Chef Amber Hokams Returns to Our Table

Shelby Jones, Director of Communications

Fall has officially arrived at Shaker Village and we’re celebrating with a full lineup of seasonal events and a fresh start at our seed-to-table restaurant, The Trustees’ Table.  Dining at Shaker Village is a tradition dear to the hearts of thousands of guests who pull up a chair at our table every year. We have another reason to celebrate with Chef Amber Hokams’ return to the Village!

We caught up with Chef Hokams to get her take on The Trustees’ Table’s next chapter and to get to know her a bit better. Read on for our Q&A, and for some recipes she shared from our current menu that you can make at home.

The Trustees' Table Chef Amber Hokams
Chef Amber Hokams trained at Le Cordon Bleu Austin.

Get to Know Chef Hokams

The Trustees’ Table uses produce from the certified-organic Shaker Garden, as well as locally sourced meats, cheeses and other ingredients. Why is that important, and how do you work with the Village’s Farm Team to determine what gets incorporated into the garden plan?

The obvious reason is that we want to support our neighbors. I enjoy building relationships with local farmers because they too are in this industry because of passion.

Every winter I have a planning meeting with our Farm Manager Michael Moore to discuss a planting schedule. He is someone who shares my passion for ethical farming and growing the freshest produce possible. We use this time to discuss new projects, ideas, events in our Fresh Food Adventure series and seasonal menu plans for the year.

What are the quintessential dishes you will always find on The Trustees’ Table menu?

 FRIED CHICKEN, Shaker Lemon Pie and Tomato Celery Soup!

What’s your personal take on “southern cooking?”

Southern cuisine is comfort on a plate. I am a firm believer that you can taste the love in a dish. Just as the pimento cheese here at the Village always tastes better when Miss Sue makes it. Taking simple food to the next level is all in the details.

The Fresh Food Adventure series is your chance to really show off as a chef. How do you find inspiration for these events?

I start by opening Google Maps and pinpointing certain areas to explore. I enjoy spending my free time researching new cuisines for our themed dinners throughout the year.

Who is your culinary inspiration?

My Nana has always been my inspiration. She lives to feed the people around her, and she admits that cooking is her love language. When we vacation together we sit down early on and map out our meals for the week. We turn on our favorite music and dance while we cook. And, it needs to be said that my Nana is a great dancer, but I have two left feet!

If you could only eat one dish for the rest of your life what would it be?

When it comes to feeding myself, I keep it really simple. A 16 oz ribeye, charred on the grill and a side of watermelon has been my go-to meal lately. However, I also eat a ton of tacos at my house. Tacos al Pastor to be specific with fresh corn tortillas, marinated pork shoulder, pickled onions, cilantro, goat cheese, lots of grilled pineapple and green habanero salsa is a meal I have eaten a hundred times.

Can you give us a sneak peak of anything coming to the new menu at The Trustees’ Table?

Back by popular demand, our guests have requested that a pork chop be included on our menu. I am currently testing out my version of sweet potato casserole and an apricot chutney to accompany the chop. Stay tuned!

Recipes to Share

Chef Hokams is sharing her recipes for two of her secret sauces! Try your hand at them at home and share your results by tagging #ShakerVillageKY on social media.

Shrimp and Grits with Poblano White Wine Cream
The Poblano White Wine Cream is featured in the Shrimp and Grits entrée on the dinner menu at The Trustees’ Table.

Poblano White Wine Cream

¼ c Sunflower Oil
1 c Onion, medium diced
¼ c Smoked Poblano, skins removed and small dice
2 T Garlic, minced
½ c Roasted Red Peppers
3 c Sauvignon Blanc
1 qt Heavy Cream
2 t  Salt
1 c Mexican Chorizo, cooked (homemade or your favorite brand)

Sauté onion until translucent. Add garlic and pepper, sauté for 30 seconds. Deglaze with wine, reduce to au sec. Add cream and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from heat, add salt and chorizo.

Serve over grilled parmesan grit cakes, wilted greens and sautéed wild caught shrimp.

Watermelon Salad with Honey Citrus Vinaigrette
Take a final bite of summer with the Honey Citrus Vinaigrette that tops the Watermelon Salad on the lunch and dinner menus.

Honey Citrus Vinaigrette

1 c Sunflower oil
¼ c Champagne Vinegar
1 Orange, zested
2 T Fresh Orange Juice
2 T Fresh Lemon Juice
1 T c Honey
2 t Dijon
1 t Kosher Salt

Toss arugula (or greens of your choice) with 2 oz of Honey Citrus Vinaigrette. Top with shaved red onion, diced watermelon, fresh banana pepper and crumbled goat cheese.

Join us for breakfast, lunch or dinner at The Trustees’ Table seven days a week by making an online reservation or calling 859.734.5411.

The Tool that Empowers: Shaker Literacy

Maggie McAdams, Education and Engagement Manager & Laura Webb, Program Team Coordinator

The Shakers, as a religious communal society, were dedicated to creating their own version of heaven-on-earth. They were an egalitarian society, practicing gender equality in their leadership structure and in their access to resources, and placed an emphasis on the betterment of community members to be beings worthy of the heavenly sphere. However, education— and more specifically literacy — was not always a top priority for this society.

Shaker school children gathered in front of the East Family Brethren’s Shop, late 19th century.

From its earliest days, the Shaker faith was passed on and expressed as an oral tradition. Driven in part by the fact that Mother Ann Lee was illiterate, the Shakers were content to carry on their faith through spoken word and other expression. However, after Mother Ann passed away in 1784, just 10 years after bringing the faith to America, this changed drastically. With the charismatic leader gone, her followers, worried about what was to be lost, started to codify the faith by writing everything down and disseminating the information to the various Shaker communities. As part of these efforts, Joseph Meacham, a Shaker Leader in New Lebanon, NY, wrote down his views on education in the 1790s, claiming:

“Some are Created and Called to be more useful in things spiritual others in things temporal – […] but to Prepare them to be useful in the improvement of the talents which God hath given […] it would not be prudent for them to labour to make any great distinction in relation to their abilities and Callings…”

In this, Meacham is advocating for education for all to prepare them to be an informed and active citizenry. He is making the argument that education is a tool that empowers individuals to become productive members of the society.

By 1808, a school was established for the children at New Lebanon that focused primarily on spelling and language, and by 1832, the Shakers selected a superintendent to oversee all Shaker community schools. This new superintendent began to set standards for education in Shaker communities, and though there was always variation within individual communities, they began to establish a formal curriculum. Throughout the nineteenth century the curriculum was expanded from just reading and writing to include instruction in astronomy, algebra, music, and chemistry, among many other subjects. In the late nineteenth century, the Canterbury Shaker community produced a list referred to as the Classification of Classics for grades one through eight. Familiar titles such as Merchant of Venice and King Arthur were mixed in with books like From Wool to Cloth and The Story of Wheat. With this full list of reading material, it appears that the value and diverse nature of Shaker education came a long way over the course of the nineteenth century.

While education focused mainly on children in Shaker communities with the Children’s Orders, often called School Families, acting as school houses, all individuals were taught the fundamental skills of reading and writing upon joining.

Evidence of the importance they placed on education and literacy can be found throughout the Shaker’s written record. The sheer volume of journals and letters speak to their impressive mastery of the written word. Both men and women were called upon to keep journals for the various families.  In this excerpt from the East Family Deaconess’s Journal, written during the Civil War on October 11 and 12, 1862, you can see this mastery for yourself:

“Such as day as this has never been witnessed on Pleasant Hill before and God grant that it never may again…How awful to think of a wicked and bloody battle occurring in the midst of Zion on earth! Whoever would have thought that this secluded and sacred spot of truly Pleasant Hill, would ever have been surrounded by the embattled legions within hearing distance in almost every direction from this central point and the waring hosts traversing our streets and premises to and fro day and night with their weapons of death, guns, swords, and bayonets gleaming in the sun…Where the clash of arms and din of war proclaims the raging thirst for blood, power and glory, that fills the ambitious human (Alias inhuman) breast! And yet that we should have escaped with comparatively so little damage clearly implies, that whatever of evil may be among us (and God knows there is enough,) there is still a spark of light, a remnant of faith, and a seed of truth, and a righteous few in the heritage of God which he holds in the bottom of his hand…”

The title page of one of the many surviving Pleasant Hill journals, the East Family Deaconess’s Journal, 1843-1871. Volume 4, Shaker Collection, Filson Historical Society.

As an organization, and as scholars, we are lucky that so many Shaker journals were preserved for us to reference today, and so grateful that the Shakers placed such importance on education! Visit Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill to learn more about Shaker education in our Back to School: Shaker Children’s Orders daily program.

Monarch Migration

Laura Baird, Stewardship Manager

The monarch butterfly is one of the most celebrated insect species in North America and a flagship species for grassland conservation. Like many insects, monarchs have suffered steep declines in recent decades due to habitat loss. This is further complicated when considering monarch habitats stretch from southern Canada to central Mexico. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) formally declared monarchs to be an endangered species in late July. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, nearly one billion Monarchs have been lost in overwatering sites in Mexico since 1990!

Each February, monarchs emerge from their overwintering grounds high in the forests of central Mexico and fly north, mating and laying eggs on milkweed as they go. Several generations of monarchs go through their life cycle while repopulating most of the United States and the southern portions of Canada.

Monarch Life Cycle

  1. Eggs hatch in about four days.
  2. Caterpillars emerge and eat milkweed for two weeks.
  3. Caterpillars transform into a chrysalis and hang for ten days.
  4. An adult monarch butterfly emerges, feasts on nectar and looks for a mate for two to six weeks.
Monarch caterpillar capture in the Shaker Village Preserve.

The Next Generation
The monarchs we’re currently seeing are considered the fourth generation of the year, and their lives are a bit different from the previous three generations. This generation, born in September and October, are currently migrating south, back to the Oyamel Fir forests of central Mexico. The monarchs born here at Shaker Village travel over 1,500 miles to join millions of other monarchs from across North America, where they will then rest together for six to eight months before flying north and restarting the process next year.

Here in the United States, modern agricultural practices and development has led to a loss of both milkweed, the only food source of monarch caterpillars, and fall wildflowers, which adults need to fuel their journey south at this time. Their overwintering grounds in Mexico have also been impacted by expanding agriculture. Climate change has also threatened the species, creating more frequent droughts, floods, and intense storm events that threaten the plants monarchs rely on throughout their range.

Research is Key
A number of nonprofits are doing their part to protect monarchs and collect more data to learn about their complex lives and migratory patterns. One of the largest monarch-specific nonprofits is Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas. They run the Monarch Waystation program, dedicated to increasing monarch habitat in the United States, whether it be on a large scale (the entirety of Shaker Village’s prairies are registered as a Monarch Waystation!) or in your own backyard (you can visit our small demonstration Monarch Waystation beside the Meeting House). 

Monarch Watch has also run a monarch tagging program since 1992. The tags are small stickers applied to a hindwing. When tags are recovered (usually after the insect’s natural death), the code on that tag identifies the butterfly and where it came from. The monarch tagging program is providing data to answer several key questions about the timing of migration and mortality ratios regarding size and origin of the butterflies. Recovering tags is difficult and rare, but a butterfly tagged in The Preserve at Shaker Village in 2015 was recovered the next year in El Rosario, Mexico the next year! We continue to tag monarchs in cooperation with Monarch Watch each year in hopes our efforts can contribute to the overall success and hopeful resurgence of these regal butterflies. 

How to Help
If you’d like to help then we encourage you to join our Monarch Butterfly Tagging workshop at the Village on October 1. We’ll take an easy hike through The Preserve and learn how its wildflowers serve as an important habitat for butterflies and other essential pollinators, then help tag monarchs to track and monitor their annual migration.

The Early Birds Get the Birds

Ben Leffew, Preserve Manager & Laura Baird, Assistant Preserve Manager

In 2009 Shaker Village got out of the industrial farming business and focused more on wildlife habitat and passive recreation via the trail system. We began converting fields once used and abused by overgrazing and mismanagement to native grasses and wildflowers with technical and financial support through private land programs with Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) and the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). This was the unofficial beginning of what we now call The Preserve at Shaker Village and we are constantly working to improve the habitat for the wild things that call this area home.

Preserve Manager Ben Leffew in The Preserve at Shaker Village.

Harmful or Helpful?

You might be thinking; how do we know if what we’ve done to the landscape is hurting or helping wildlife?  

We use population surveys for birds, small mammals and insects – essentially anything we can count in a scientific manner or anything that has an established protocol. The bulk of our wildlife monitoring centers around birds. They act as indicators of habitat quality because if they don’t like what you’ve done with the place, they’ll fly somewhere else to find a suitable habitat. Unfortunately, suitable habitats are becoming harder to find as habitat loss is the main driver for most declines in wildlife populations, birds being no exception. According to avian biologists, grassland birds are in steep decline due to grasslands also being prime farmland and building construction sites.

Bird Banding Station

One of the coolest things we get to do as part of managing The Preserve is working with our partners at KDFWR at a Bird Banding Station established on the south side of the property. The station was built in 2009 to evaluate how our land management activities affect songbirds.

Before any habitat work took place, this area was a typical “old field” habitat – abandoned pastureland with mostly nonnative cool season grasses (Kentucky bluegrass and tall fescue), plus some volunteer trees and wildflowers that had moved in on their own hedge apple aka osage orange). While many of the surrounding fields were converted to native grasses and wildflowers starting in 2009, the banding station’s field was left alone until 2012 to gather baseline data about how birds use typical old fields. This allowed for a more scientific approach so we could compare bird population dynamics before and after a field conversion. It was also important for future management decisions since we did not have the luxury of gathering baseline data before the conversions began.

Bird Banding Station at Shaker Village.

Bird banding occurs during breeding and migration seasons from May through October following protocols set forth by the Institute for Bird Populations and under the supervision of permitted avian biologists. This limits the number of people at a banding station and makes it off limits to the public. Ten mist nets are opened at sunrise and checked every 40-60 minutes for four hours. Birds are identified, weighed, measured, aged and sexed when possible. During the nesting season, the breeding condition of birds is checked. During migration, the fat deposits on the birds, which are vital sources of energy, are checked as well. Birds are fitted with simple aluminum leg bands which identify them with a unique code. The bands are secure and long lasting but loose, comfortable and lightweight so they don’t impede natural behavior.

A bird being measured at the Bird Banding Station.

13 Years of Findings

So, what have we learned from 13 years of banding birds at Shaker Village? We’ve captured 108 different species of birds, 18 of which are considered Species of Greatest Conservation Need in Kentucky. Migration capture rates have been consistently higher since the area was converted from cool season to warm season grasses, indicating that the landscape has become more attractive to migrating songbirds and provides them better nutrition.

Look closely and you can see the band on the bird’s leg.

Recaptures provide the most interesting data. In 2020, we recaptured an indigo bunting and a field sparrow, both of which were originally banded in 2015 and were at least seven years old at the time of their recapture. Individual Tennessee warblers have been caught repeatedly during the same migration season, indicating that Shaker Village serves as a stop-over site for migrating birds to stay for a while and fatten up before continuing their journey south.

We hope to continue our research efforts with KDFWR as long as possible. Learning more about how songbirds use The Preserve allows us to make data driven decisions supporting habitat improvement. 

Spring Harvest at The Trustees’ Table

Executive Chef Dylan Morris

As we roll into growing season here at Shaker Village, I’m looking forward to the early crops coming into The Trustees’ Table from our onsite garden. Our amazing Farm Team works for hours on end to make sure we have the best harvest, and nothing excites me more as a chef than knowing our produce is grown close to the restaurant. In our case, the Shaker Village garden is literally located steps away from the restaurant. The garden is certified organic and the plants are grown directly in the ground. I believe there’s a deeper flavor in all vegetables when they’re grown in soil verses water as some producers have moved to hydroponic growing techniques.

Chef Dylan works closely with the Farm Team to plan out seasonal menus utilizing the Shaker Garden for the restaurant’s produce needs.

A couple of things stand out in the early stages of the season, the biggest probably being the salad greens. With this harvest of greens that has started flowing into the restaurant you’ll be seeing more and more seasonal salads like the spring Blueberry Salad we have on the menu now. This salad is composed of mixed greens, fresh blueberries, local goat cheese, roasted walnuts and our house-made white wine vinaigrette. When I was writing this menu item I really wanted to bring a fresh, and bright salad to the table for spring. With the brightness of the blueberries and vinaigrette, I believe we did just that, not to mention the many health benefits of blueberries.

The Blueberry Salad is available for both lunch and dinner at The Trustees’ Table.

As we continue to receive produce from the garden this year you’ll see more dishes focused on the use of our vegetables, taking seed-to-table dining to a new level. I hope you’ll pull up a chair at The Trustees’ Table soon.

Make a reservation to dine for breakfast, lunch or dinner here.