, selling
fresh and dried herbs as well as canned and dried vegetables and fruits.

Because the communities were located on farmland, everyone worked
together to bring in and process crops or to care for domesticated

If you visit a Shaker tourist site today, expect to have good food served
in their restaurants. Pleasant Hill in Kentucky serves an amazing
breakfast at its site, and you can stay in the former homes of Shaker
inhabitants. For Shakers in New England, a staple in their desserts is
maple syrup, which was a locally available and plentiful ingredient.

 Recipe for Sister Lettie's maple pie
"Shaker Sweetmeats Cookbook" at the USU Library

Lots of the recipes call for maple sugar or maple syrup as a sweetener
unlike in other parts of the country where molasses might have been
more common.

Check out the Shaker Sweetmeats Cookbook at USU's Library for a number
of yummy desserts. I've put a link to a recipe for Sister Lettie's maple pie
at the u-p-r dot o-r-g website. Try it for a sweet treat this spring.

Stay tuned next week for more stories of these united states.

Tammy Proctor is a specialist in European history, gender, war, and youth. Dr. Proctor has written about Scouting, women spies and the way war affects the lives of ordinary people. Currently she is writing a book on American food relief to Europe during and after World War I. She has worked at Utah State University since 2013 and is a native of Kansas City, Missouri.