When a reporter from the Brooklyn Eagle dined in the Shaker village of Hancock, Mass., in 1886, he was pleasantly surprised at the quantity and quality of what was set before him. After listing some 20 items that the 25-cent meal included, among them "cold beef, blackberry pie and jam, potato cake, apple pie, cake, and donuts," he commented, "The cooking is worthy of Delmonico's, though the habitues of that restaurant might regard it as limited in scope."
The Shakers who cooked the generous meal were a religious community known for their craftsmanship, not the least of which was their way of preparing food. For the most part the self-sufficient sect shunned society and the ways of the world -- except on the periodic occasions when they invited the "World" (their term for all non-Shakers) to dinner.
When people from the World came to dine at Hancock or at any of the other Shaker communities scattered throughout the Northeast, they sat at long trestle tables groaning under the weight of platters heaped with food. Guests would often be handed a printed sheet of paper which was not the bill of fare, but rather an eight-verse rhyming request that there be no waste. A typical stanza of this "Table Monitor" read:
"What we deem good order we're willing to state.
Eat hearty and decent, and clear out our plate;
Be thankful to heaven for what we receive,
And not make a mixture or compound to leave."
The Shaker's adversion to waste thus became legendary, fostering the well-known expression, "Shaker your plate." After the guests had done just that, they were often presented with parting gifts of Shaker bread.
In 1960, when the last Shakers left Hancock and the village became a museum, the tradition of serving meals to visitors did not end. For the past 20 years, the numerous museum events have included special dinners and breakfasts prepared with authentic Shaker recipes and served in a restored Shaker dining hall. Each guest still receives a copy of the "Table Monitor."
Since 1960 the breakfasts have been cooked by the Persip family, following the same menu each year -- bacon, sausage, corn fritters, pancakes, apple pie, (the Shakers often ate pie for breakfast), cheese, and cider. In addition, baskets of muffins and breads baked by the village staff are set out on the 20 -foot long tables.
Here are a few of the village's recipes guaranteed to make breakfasters or holiday visitors "Shaker" their plates: John Persip's Corn Fritters 3 eggs 1 1/2 cups milk 3 cups prepared pancake mix 2 cups cream-style corn 2 cups crushed pineapple, drained Deep fat for frying Butter and maple syrup
Blend eggs and milk, add pancake mix, and stir until smooth. Fold in corn and pineapple. Drop batter by spoonfuls into hot fat 1/2- inch deep. Cook about three minutes on each side. Drain on paper toweling. Serve hot with butter and maple syrup. Apple Pancakes 2 cups sifted flour 1 teaspoon baking powder 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon sugar 2 eggs, lightly beaten 1 1/2 cups milk 2 tablespoons melted butter 1/2 to 1 cup finely chopped apple Maple syrup or cinnamon sugar
Sift flour with other dry ingredients in mixing bowl. Add eggs and milk and beat until smooth. Add butter and apples. Stir well. Grease a hot griddle for the first batch. Serve with syrup or sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. Cranberry-Apple Pie 2, 9-inch pie crusts 2 large tart apples, peeled and cored 1 1/2 cups cranberries 1 cup maple sugar (if white sugar is used, and 2 tablespoons maple syrup) 2 tablespoons butter
Place bottom crust in 9-inch pie tin. Cut apples in sections and fill plate. Mix cranberries and sugar and let stand to draw a little juice. Mash just a bit. Spread berries over apples and dot with butter.
Put on top crust and moisten lower rim to join edges. Cut an "A" or "C" in top crust to let out steam. Bake at 450 degrees F. for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 375 degrees F. and continue baking for 30 minutes. Serves 6 to 8. Lemon Bread 1/3 cup shortening 1 1/3 cups sugar 2 eggs 1 1/2 cups sifted flour 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/2 cup milk 1/2 cup chopped nuts, optional Grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
Beat together shortening and 1 cup of the sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each. Sift dry ingredients together and add alternately with milk to sugar mixture, beating well after each addition. Add nuts and lemon rind.
Turn batter into greased 9-by-5-inch bread pan. Bake in preheated 350 degrees F. oven 50 to 60 minutes. Blend remaining sugar and lemon juice. Pour over bread as soon as it comes from oven.