Shaker Recipe --- Tomato Okra Casserole

Thought it fitting to serve Tomato Okra Casserole in
one of Barry's handmade casseroles.
     A long-term fascination with the Shakers has twice lead us to the Pleasant Hill Shaker Village near Harrodsburg, Ky. The first time was about 18 years ago; the most recent was just a couple of weeks ago.
     At one time I did extensive research on this religious sect that lived communally yet practiced celibacy. Their ingenuity is amazing—they invented the circular saw, the flat broom and packaged the first commercial seeds, among other things. Their architectural styles were creative and inventive, their furniture was practical and now is recognized as a classic design form. I admire their division of labor and devotion to equality of the sexes.
     Besides my ongoing interest in the sect, my broom of 18 years was becoming just a little worn. Since we were going to be in Kentucky anyway, I considered it essential to make a stop in Pleasant Hill. We again spent the night (couples sleeping in the same bed must make the Shakers turn over in their graves) and of course we dined on Shaker-style food. And, of course, I bought a cookbook!
     Yes, I needed another cookbook! You see, I needed the recipe for the Tomato Okra Casserole that was on the dinner menu. Barry had fried chicken while I dined on country ham. The sides were served family style and based, in part, on what is currently available in the village’s vast garden.
     The casserole recipe calls for a topping of butter crackers and I questioned whether they would have been available during the peak of the Shaker movement. I did know that the National Biscuit Company (later to become Nabisco) first produced soda crackers in 1898 but a quick search of the Internet indicated that Nabisco didn’t introduce Ritz crackers until 1934. Hmmm – many of the Shaker villages across the U.S. were closed by then; the Pleasant Hill Shaker Village was founded in 1805 and closed in 1910. So I did another search and discovered a similar recipe that simply called for breadcrumbs.      
     Perhaps the version in the cookbook I purchased has been updated for today’s living history museum that strives to share the lives of an earlier generation. Or, perhaps the recipe was actually updated by the surviving Shakers—there are still a few that live on at Sabbath Lake Shaker Village in New Gloucester, Maine. Whatever the explanation, I am glad to have this recipe and still amazed by the Shakers and the village at Pleasant Hill.  

UPDATE in Aug. 2013 — I cut corn off ears of corn and added to okra in step #2. It was a delicious addition!

Tomato Okra Casserole      Serves about 12 
Cookbook Source: Welcome Back to Pleasant Hill, More Recipes from the Trustees' House, Pleasant Hill, Kentucky 
6 tablespoons onions, chopped
2 tablespoons bacon grease
1 lb. okra, sliced
1 quart tomatoes, peeled and cooked, or canned
¼ teaspoon curry powder
½ teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon red pepper
2½ tablespoons Parmesan cheese
8 butter crackers, crumbled

1.  Sauté onions in bacon grease.

2.  Add okra and cook until tender. (I used medium or medium-low heat.) Update as of Aug; 2013 -- I added 2 ears of corn, cut from the cob.
3.  Add tomatoes and seasonings.
4.  Pour into greased casserole dish. Top with cheese then cracker crumbs.

5.  Bake at 350° for 35 minutes.
Note -- At the Shaker restaurant, this dish was served alongside rice. It was a great combination and now I usually cook some rice (about 1 cup) and add to the casserole as it bakes.

Read more about the Shaker movement in the US @ or, specific about the Pleasant Hill Shakers can be found  @
Barry stands in a Shaker kitchen with handmade pottery crocks and jugs in the background.
Broom makers continue to make brooms using the equipment at the Shaker Village.
This happens to be a Sisters bedroom; six sisters shared a communal space.
Barry enjoying his Shaker meal -- fried chicken, rice, tomato okra casserole and fresh lima beans.
Working garden at Pleasant Hill Shaker Village.

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