For most Capital Region families, November means roast turkey, mashed potatoes, steamed carrots, bread stuffing and apple pie.
For Shaker families of another era, November meant roast beef, beets, parsnips, bread and potato pie.
Autumn meals at Hancock Shaker Village, a farming community that began in Pittsfield, Mass., during the late 1780s, depended on harvest goods and smart storage practices. Two hundred years ago, dinner tables would have been full of hearty foods.
“A typical Shaker noon meal would have been a lot of meats, poultry, vegetables, lots of crops that store easily after the harvest,” said Todd A. Burdick, director of interpretation and public programs at Hancock Shaker Village, now a living history museum.
WHERE: Hancock Shaker Village, 1843 W. Housatonic St., Pittsfield, Mass.
WHEN: 4 to 7:30 p.m. Saturday
HOW MUCH: $65 (or $60 for members of Hancock Shaker Village)
MORE INFO: 413-443-0188, www.hancockshakervillage.org
“There would have been squash and pumpkins and many other things that can be dried or preserved or pickled. A typical Shaker meal would include the freshest of the fresh when possible. At this time of the year, not so much.”
While people in the Capital Region are looking forward to holiday feasts, Hancock staffers are preparing for the village’s Shaker Supper on Saturday. An assortment of Shaker flavors will be on the menu, such as lentil soup, garden salads, chicken pot pies, carrot pudding and scalloped parsnips.
The price of the candlelight supper includes a guided tour, reception, dinner and music program. Reservations are required.
Big meal at noon
Burdick said the Shakers always had three meals a day. Breakfast started at 6 a.m.; the big meal of the day would have been a noontime affair. A light evening dinner would have been held at 6 p.m.
The group did not start with appetizers. All foods were served at the same time.
Boiled potatoes would have been part of the afternoon feed. Like current Americans, the Shakers loved their potatoes.
“They would have had potato pies, which are basically mashed potatoes baked into a pie crust,” Burdick said.
Fish was also a staple. “The Shakers would go to local stores and get cod — cod was a big one — and oysters,” he said.
Celeriac, a turnip-rooted celery, might have been on the menu. Apple pie would have been a definite, on the table at all three Shaker sit-downs.
“Apples preserved well,” Burdick said. “They put apples in cold storage cellars and basements and had apples year-round. To the Shakers, pie was part of the main meal. It was not a dessert. It was a dish at the meal, just like green beans and the beef. You’d eat it right along with your parsnips.”
Burdick said Thanksgiving didn’t really get popular in the United States until after 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day for each November. “To the Shakers, every day was a day of thanksgiving,” he said.
Beverages would have included hard apple cider. The Shakers made their own beer and wine too, Burdick added, but consumed their alcoholic drinks in moderation. Too many libations were frowned upon in the Shaker community.
Children would have had fresh milk. A treat would have been homemade sarsaparilla — a kind of root beer. Shakers would also buy lemons and make lemonade. Burdick said water would not have been a popular choice, because pure drinking water could be hard to find in the community.
And while today both men and women contribute to Thanksgiving events, Burdick said the Shaker “sisters” handled all the cooking chores. Without football and without television, men had other tasks on their agendas.
“If you’re on a farm, you have to take care of the animals,” Burdick said. “Men had to do that seven days a week whether it was a holiday or not. And they had religious services.”
He added that people seem to love the Shaker suppers. “Our supper is a few days after Thanksgiving, and by that time you’re sick of turkey leftovers,” he said.
For those who can’t make reservations for the historic meal, Hancock Shaker Village has shared a few old-style recipes.
Old-Fashioned Potato Soup
4 pounds small potatoes
2 tablespoons caraway seeds
2 teaspoons salt
2 quarts water
6 small leeks, chopped
2 quarts milk
2 tablespoons finely chopped marjoram
1 teaspoon paprika
6 strips crisp bacon, minced
Scrub the potatoes thoroughly. Do not peel (the skins add greatly to the flavor and nourishment while cooking). Place in the soup pot whole with caraway seeds, salt and water. Cook very slowly for half an hour.
Remove potatoes; peel and cut fine; put back in pot with liquid in which they were cooked. Add the leeks, tops and all, cut fine. Cook for half an hour and pass through a coarse sieve. Add milk. Heat well. Add marjoram, paprika and more salt if necessary. Garnish with minced crisp bacon. Serve with toasted crackers.
2 cups sugar
1 cup melted butter
2 cups cooked pumpkin (puree)
2 cups flour
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1⁄2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon each ground cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon
Beat sugar and butter to blend. Beat in eggs, one at a time, and continue beating until light and fluffy. Then beat in pumpkin. In a separate bowl, sift together flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and all of the spices. Beat this mixture into pumpkin mixture.
Divide batter among three greased 71⁄2-inch by 31⁄2-inch loaf pans. Bake 60 minutes at 325 degrees or until a straw tester comes out clean when inserted into middle of loaf. Cool in pans 10 minutes. Remove from pans and place on wire racks and continue to cool.
3 cups celeriac, peeled and grated
1 cup apple, grated
2 tablespoons toasted walnuts, chopped
1⁄3 cup olive oil
1⁄4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon mustard
2 tablespoons apple cider or apple juice concentrate (optional)
Combine dressing ingredients in a small jar and shake until emulsified. Pour enough dressing over celeriac and apple to moisten it thoroughly. Sprinkle with toasted walnuts. Pass extra dressing.
Serve with fried sausages and honeyed apple rings
4 tablespoons flour
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
1⁄2 teaspoon sugar
6 tablespoons water
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon chopped sage leaves
1 egg white
Fat for frying
Sift flour, salt and sugar in a bowl. Mix to a smooth paste with water, add egg yolk and set aside to rest for at least 30 minutes. Add sage leaves. Rest a while longer. When ready to use, fold in stiffly beaten white of egg. Mix well but gently. Fry cakes, which are really more like fritters, in deep hot fat or vegetable oil, by the teaspoon, until golden brown. Drain. Serves 4.
Honeyed Apple Rings
2 cups honey
1 cup vinegar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
2 quarts apples, cored but not peeled, cut in rings 1⁄2-inch thick
Heat the honey, vinegar, cinnamon and salt together in a deep skillet and cook apple rings, a few at a time, in syrup until they become transparent.
Pour the syrup that remains in the pan after all the fruit is cooked over the apples. A nice-looking platter can be made by arranging the fried sausages in the middle with apple rings next and sage cakes on the very outside.
Serves 4 to 6.