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"'Tis a gift" from Sabbathday
January 18, 2006

The Maine woods are dark and deep, a good place to get away from turmoil and trouble. In 1783, those woods of Maine sheltered and provided a resting place to a group of good people fleeing terrible turmoil and trouble.

Missionaries of the United Society of Believers sought a new home where they could practice their peaceful religion and live a simple life. They found it in Maine at a place called Thompson's Pond Plantation. Others followed. Then on April 19, 1794 the residents pledged to each other to consecrate their lives to God and form a Community. The Sabbathday Lake Shaker Community came into being.

The Society of Believers had grown out of the Quaker Church. Its members became known as Shakers because they trembled as they worshipped by singing, marching and dancing. The name has stayed with them for over 200 years.

During the early 1800's Shakers established communities throughout the United States —as far south as Florida and as far west as Indiana. All of the communities followed the main tenets of the Shakers: celibacy, separation from the world, equality of the sexes and consecrated work, always holding to their motto "put our hands to work and hearts to God."

Many of us are familiar with the beautiful simplicity of Shaker furniture and baskets. Even more of us love the words of the Shaker work song and hymn "Simple Gifts" written by Elder Joseph Brackett, Jr. in 1848. (Elder Brackett lived part of his life at Sabbathday Lake.)

'Tis the gift to be simple,

'tis the gift to be free,

'tis the gift to come down where you ought to be,

And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

It will be in the valley of love and delight.

Through the years, the communities failed to flourish. The rule of celibacy made them dependent on converts and adopted orphans for new members and the lure of the world sometimes called away others.

Until today…today only one Shaker Community remains. At Sabbathday Lake four members, Sister June and Sister Frances along with Brother Arnold and Brother Wayne continue to put their hands to work. It shows. The community encompasses 1,800 acres of woodland (those welcoming forests), an apple orchard, pasture and eighteen buildings. In addition to the apple orchard they have a vegetable garden and commercial herb farm. They continue to make the famous small woodenware. But all is not the old way. If you'd like, you can order some of those famous Sabbathday herbs right off the Internet. The wise residents have ensured that their way of life will not vanish. The Community is now a National Historic Site. They welcome visitors on every weekday, but Sundays are for services.

Like other aspects of Shaker life and the famous hymn, the cuisine is simple, but also beautiful. Consider this simple dish of root vegetables.

Shaker Alabaster

You don't really need a recipe. Simply prepare equal amounts of your favorite recipes for whipped potatoes (be sure and use Maine potatoes, if you can find them) and whipped turnips in separate containers. Keep warm. Preheat a large serving bowl by filling with warm water. Empty, dry and place the potatoes in the bowl, then swirl the turnips through the potatoes. The marbled effect of white on white is beautiful to behold, while the combined taste of the two vegetables is delightful.

Another simple and simply delicious Shaker recipe is a lemon pie. Legend says it originated in a Shaker community in Kentucky in the nineteenth century when lemons began to make their way up the Mississippi River. Surely it has been served at Sabbathday Lake.


Shaker Lemon Pie

2 large lemons, very thinly sliced

2 cups granulated sugar

4 eggs, beaten

pastry for a two crust deep-dish pie

Slice the lemons as thinly as possible and place in a bowl. Cover the lemons with the sugar and lightly toss. Let stand overnight (or for at least 4 hours.).

Remove the lemon slices and arrange in the unbaked pie shell. Add the eggs to the sugar/juice mixture and beat well. Pour over the lemons and cover with the top crust. Slash vents in the top crust, brush with milk and sprinkle sugar on top.

Bake in a pre-heated oven at 450 degrees for 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to 375 degrees and continue to bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until a knife inserted into one of the vents comes out clean.

Cool before serving. Cut with a very sharp knife to get through the lemon slices.

My family declared this an instant favorite, renaming it "marmalade pie." I'm going to make only one change. Next time I'll scissor those thin lemon slices into quarters before adding the sugar. It will make cutting much easier.


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Trilla Pando is a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance & the Story Circle Network