Shaker Simplicity for Mother's Day

'Put your hands to work and give your hearts to God.'

- Mother Ann Lee, founder of the Shakers

The Shakers, or United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing, is a communal religious organization that flourished in America from Maine to Indiana during the 19th century.

Led by Mother Ann Lee, they came to the United States from England, in 1774, in pursuit of a place to freely practice their religious beliefs. Over a hundred-year history, approximately 20 villages were established where followers found solace, contentment, productivity, and a fervor for God in their cloistered communal settings.

Unlike their friends the Amish, the Shakers embraced modern technology and made many successful kitchen inventions including the broad broom, hand-cranked kneading machine, motorized ice cream freezer, and apple corer and slicer.

The movement began to decline after the Civil War. The spiritual religious revivals, which brought many converts and adoptees to the Shaker community, lost momentum. Communal communities, where men and women lived a life as brothers and sisters, rather than husbands and wives, began to close in the late 1800s. Only a small number of Shakers remain; they live at the Shaker community in Sabbathday Lake, Maine.

A Shaker setting, with its simple and spiritual theme, is a perfect tone for a Mother's Day brunch. The historic Shaker Village in Pleasant Hill Kentucky, hosts Mother's Day as well as 362 other days in their Museum compound (they close Christmas Eve and Day). Guests may lodge here amid the blue grass, dogwoods, and unique stone fences. Three meals a day are served family style, but oh that glorious morning meal!

The breakfast buffet includes an assortment of juices, warmed fruit compotes, cereals, grits, scrambled eggs, sausage patties, thick-slab bacon, hot biscuits, and muffins.

If you are not headed to Kentucky, how about, a simple Shaker brunch for Mom on her special day that can be prepared by Dad and the kids?.

Begin your brunch by creating a menu and organizing your table, remembering that simplicity is the order of the day. Utilize a simple table with no covering or a simple white tablecloth. Add crisp, white linen or checkered napkins, or early quilt pieces. Make a centerpiece of lemons, spring flowers, or fresh herbs arranged with simple elegance. As the Shakers did, keep the decorating to a minimum, and put your efforts into the food.

Shaker fare is reminiscent of their English roots; heavy on baked goods with lots of muffins, breads, and cobblers. Pick some of Mom's favorites for breakfast for the menu. At Pleasant Hill scrambled eggs are always served. You could prepare poached chicken with a tarragon white sauce, or an omelette filled with slivers of sauted spring vegetables, and topped with fresh herbs. Add a delicious warm fruit compote, hot pumpkin muffins, and some sausage or bacon.

Make Mom and guests "kindly welcome".

Shaker Pumpkin-Pecan Muffins

3/4 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup molasses

1/2 cup soft butter

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 cup cooked, mashed pumpkin (canned pumpkin may be substituted)

1-3/4 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In a large bowl, cream sugar, molasses, and butter; add egg and pumpkin and blend well.

Mix flour with baking soda, salt, and nutmeg; beat into pumpkin batter.

Fold in pecans. Fill well-greased muffin pans about half full with batter; bake for 20 minutes.

Makes about 15 muffins.

Sister Ruth's Warm Fruit Compote

Serve this warm fruit compote as an accompaniment to eggs or meat; as filling for crepes, or as a topping over vanilla ice cream or yogurt. Ingredients and measurements are somewhat flexible and may be adjusted to your own taste.

1 pound dried apricots

1/2 pound pitted prunes

14 ounces dried figs

2 cups dried cranberries or dried cherries

3 herbal mango (or other fruit-flavored) tea bags

1-1/2 cups light brown sugar

Grated zest and juice of 4 oranges

1 cup ginger ale

2 cinnamon sticks

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ginger root, peeled and minced

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Place apricots, prunes, figs, cranberries (or cherries), and tea bags in a large glass bowl or enameled casserole dish.

Add warm water to cover. Cover with plastic wrap or lid and let stand overnight (about 8 hours) at room temperature.

Remove and discard the tea bags. Place mixture in a large Dutch oven or casserole dish.

Add brown sugar, juice and zest of the oranges, ginger ale, cinnamon sticks, nutmeg, ginger root, and cloves; mix thoroughly.

Bring to a boil over medium heat. Turn heat down to low and simmer for 45 to 55 minutes, or until the fruit is soft, stirring occasionally.

Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.

Leftovers may be kept covered and refrigerated for 3 to 4 weeks.

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