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Holy orders: Monks and nuns provide edible gifts by mail

Bill Daley

Your gift is in the giving, the old holiday nostrum goes. But you also can get a feel-good gift in the buying, especially if you tap the monasteries, convents and hermitages scattered around the world. Many specialize in making food products, the range of which goes way beyond the usual fruitcake to include spice blends, jams, cheese, truffles and even coffee.

And no matter whether they're Roman Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant, they do it while pursuing what they say is their main mission: prayer.

"Prayer and labor have been in the monastic tradition from the very beginning," said Sister Gail Fitzpatrick, a member of the Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance, known popularly as Trappistines. She is based at Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey in Dubuque, Iowa.

The nuns there make candy, including their signature Trappistine Creamy Caramels. Fitzpatrick is up every day at 3:45 a.m. By 5, she's at the candy facility tempering chocolate. Then she goes back to the abbey to pray, read and celebrate Mass before returning to tend the chocolate.

"You do have to weave tasks," the nun said with a chuckle. "Chocolate has demands."

Will Keller has been selling products made by nuns and monks for 10 years through his Cleveland mail-order company, Monastery Greetings. Among the religious communities Keller's company represents are the monks of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel in Clark, Wyo. The brothers began roasting, blending and selling coffee beans in 2007 to finance construction of a permanent monastery.

"One of the brothers was something of a coffee expert. He was a barista," said Brother Paul Marie of the Cross, who oversees the coffee business. "His family owned a coffee plantation in Costa Rica."

Now the monks roast and blend 30 different coffees. Brother Paul Marie said some customers buy the coffee to support the monastery but others buy it because it tastes good.

"We use good arabica beans. The gourmet coffee drinker appreciates it," he said.

For John Tapert of Duvall, Wash., it was disappointment in a gourmet cedar plank used to grill fish that led him to make fish planks out of alder wood and package them for sale with bottles of his own St. Benedict barbecue sauce and spice rub.

A one-time jewelry maker, Tapert now specializes in religious art. He and his artist wife, Candace, belong to the secular branch of the St. Joseph Carmelite monastery in Shoreline, Wash. They live in their own hermitage in Duvall, Ill., following many of the same rules and traditions as the cloistered nuns, who are part of the Order of Discalced Carmelites. In addition to the alder grilling sets, he makes a range of jams named after various saints.

The 5-acre hermitage provides both the alder wood and the fruits and berries for the jams.

"It's a simple, honest, straightforward way to make a living," he said.

Order from the source

These products are made by or for monasteries, convents, abbeys and hermitages in the United States. All are available by ordering directly from the source. Or you can buy them through Monastery Greetings, a Cleveland mail-order firm (800-472-0425, www.monasterygreetings.com). Prices for products listed below are from the makers and do not include shipping or other charges.

• St. Benedict sauce and plank from the Northwest Alder Plank Grilling Kit. Fashioned by John Tapert for the St. Joseph Carmelite Monastery in Shoreline, Wash. $39.95. 425-788-4905, www.john tapert.com.

• Cowboy Blend Coffee by Mystic Monk Coffee. Made by the monks of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel, Clark, Wyo. $9.95 (12-ounce bag). 877-751-6377, www.mysticmonkcoffee.com.

• Trappist Abbey Monastery Fruitcake by the monks of the Abbey of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Lafayette, Ore. $27.50 (three 1-pound fruitcakes). 800-294-0105, www.trappistabbey.org.

• Milk Chocolate Butter Nut Munch by Trappistine Quality Candy. Made by nuns at Mount St. Mary's Abbey in Wrentham, Mass. $12 (10-ounce box). 866-549-8929, www.trappistinecandy.com.

• Deluxe Caramel Assortment from Trappistine Creamy Caramels. Made by nuns at Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey in Dubuque, Iowa. $17 (24-ounce box). 866-556-3400, www.trappistine.com.

• Springerle Cookies by Simply Divine, a bakery run by the Sisters of St. Benedict, Ferdinand, Ind. $10.50 (12 cookies). 812-367-2500, www.simplydivinebakery.org.

BROTHER VICTOR’S PEAR CLAFOUTIS

INGREDIENTS

Unsalted butter for the baking dish

6 small ripe Bosc pears

3 eggs

½ cup granulated sugar

2 tsps. Cornstarch

1 ½ cups whole milk

2 tablespoons cognac or pear brandy

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

12 to 14 vanilla caramels unwrapped

METHOD

1. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Generously butter a large 9×13 baking dish and set aside. Peel, halve, and core the pears and set aside.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, sugar and cornstarch. Add milk, cognac, and vanilla and mix until well combined.

3. Pour a thin layer, about 1 cup, of the custard into the baking dish, tilting the pan to spread it evenly over the bottom of the pan. Bake in the center of the oven until the custard thickens and sets about 5 minutes.

4. Remove the pan from the oven and carefully arrange the pears cut down over the set custard.

5. Pour the rest of the custard over the fruit and sprinkle the nutmeg lightly over the top.

6. Arrange the caramels about 2 inches apart on the top of the clafoutis.

7. Return to the oven and bake until the custard is firm and starts to brown around the edges a bit, 40 to 45 minutes.

8. Remove the clafoutis from the oven and serve warm.

Tip: For an extra taste of heaven, use caramels from Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey. These caramels, produced by nuns from fresh butter and cream from local farms, have been lauded by U.S. News & World Report and the Food Network. They can be purchased at Trappistine.com.

Source: A TASTE OF HEAVEN by Madeline Scherb, p. 196