California Soul: Food and Drink Made by Religious Orders

Unless you're landed gentry or a trust fund baby, we all have to work for a living. One who understood this truth was Saint Benedict, who wrote his precepts for monastic living some 15 centuries ago. His "Rule of Saint Benedict" stressed the importance of a life balanced between ora et labora, or prayer and work, and these teachings form the basic foundations of Christian monasteries to this today.

Through this tenet of labor, those devoted to monastic living have been able to keep themselves afloat and maintain their living expenses for basic modern necessities such as electricity, food, and health care. Perhaps the best known example are Trappist monks that have been brewing beer within monastery walls for their communities since the Middle Ages. While only one Trappist beer brewer operates in the U.S., there are California-based nuns and monks that are making other types of food and drink on their premises to earn an income. We can't guarantee that these foods have been blessed in any way, but they've been made by ascetic hands:

The Monastery of the Angels: Located in the Hollywood Hills, the monastery has been the site for prayer and pumpkin bread-making for years. The original recipe came from a nun's grandmother; it's been circulating around the internet for a while now. The bread still sells out during Christmas; the sisters take special orders only over the holidays. During the rest of the year, however, the monastery gift store stocks the pumpkin bread, along with peanut brittle and hand-dipped chocolates (the marmels, a layer of caramel with marshmallow, sprinkled with coconut and dipped in dark chocolate, are the most popular variation) that are all made on site.

New Camaldoli Hermitage: The Camaldolese monks live in the paradise that is Big Sur, overlooking ocean and woods. This tranquil setting seems like an ideal place for spiritual seekers (they also rent out rooms to visitors) and is also the site of the monk's fruit and date nut cake and granola-making operation. They also sell foodstuffs from their fellow monastics: creamed honey, fudge, bourbon balls, jams, and Wyoming's Mystic Monk Coffee.

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The Abbey of New Clairvaux: The Cistercian monks follow the Trappist tradition, dating back to the the 12th century, of making alcohol. Besides the vineyards, the monks cultivate fruit and walnut orchards (though these are bought, processed, and labeled by others), but their wine carries the New Clairvaux label. Viognier, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Tempranillo, and their "Abbey Angelica," made of 100% muscat, are some of the varietals sold at their shop and online. They even have a tasting room open to the public by their vineyards in Vina, just northwest of Chico.

Redwoods Monastery: The sisters live in an isolated forest of redwoods and Douglas firs by the Lost Coast in Northern California. Since bees don't thrive in this lush climate, the sisters get their clover honey nearby, then blend the sweet stuff with organic flavorings such as ginger, anise, lemon, and almond.

Dominican Sisters of Mission San Jose: Based in Fremont, the sisters hold a public olive harvest every year on the first Saturday of December. They then press the fruit of the Mission-era olive trees and sell the precious oil. The harvest was cancelled in 2014, so olive oil has been unavailable this year, but there's hope for the coming year: olives have been plentiful on their trees and a harvest is scheduled for this December. They also sell homemade fruit bread at their shop.

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