The first cookbook I ever owned was given to me by my Mama as a Christmas present. She inscribed it with this cheery note, "To remember your summer at Pleasant Hill Shaker Village." I came across the stained and dog eared book while cleaning the book case that houses my collection of a 1001 such books. But this one is special. This one is filled not only with delicious simple Shaker fare but also with those memories of 30 years ago.
I was fresh from my first year at college and for the summer waited tables at the Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill. I not only served the simple Shaker culinary delights, I dressed as a Shaker. A long yellow gingham dress with a white apron with the cutest little white bonnet perched upon the top of my head. The servers and bus boys and kitchen staff were mostly young high school and college age kids from around the area. We were a motley crew underneath our Shaker camouflage. We were practically living history for the many tourist that found the Village, somewhere south west of Lexington, over the river and up beyond the Palisades of the muddy Kentucky sitting on some of the most fertile ground in the bluegrass. The Shakers sought out a solitary place way back in the 1800's, far away from the maddening crowd. They tried to live their philosophy without interference from the outside world, but the world did knock on their door many times most notably during the civil war.
We cared nothing about that, dressed in our 1800 outfits. Their politics (pacifists) and their religious views(celibacy) meant nothing to us. We just wanted our pay checks and our free food!
That was the summer I gained five pounds.
Why? The food was marvelous. And it was abundant! We had many tasks to take up the lull time between lunch and dinner. One of my favorites was making the butter balls. This required the use of two paddles that formed the yellow delicacies as you massaged the wad of vein clogging wonderfulness into perfect tiny balls which you flipped into ice water to await the moment they were slung on a bread plate for human consumption.
Another task was to cut, as thinly as possible, lemons, rinds and all, for the coveted Lemon Pie (pg.18) which was so frequently ordered that we would run out to every ones disappointment because all we had left was Chess pie.(page 360) "What's that?" "Well, it's like pecan pie only without pecans."
The corn bread, baked in tiny heavy iron molds to resemble an ear of corn, were exquisite. I ate a lot of those with the rejected butter balls.
The baked eggplant (page 47) was the first time I ever allowed that strange looking vegetable to enter my mouth. My mother and eggplant!! Get out of here! But once I tasted the Shaker version, I could not get enough.
Squash casserole? Well I never knew sunshine could be eaten! (page 48).
Every time I see the small cookbook with the torn corner it brings back all these sights and sounds, aroma's and the tastes. It transports me back to a time when I was so young that I could fit in the dumb waiter and take a ride to the basement.
I wonder if any of the Shakers did that?