Putting Food By: Preserving the Harvest at Pleasant Hill

Maggie McAdams, Assistant Program Manager

[1855] Wed. January 3 Today George Curds barn took fire and burnt up, together with all the wheat, corn, oats and hay he had, all the poor man could do was to go and lay down and cry and that is all any of us could do in such a case.” (Journal of James Levi Ballance, April 1, 1854 – March 31, 1860)

The ready availability of fresh food in any season is something that most modern Americans take for granted. Strawberries in January? Of course, let’s head to the grocery! As the quote that opens this essay reveals, such comfort in food choice and food security is something that is relatively new to the human experience. For the Pleasant Hill Shakers, the necessity of preparing for the coming winter was an onerous task that hung over their heads nearly as soon as the yearly calendar turned to spring.

Apple Jelly Label from Pleasant Hill. In 1853 it was noted that Pleasant Hill grew 50 varieties of apples!

As such, food production and preservation was a year-round task for the Shakers. In order to ensure that food was available to community members, particularly during the winter months, food preservation required contributions from the whole community.

While fruit preservation took place throughout the summer months and into the fall, the fall harvest was an important time for “putting food by” for the winter.

When the Shakers preserved foods, they were prolonging their shelf life to ensure they lasted as long as possible. Some food preservation methods, like canning, required the Shakers to transform the fruits and vegetables, while others like cellaring, required certain storage conditions. All of these methods were important in ensuring the Shakers had enough food to last through the winter until the next growing season.

Although it required a great deal of effort, throughout the 19th century the Shakers became renowned for their skill in preserving food, and in many years they made a tidy profit by selling the excess that they did not need. In 1880, the Albany Evening News spoke directly to this fame: “[Shaker] applesauce and preserves are household words, which involuntarily cause the mouth to water and the mind to teem with recollections of surreptitious feeds of jam in childhood’s hungry days.” It still makes the mouth water!

Not only were the Shakers known for the quality of their preserved food, many visitors also commented on the specialty structures such as the Meat Houses, Smoke Houses, Ice Houses, and more, that the Shakers constructed at Pleasant Hill. Food preservation, it turns out, significantly influenced the built environment at Pleasant Hill in unexpected and interesting ways.

Centre Family Smoke House after the time of the Shakers at Pleasant Hill, 1940.
Brick smokehouses were rare, and were plagued by salt used in the curing process.

Perhaps most shockingly, some of these specialty buildings became the targets of thieves from within the community! In March of 1885, Shaker brother Henry Daily commented that he “put 2 locks on C.F. Smoke house door A.M. We have to change lock very often on this door as we have some desperate thieves living among us.  They got some keys somehow or other & get in and steal meat….This is the kind of Shakers we have now days.”

Come and join us at Shaker Village this fall, as we uncover more stories of intrigue, tension and conflict involving food at Pleasant Hill! Oh, and did I mention that we are tasting apple butter? You won’t be disappointed!

Putting Food By: Preserving the Harvest is a daily program that begins at 3:30pm every day through November.

Double Your Impact

Shaker Village Board of Trustees Offer Matching Gift Challenge

Barry Stumbo, Chief Development Officer

The Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill Board of Trustees recently issued a challenge to all Annual Fund donors in 2019 that will match dollar for dollar any increase from last year’s gift. For example, if a donor gave $250 in 2018 and increased their gift to $500 in 2019, the board will match the $250 increase and the total impact to the Annual Fund will be $750!

For all new Annual Fund donors your gift will be matched dollar for dollar which will Double the Impact to Shaker Village!

The Annual Fund is vital to the Village’s continual growth and long-term sustainability. This fund supports historic restoration and preservation, along with educational and programming needs for Shaker Village, Kentucky’s largest National Historic Landmark. As a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization, all gifts are tax-deductible.

G. Watts Humphrey Jr., Chairman of the Board of Trustees said, “The board enthusiastically and unanimously agreed to provide this matching opportunity in order to build the level of financial support that sustains the great work happening at Shaker Village. Our goal is to inspire future generations through discovery by sharing the legacies of the Pleasant Hill Shakers. Please consider making a gift today.”

To make a gift online go to shakervillageky.org/donate or call the Development Office at 859.734.1545.

Happy Hammering!

Preservation Projects for the Summer of 2019

William Updike, Vice President of Natural and Cultural Resources

This is an exciting time, and we wanted to post an update on several on-going and upcoming projects you may see during visits to the Village over the summer and into the fall!

For starters, we re-opened the 1834 Centre Family Dwelling this spring after a year-and-a-half of work! (There are several prior blog posts about this project, if you’d like to learn more!)

Work is already underway on several of our other historic buildings. So far this year we have re-roofed the 1811 Old Stone Shop, and made repairs to the Old Ministries Shop and Cooper’s Shops.

Roofing underway on the 1811 Old Stone Shop.
Roofing completed on the 1811 Old Stone Shop.
Threshold on 1813 Old Ministry’s Shop before repair.
Threshold on 1813 Old Ministry’s Shop after repair.

Last summer we began work on the 1833 Water House. The first phase of this project completed a major structural repair to the front (south) wall of the building. This summer we will complete the preservation work on this building including repairs to the roof framing, siding, windows, a new shake roof and a fresh coat of paint. We are re-roofing and painting the nearby Brethren’s Bath House which will complete work on structures adjacent to the Centre Family Dwelling.

1833 Water House during recent preservation efforts.
1860 Brethren’s Bathhouse roof repair in progress.

In other work, we will also be installing a new roof on the 1821 Ministry’s Shop. This project will begin the preservation work on this building, and we intend to also make repairs to the exterior of the building and to repaint it prior to winter. We will begin to repair and repaint all of the windows, exterior doors, and exterior trim of the East Family Dwelling. This is a large project and plan to complete late in the fall, or possibly next spring if the weather cooperates.

Our work at Shaker Village is never truly finished. Use, time and the elements take a toll on our buildings and it is our duty to maintain them for future generations. You can help by making donations, and/or joining us on an upcoming volunteer day!

Click here to learn more about how to support our efforts!

Milkweed and Monarchs – Oh My!

Ben Leffew, Preserve Manager
Laura Baird, Assistant Preserve Manager

Monarch butterfly in the Shaker Village Preserve

Entering the summer months marks not only a transition in the seasons on the calendar, but also a transition in the species of blooming plants which act as sources of nectar, pollen, and sites for insects to lay eggs.

Spring forest wildflowers offer a food source for pollinators as early as February, when they can take advantage of sunlight hitting the forest floor before the trees start to shade the understory. As spring ends, most forest plants have finished blooming and the show picks up out in the prairies, where wildflowers can thrive throughout the warm months without having to compete for light with large trees.

Of the many diverse, vibrant wildflowers of summer, milkweed stands out from the rest as both an excellent nectar source, providing liquid energy for wide variety of insect species, as well as being the only plants monarch butterflies lay their eggs on.

Five species of milkweed have been confirmed in The Preserve at Shaker Village: common (Asclepias syriaca), butterfly (Asclepias tuberosa), green (Asclepias viridis), swamp (Asclepias incarnate), and four-leafed (Asclepias quadrifolia). Not surprisingly, common milkweed is the most abundant on the property as it is large, extremely tough, spreads itself easily and responds well to our prescribed fire regime.

Pipevine swallowtail on butterfly milkweed

The relationship between monarchs and milkweeds is one of the most famous examples of specialization in the insect world, and dates back millennia. Milkweeds produce a thick, sticky, toxic sap reminiscent of white latex, and have small hairs on the leaves to deter insects from taking a bite. Despite these physical and chemical defenses, several insects have evolved the ability to not only consume milkweed, but consume it exclusively. Monarchs are the most famous of these, requiring milkweed to lay their eggs.

Swamp milkweed

If it seems like monarch butterflies are getting a lot of attention these days, it’s for good reason. Monarchs have become an ambassador species for both large-scale prairie habitat restoration and small, backyard pollinator gardens and waystations. Providing good, milkweed-rich habitat for monarchs also benefits hundreds of other insect species that thrive in the prairie and in turn feed our many birds.

The Preserve at Shaker Village has miles of trails crossing through native prairies for you to explore! If you would like to learn more about monarch butterflies first-hand, you might enjoy our Monarch Butterfly Tagging workshop in September!

Old Buildings, New Tricks

Sustainability through Geothermal Systems

William Updike, Vice President of Natural and Cultural Resources

Shaker Village is on a mission to be good stewards of our resources. One way we do this is through the Geothermal Heating and Air Conditioning systems in the East Family Dwelling, West Lot Dwelling, Centre Family Dwelling and Meeting House.

Geothermal supports our stewardship in two ways.

First, geothermal heat pump systems are more than three times as efficient as the most economical furnace. Instead of burning a combustible fuel to create heat, a ground-source system uses the earth’s energy as the heat source. Geothermal systems provide three to four units of energy for every
one unit used to power the system’s compressor, fan and water pump. The U.S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency identify geothermal as having the lowest environmental impact of all heating systems.

Secondly, geothermal systems are able to reach very high efficiencies. For example, geothermal heat pump can be up to 600% efficient on the
coldest days of the year—a normal air source heat pump will only be 175-200% efficient on cool days—meaning the geothermal system is using far less electricity than a comparable heat pump, furnace or air conditioner. Thus, this installation will help us save financial resources in the long run
on our purchase of electricity.

Our goal is to prolong the lives of these buildings for the next generation to enjoy. Guests now have a better experience inside the buildings during hot or cold days—regulating the temperature and humidity inside the building help us preserve the buildings and allow us to display furniture and
textiles that are too fragile for non-climate controlled spaces.

I hope you enjoy these images of the geothermal installation during the recent preservation of the 1824 Centre Family Dwelling!

October 2017. Laying out the well field.
October 2017. Drilling wells and placing pipes.
November 2017. Connecting the geothermal piping to the Centre Family Dwelling.
May 2019. Completed geothermal well field for the Centre Family Dwelling.

Preservation work is never completed! Ongoing repair, maintenance and upkeep is critical for the sustainability of our historic village. Thank you to everyone who has visited, donated and contributed to make projects like this possible!