Lucy Dever, Collections Specialist

A Shaker Elder and two Eldresses stand on the side steps of the Trustees’ Office, once used to house and feed guests.

Pleasant Hill has changed a lot in the 218 years since its founding. To the Shakers, it was a home, a place separate and apart where they could worship as they wished. To the people of Mercer county in the early twentieth century, it was Shakertown, a quaint little village with odd architecture and fading memories. To those of us here today, it’s a place to connect with people past and present, and to experience the peace offered by the beautiful landscape around us. But though Pleasant Hill has been many things to many people, one aspect has stayed constant for over two centuries: Shaker hospitality.

From the Shakers’ own guest house in Trustees’ Office to Nannie Embry’s Shakertown Inn, making visitors kindly welcome has always been of the utmost importance here at Pleasant Hill. But it wasn’t until 1967 that the true spirit of Shaker hospitality manifested in our nonprofit, and it came in the form of Elizabeth Kremer.

A Culinary Life

Elizabeth Cromwell Kremer was born in 1901 in Cynthiana, Kentucky, and took an interest in food from a young age. In 1925, she graduated from the University of Kentucky with a degree in Home Economics, and soon after set off for a restaurant career in New York City. There, she worked as one of the few female managers in the industry, often facing resistance and open criticism from men who did not like to see a woman in charge. In 1930, she returned to Kentucky to open The French Village restaurant, during which time she met and married Harold “Doc” Kremer. Though she left restaurant work in 1940 to raise her daughters Pem and Evalina, the kitchen would soon call her back.

Mrs. Kremer’s hard work and exacting standards led to a glowing review featured in The Los Angeles Times in 1977.

The founding board members of Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill knew a quality restaurant was a necessity, both to support the new non-profit institution and to provide a better guest experience. Mrs. Kremer was personally recruited by Chairman Earl T. Wallace in 1967, first opening a small soup-and-sandwich bar in the Old Stone Shop and later moving to the Trustees’ Office for a full-scale restaurant. Upon accepting the position, she conducted extensive research on Shaker cooking, dining, and dress, striving to make the Trustees’ Office true to the Shaker spirit while serving the very best of homegrown Kentucky cooking. Mrs. Kremer personally developed beloved recipes such as Tomato Celery Soup, and made old-fashioned dishes like Shaker Lemon Pie favorites for a new generation. In 1986, after a long and celebrated second career, her health forced her to retire, and she passed away in September 1988.

Though she may have passed, her legacy can be seen throughout the village, from the daily fare at the Trustees’ Table to the “Mind Your Head” signs scattered throughout our buildings, made by her daughter Evalina. Recently, however, more personal memories of Mrs. Kremer have been made available even to those of us who never had the pleasure of meeting her.

Celebrating Mrs. Kremer

In collaboration with Evalina Kremer Settle, Deirdre A. Scaggs of the UK Libraries Special Collections Research Center has recently published Simplicity and Excellence: Elizabeth Kremer from Beaten Biscuits to Shaker Lemon Pie. This book—half biography, half cookbook—tells the story of Mrs. Kremer’s life through her culinary journey, from her childhood in Cynthiana to her nineteen years here at Pleasant Hill. It’s a remarkable book, suffused with memories of every sense—the clicking of heels, the taste of pastry, even the feel of a butterball in the palm of your hand.

The back staircase of The Trustees’ Office graces the cover of Scaggs’ new book, emphasizing the similarity between Mrs. Kremer’s culinary ethos and the Shaker way of life.

For those who want to experience Mrs. Kremer’s story in a more tangible way, please consider joining us on June 29th for our newest Fresh Food Adventure: A Step Back in Time. In celebration of the release of Simplicity and Excellence, Trustees’ Table Chef Amber Hokams will create a multi-course dining experience in honor of Mrs. Kremer and her contributions to Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill. The evening will also feature a meet-and-greet with author Deirdre A. Scaggs.

Though thirty-eight years have passed since Elizabeth Kremer left the Trustees’ Table for the last time, we at Pleasant Hill are eternally grateful for her many years of constant dedication, creativity, and most importantly, hospitality. We strive to do her proud.

Simplicity and Excellence is available for purchase here, as well as in The Shops. Tickets for the Fresh Food Adventure: A Step Back in Time can be purchased here.

Shaker Village