By Merry Post
Special to The Ellsworth American
One of my favorite 19th-century vegetable recipes comes from a religious group that practiced communal property ownership and free love. The Oneida Community formed in Putney, Vt., around a charismatic leader, John Humphrey Noyes, and moved to upstate New York in 1848. They were one of a number of Perfectionist sects who believed it was possible to live without sin.
Noyes and his followers deliberately tried to improve the lives of women and shift loyalties from the nuclear family to the larger group. They abandoned monogamy and traditional marriage and practiced contraception to reduce their fertility rate. Female members discarded their corsets and heavy, floor-length skirts in favor of practical bloomers and short hair. Communal child care, shared domestic responsibilities and fewer pregnancies reduced the burden on women.
Women could become leaders in the community. Noyes tended to assign leadership positions to his earliest followers, including members of his biological family. His sisters Harriet and Charlotte and his legal wife, Harriet Holton, were influential leaders. The community encouraged women and girls to participate in sports and games. Everyone could engage in cultural pursuits such as music and poetry.
Though most Perfectionist sects and utopian communities failed financially within 10 years, the Oneida Community persisted. Their first successful venture was an improved animal trap invented by a community member. They did farming and orcharding and produced diverse products such as carpet bags and lunch bags, silk thread and canned fruits and vegetables. In 1877, they started manufacturing silverware at their branch in Wallingford, Conn.
In 1879, John Noyes escaped to Canada under threat of arrest. Members of the community were forced to abandon their practice of plural marriage. Many of them married and continued to live at the community. Community members formed a joint stock company in 1880 and moved their silverware manufacturing business to Niagara Falls, Canada.
Noyes’s sister Harriet Skinner wrote a vegetarian cookbook that the community published in 1873. Called “Oneida Community Cooking: Or a Dinner Without Meat,” it included a recipe for fried eggplant. Because eggplant is a blotter for oil, I lightened the calorie load by using an oven-frying technique.
2 Tbsps. olive oil, divided
2 cups cracker crumbs
1 tsp. dried marjoram, crumbled
¼ tsp. sea salt
1/8 tsp. black pepper
1 large eggplant
2 eggs, beaten
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cover a sheet pan with aluminum foil and spread 1 tablespoon of olive oil on the pan. Mix the cracker crumbs with the marjoram, salt and pepper. Cut the eggplant into slices ½-inch thick. Put the beaten eggs in one plate or pie pan and the crumbs in another. Dip each slice in egg on both sides and then coat with the crumb mixture. Place slices on the sheet pan, rubbing them in the oil. Drizzle the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil over the eggplant slices. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until slices are tender. Serve hot.