"Seasoned with Grace," Eldress Bertha Lindsay

Pros: Fascinating details about the Shaker community; some delicious recipes
Cons: More useful as a resource on the Canterbury Shakers than as a cookbook
Rating: 4 out of 5

Review book courtesy of The Countryman Press.

 

When I looked at Eldress Bertha Lindsay’s Seasoned with Grace: My Generation of Shaker Cooking, I had the impression it was primarily a cookbook, with additional context given through details of the Canterbury Shaker community. Because of that, I ended up being somewhat disappointed with the book. If, instead, you’re looking for information about how the Canterbury Shaker community lived and ate during Eldress Lindsay’s lifetime (1905-1990), I think you’ll find this a very handy and fascinating book.

I didn’t know much about the Shaker religious sect before reading this book, and it was interesting to read the opening with its spare details of how the movement was founded and spread, and eventually began to die. With the Shaker emphasis on living separately from the ‘World,’ I had expected to find that the recipes would represent a simpler, vegetables-and-meat type of fare. Thus I was quite surprised to find recipes that were much closer to what I remember as stereotypical pot-luck fare when I was growing up: casseroles using concentrated cans of cream of mushroom soup; brownies; and ‘salads’ made of vegetables and fruit suspended in gelatin.

I admit: I was disappointed. I found there wasn’t a huge range of recipes in the book that interested me. Most of the ones we tried did turn out well, however. There was a chicken and bread ‘casserole’ that came out more like a soup that didn’t go over well, but it was more than balanced by the absolutely delightful mushroom-and-artichoke casserole (hardly a healthy dish, drenched as it was in a cream-and-cheese sauce, but certainly yummy). Since this book is meant largely to capture a way of life rather than serve as a cookbook, the chapters of salads, breads, desserts, and so on don’t contain a wide variety of recipes.

It’s really a matter of expectations. If you know in advance that this is a book meant to relate twentieth-century Shaker life, giving you the chance to sample a few recipes along the way, I think you’ll find it’s just what you’re looking for. If you’re expecting the kind of book you probably picture when you hear of a Shaker cookbook, however, you’ll likely be disappointed.

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