The Bread


The Shaker community at Sabbathday Lake has made and served the same bread for generations, one of many traditions that links the present community with the past. When the artists lived and worked with the Shakers, Sister Marie Burgess (1920-2001) was responsible for making the bread. Sister Marie came to the community when she was nineteen. At the time, she remembered, the community consisted of about sixty individuals, including children. Her tasks included cooking, sewing, laundry, and making candies. Eventually, Sister Minnie Green (1910-2001) taught her how to make the bread, and for over forty years, Sister Marie made it for the community three times a week.

In a 1999 interview with France Morin, Sister Marie described the process of making the bread:

It's four tablespoons of yeast and two cups of milk and . . . quite a good size of margarine. Not a big piece. Like an egg or something in the milk. You put the milk on the stove, and you heat it up. Not hot, just warm because if you put it hot, then you're gonna ruin your yeast, and if you have it too cold, it's gonna kill the yeast, so you have it in-between, and when the milk gets warm, . . . I put in the yeast, and I mix the yeast and the milk together in the big round bowl and then the yeast has to settle a little while. . . . [W]hen little bubbles come in it and . . . when it gets all through with the whipping and I put the milk in, and I put the molasses in with the milk. I have a cup of molasses that I put in with the milk, and I heat the milk and molasses on the stove at the same time, and then I take it out, and I have four cups of flour and ten cups of . . . , and I mix those together and I put in the mixture in the liquid in a big pan and I mix it around, mix it around, and I take it out of the pan and I put it on the slab there. . . . You have to knead the bread to get it together. It takes quite a while to do that, ten or fifteen to twenty minutes, and [I] still have this big pan that I put it in after I have it all together nicely and then put it where it's warm because it has to be warm because it takes so long to rise. . . . . And after it gets all rising up high in the pan, I knead it back, knead it back, and I put it in four little bread baking pans. . . . I have four of those, and I put it on that, and it takes about an hour to rise the bread in the pan. Then I take it off and knead it again and then I put it in the oven. That takes fifty minutes to bake. It takes a long while to make bread as you can see.