This simple, satisfying stew embodies the legacy of Shaker cooking.
“Nothing seems to bring people closer together than the act of sharing food,” says Sister Frances Carr of Maine’s Sabbathday Lake Shaker community. In her 1985 book, Shaker Your Plate, Sister Carr, now in her late eighties and still vigorous, puts forward the Shaker philosophy that focuses on “plain, wholesome food…simple, but painstakingly prepared.”
Renowned for producing highly admired furniture and other artifacts — baskets, brooms, and buckets — with symmetrical, clean lines and straightforward functionality, Shakers were also inspired cooks, taking pride in growing, preserving, and preparing food with finesse during their heyday in the 19th century, when everyday cooking standards in America were otherwise at a fairly low ebb. Emphasizing freshness and flavor, the Shakers were forerunners in growing and drying herbs, and the Sabbathday Lake community still does a large mail-order business in herbs, listing dozens of varieties in their catalog.
A framed plaque hanging in the Sabbathday Lake dining room reads:
Shaker Advice for Doing Good
Do all the good you can,
In all the ways you can,
To all the People you can,
In every place you can,
At all the times you can,
As long as ever you can.
The Sabbathday Lake community has only three surviving members, including Sister Carr, and is now staffed with paid helpers and volunteers. The village has exhibits, tours, a museum, a library, a bookstore, and a gift shop. Visitors are welcome.
Shaker Chicken Stew with Scallion Dumplings
This chicken stew with scallion-flecked dumplings is an adaptation of one of Sister Frances Carr’s exemplary recipes in Shaker Your Plate. I bet if you made this dish with Sabbathday Lake dried thyme, sold online or at their gift shop, you’d taste the difference.
Yield: 4–6 servings
- 5 cups chicken broth
- 3½ pounds bone-in chicken thighs, excess fat removed (see Note)
- 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
- 2 celery ribs, thinly sliced
- 1 large bay leaf, broken in half
- 2 teaspoons dried thyme
- 2½ cups baby carrots (about ¾ pound)
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1½ teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons minced scallions or chives
- 3 tablespoons chilled solid vegetable shortening, cut into 5 pieces
- ½ cup plus 1 to 2 tablespoons whole, low-fat, or skim milk
- To make the Chicken Stew, bring the broth to a boil in a large soup pot or Dutch oven. Add the chicken, onion, celery, bay leaf, and thyme. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, until the chicken is about three-quarters cooked, 15 to 20 minutes. Add the carrots and continue to cook until the chicken is no longer pink, about 10 minutes longer. Remove from the heat.
- Remove the chicken to a plate and, when cool enough to handle, strip off the skin, remove the meat from the bones, and cut into 2-inch chunks. Return the chicken meat to the broth and season with salt and pepper to taste.
- To make the Scallion Dumplings, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir in the scallions. Work the shortening into the flour mixture, using your fingertips or a fork, until most of the pieces are about the size of small peas. Add ½ cup of the milk and stir with a fork until the dough comes together in a sticky mass. If the mixture seems dry, add some or all of the remaining milk.
- Return the stew to a simmer. Dip a tablespoon into the simmering liquid, scoop out a rounded spoonful of dumpling dough, and drop it into the simmering stew. Repeat with the remaining dough, forming 12 to 14 dumplings. Cover the pot and simmer over low heat until the dumplings look shiny on top and are firm to the touch, about 15 minutes. Serve into shallow soup bowls.
If time is short, use about 1¾ pounds skinless, boneless thighs and cook for about half the time.
Recipe excerpted from Dishing up® Maine © 2006 by Brooke Dojny. All rights reserved.