‘Tis a gift to be simple, ‘tis a gift to be free, ‘tis a gift to come down where you ought to be” goes the song given to us by the Shaker communal society, with their simple shared property, celibacy, pacifist life. The tune was woven in and around Aaron Copeland’s Appalachian Spring. But these “simple” immigrants who fled from persecution to America, gave the world the clothespeg (clothespin), dentures, the circular saw, mail-order seeds, condensed milk, sarsaparillas, apple peeler and corer, the flat broom, metal pen nib, revolving oven, window sash balance, circular stairs, a style of furniture copied by others, and many other inventions in architecture, food, agriculture, and tools. Some members were fully qualified in more than one profession.
All Shakers had a six week rota of work, then a week off, revolved jobs, danced in their worship, and abounded in creativity. They took in orphans, planted and named a tree after each of them, and believed in perfection because their responsibility was to bring “a bit of Heaven to Earth.”
One of these orphans was Eldress Bertha Lindsey, who entered the community at the age of seven, died at the age of 93 and was one of the last surviving members of the Shaker Community. Bertha loved to cook, from the time she served up whole dinners of mud pies as a small child. She devoted her last years to writing about Shaker life. “I want people to know we did have fun,” she said, “and plenty of it”.
The Shakers! What a subject to write about while I’m in the thick of moving our home of forty-three years! I struggle to de-clutter the mounds of choking STUFF, with boomerang trips to the dump, forging new acquaintances there with staff I hardly knew existed. And in this frenetic life my brain frequently snaps back to our visit to that simple, serene, beautiful Shaker Village in America, with its innovative practical living. Far simpler, easier, and peaceful than the point I’m getting to now, thinking that if I leave the door unlocked someone will enter and steal things so that I won’t have to make a decision about them. I wonder if their uncluttered simplicity, a regular change of maintenance duties, and having every seventh week a holiday has anything to do with the Shakers’ rich heritage of creativity?
Eldress Bertha’s Rice Muffins
I made these for a 6.30 a.m. breakfast meeting with my friend Gil. For the Shakers, and many people in America, a muffin is a form of non-yeast bread, and is NOT a sweet cupcake.
Mix dry ingredients: 2 ½ cups (330 gms, 11 ½ ozs plain flour, 2 tablespoons sugar, 1 tsp salt, 5 teaspoons baking powder, ¾ cup (110 gms 4 ozs) cooked rice together. Mix wet ingredients: in a small bowl beat 1 egg, 1 ½ cups (350 ml. 12 fl ozs.) milk, 2 tablespoons melted butter. Make a well in the centre of dry ingredients, add the wet all at once and mix just to moisten. Batter might be lumpy.
Grease muffin cups and fill 2/3 full. Bake at 400 detrees (hot) for 12 to 15 minutes, until light brown. Serve with butter and lots of it. Makes 15 – 18 muffins.
Note: if your muffins stick to the pan, here’s a hint from Persia: wring out a cloth in cold water, place your metal pan on it. The cold water will shrink the metal, thus pushing the food off the surface. Works with any food, as long as the pan is metal.