Tasteful and Tasty: Another Side of Hancock Shaker Village
For a sect that valued the spiritual above all else, the Shakers certainly had a knack for getting their physical world just so. No object was too mundane—a barn, a tool, a dishtowel—to escape an inspired re-imagining. Which leads one to wonder how they handled that other everyday art form: the preparation of food.
Fortunately, the Shakers were ace record keepers, so most of their recipes have survived, forming the basis for a cookbook, The Best of Shaker Cooking, by Amy Bess Miller (first published in 1970 by Macmillan, since reissued by Hancock Shaker Village, Inc.; $16.95 at the museum shop). Recently, Michael Roller, chef/owner of two Pittsfield catering concerns, Samel’s Deli and MRM Hospitality, used this volume as an aid in developing new menus for the Hancock Shaker Village Harvest Café and the Village’s up-scale catering service, Savory Harvest Catering, both of which now claim him as top toque.
“My impression is that the Shakers focused on food as an art,” says Roller. “They didn’t just do things to get them done; they did everything with flare, and they really were kind of advanced, letting the ingredients speak for themselves. Their food was very sophisticated for the time. My style is very similar.”
The café at Hancock may be accessed without paying an entrance fee, and it’s well worth a visit just to check out what Roller is doing there. Executive chef at Blantyre in Lenox for six years (including the glory year when it won its fourth Mobil star), he has taken the café menu a giant step beyond what anyone has a right to expect from a tourist-destination dining facility. In season, Roller will use food from the Village farms as much as possible to make the salads (i.e., baby spinach, hickory-smoked bacon, hard-boiled eggs, sliced mushrooms, red onion and croutons with a Dijon-herb vinaigrette; $5.95), and sandwiches (an open-faced roast beef on grilled farmer’s bread with a Shaker mushroom sauce, crispy shallots and mesclun greens, $6.75) that promise to make the Harvest Café a destination in its own right.
Roller’s forte, high-end catering, will continue at the Village, which has long been a venue for meetings, parties, and weddings. “For the catering, we are completely contemporary with our menus,” he says. “We try, when appropriate, to go with the Shaker influence, but it’s not mandated. We’re not going to do chicken pot pie for a wedding.”
The menus for two recent events at the Village illustrate Roller’s point:
Amuse-Bouche: Ginger Beets
First course: Lobster Croquettes with Sautéed Lobster and Sorrel Sauce
Entrée: Roast Rack of Lamb with Marjoram Jus, Creamed Corn, Asparagus, and Buttered Crumb-Topped Potato Pie
Dessert: Shaker Mountain Blueberry Pudding with Apricot Ice Cream
Menu # 2
First Course: Cod Fritters with Butter Poached Shrimp, Parsley Sauce and Equinox Farm Greens
Entrée: Top Sirloin of Beef with Cracked Pepper and Cider Sauce, Parsnip Cakes and Asparagus
Dessert: Chocolate Bread Pudding
The view from the tent platform at Hancock Shaker Village.
The event venues within the Village include the Community Room in the modern entrance/museum building, which convincingly replicates a Shaker meeting hall, accommodates up to 80, and has direct access to the outdoors. Just outside this room, on the edge of a meadow, there is a tent platform, which, when set up, accommodates up to 350. Overlooking the cutting and vegetable gardens with a panoramic view of the distant village buildings beyond, one can easily envision an early evening summer wedding there, with guests freely roaming the grounds. It would be at once spectacular and impeccably restrained, in that Shaker way.
Hancock Shaker Village Tomato Pudding
Serve as a side dish with grilled chicken, beef or seafood.
Recipe by Michael Roller, adapted from The Best of Shaker Cooking, by Amy Bess Miller
6 T. butter, divided
1 c. choppped onion
4 c. canned chopped tomatoes, cooked down to 2 c
1/4 c. light brown sugar
1 1/2 c. sourdough bread cubes, cut in 1/4-inch dice
3/4 c. Panko bread crumbs, coated with 1 T. olive oil
1 T. fresh garlic, chopped
2 T. fresh basil, cut into a chiffonade
salt and pepper to taste
4 T. olive oil
2 medium, ripe tomatoes (red, yellow or both), sliced 1/4” thick
Grated parmesan cheese to taste (optional)
Melt 2 T. butter and sauté onions and garlic until very tender.
Add the tomatoes and brown sugar and simmer until the mixture is thick.
Meanwhile toss the bread cubes in the remaining butter, spread in a 9 x 10 baking pan or gratin dish, and toast in 325° oven until lightly browned.
Spoon tomato mixture over the bread cubes.
Place sliced tomatoes over the pudding, sprinkle with salt and pepper, basil, and panko. Drizzle with olive oil and optional parmesan cheese.
Bake @350° for 30 - 40 minutes.
Per Serving: 275 Calories; 21g Fat (68.1% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 20g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 31mg; Cholesterol; 210mg Sodium
10 a.m. - 4 p.m. daily until Memorial Day, then 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Hancock Shaker Village
34 Lebanon Mt. Road (Rte 20); Hancock; 413.443.0188
Savory Harvest Catering at Hancock Shaker Village
Private-event coordinator: Laura Wolf; 413.443.0188 x213