In the fall of 1970, Lucy Horton went to stay with Robert Houriet and his wife in Vermont. Horton learned to type and “made order out of the chaos” that would eventually become the book Getting Back Together. Houriet suggested that Horton write a cookbook. And so, after a brief stint cooking for a wealthy woman in Manhattan the following spring, Horton stuck out her thumb and began hitchhiking around the country to gather material. She visited 45 communes and collected dozens recipes for casseroles, couscous, chickbits and a curious soup that calls for Love.
Country Commune Cooking was published in 1972. The comb-bound book resembles earlier community cookbooks put out by clubs and church groups, except that its instructions sometimes contained an overt recipe for social change. I called Horton, who now runs Autumn Leaves, an online bookselling business in Allentown, Pennsylvania, to ask about the legacy of these commune cooks. “They were the forerunners of something,” she told me. “I went to a lot of places where people had what I thought were nutty ideas. But the basic idea was a diet based on what’s available locally, prepared nutritiously, getting away from meat and fat and sugar. That really has become a mainstream idea.”
Not every idea has been a lasting one, Horton said. “The recipes were all donated. I didn’t really own them. And people had a lot of notions about food. I couldn’t accommodate everybody’s notions.” If there were any notion she would forgo today, Horton said it would be what some communards then considered an insidious chemical toxin. “A lot of people thought that baking powder was a poisonous chemical, so I did all the baking recipes with yeast, which is difficult and not very practical.”
One of the most intriguing recipes comes from the Brotherhood of the Spirit, a commune in Western Massachusetts headed by Michael Metalica, “a youthful guru who in turn receives spiritual teachings from a medium, a retired bus driver” named Elwood Babbit. The Brotherhood (later renamed the Renaissance Community) was one of New England’s longest-lasting New Age communes. They tried to spread their message through rock and roll. Their recipe, too, is an attempt at communicating the group’s social and spiritual ideals through the medium of food.
Whether “Brotherhood Spirit in Flesh Soup” is emblematic of an era or more of a recipe for the future remains an open question. Either way, the collection reflects one of the most lasting legacies of counterculture. As Darra Goldstein said at the recent Cookbook Conference: “They were so much more than cookbooks. They were a way of being in the world.”
Brotherhood Spirit in Flesh Soup
From Country Commune Cooking, edited by Lucy Horton, reprinted with permission from the author.
Get everyone together and get a good feeling between you. Work out anything and everything that lies unexpressed. Realize that you are Spirit—and that the health and balance of those you feed depend only on your Thoughts—that balance and order of the body depend upon balance and order of the Mind Positive. The ingredients are of secondary importance, and always in a divine relativity. This soup was made by Alan, Martin, Tam, Lynne and others, and Duh Bear.
1. Two big pots half full of boiling water.
2. Add 2 cups of pinto beans and a little later several handfuls of barley.
3. To each then add a lot of sautéed onions. At this writing the soup isn’t done, but we’ll add 12 canning quarts of squash, carrots and tomatoes from last summer’s garden. Also some green beans someone gave us. Later some salt and seasoning, kelp powder, and a few tablespoons of miso to each. Follow your own Awareness most of all. This soup will feed 130 along with two pots of brown rice and two pots of millet. Pots are about 3 or 4 gallons.
Finally, one last ingredient to be used throughout—Love.
Thanks to Danielle Kovacs, special collections curator at UMass Amherst, for assistance securing permissions for the above photographs and also to Stephanie Hartman, whose article “The Political Palate,” provided inspiration.