A visit to Hancock Shaker Village is always a recipe for serenity and inspiration. Sit on a bench under one of the 15 varieties of apple tree for a feeling of ease. Follow the wooden walkways between the open gardens and the beautiful remaining buildings of the City of Hope -- the Shaker name for this village -- and feel glad to be there. Watch water-powered turbines Shakers developed to automate lathes, other woodworking machines and their own innovative design for 19th-century washing machines to realize what people can accomplish.
To make your time here even more memorable, select a topic you'd like to learn more about and get a personal half-hour or hourlong Shaker tour.
Among the many choices such as Shaker spirituality, architecture, various collections, child rearing, farm life, schooling, is a demonstration lesson in simple Shaker cooking given by a costumed interpreter in the 1830 kitchen of the Brick Dwelling. Participation is encouraged but not required.
"They're interested in experiencing a historic kitchen," said Laura Wolf, director of operations and marketing for Hancock Shaker Village. "They're learning about the culture, the environment."
"It's a social experience," said Todd Burdick, director of interpretation, education and public programs. "They're just thrilled to get behind the scenes."
Wolf and Burdick said while it is best to reserve time for tours in advance, some people decide to add personal tours once they arrive and see what is offered at the village. On-the-spot requests may not be possible because preparation may be needed, or an experienced interpreter is not available.
Recently, longtime interpreter Lisa Ballantyne shared some Shaker tips and secrets to making a homey, easy, eat-at-least-once-a-day apple pie. Her students, all of whom had been to the village before, came from around the East Coast. Linda Price came from Milford, Conn., Bill Thompson came from Brooklyn, N.Y. and Taunya Ferguson from Washington, D.C. Other people, not in the class but touring through the kitchen, stopped to watch. And, after the pie came out of the oven later on, to taste.
Ballantyne started by making a traditional lard crust. Shakers made and ate a lot of pies, she said. The hundred or so believers -- United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Coming is their correct name -- living and dining in the Brick Dwelling might eat pie at every meal and lard was the preferred shortening because it makes a tender, flaky crust.
While the crust chilled, interpreter Genie Daniels took the students into the apple orchard to gather fruit. The students picked a Shaker basket full of small, round, winter-hardy yellow transparent apples that had ripened in early July, one of 15 varieties grown there.
Back in the kitchen, the students peeled and cut up the apples. Then they got to roll the crust with the Shaker-invented double rolling pin, the star of the lesson.
Everyone wanted to try it and to understand how it was different from and why it was superior to the common rolling pin. Ballantyne told them Shakers constantly refined and invented tools to make their work easier and faster.
Ballantyne fitted the crust into a loaf pan, sprinkled a bit of sugar and cinnamon on the apple pieces without a recipe, poured them onto the crust and pressed the crust over the apples, leaving the pie open in the center for a rustic appearance.
Price, Thompson and Ferguson went off to tour the village while the pie baked. When they returned to the kitchen, the pie came out of the oven and back onto the table waiting to be cut and served. People stopped, drawn by the aroma of baked apples and sweet cinnamon.
Ballantyne had seen this before. "Whatever we make, everyone loves it," she said with enthusiasm.
One of those caught by the pie smell was Todd Cerveris, a Barrington Stage actor at the village for the first time. He mingled and joked with the class, played with the double rolling pin, asked questions and got to have a piece of warm apple pie. He knew he got lucky.
"Quite a few of our visitors who sign up for our "Create Your Own Shaker Experience" are first-time visitors," said Wolf. "They get the bang for their buck."
PLAIN PASTRY #1
From North Union Shaker Village, Ohio
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup lard, chilled
1/3 cup cold water
Sift flour with salt into mixing bowl. Cut in lard with pastry blender or two knives until crumb-like. Add water very gradually by sprinkling it in. Do not get crumbs too fine or dough too wet. Handle dough as little as possible. Form lightly into 2 balls and chill. Roll on a lightly floured board 1/8-inch thick. Yields enough for two 9-inch crusts or one 9-inch crust and some tart shells. From "The Best of Shaker Cooking" by Amy Bess Miller and Persis Fuller.