“In contrast to the monastic vow, the marketing of monastic food has become contemporary, even tongue-in-cheek,” writes Jan Hoffman in The New York Times (3/13/13). There are, for example, “Nun Better Cookies, baked by the Sisters of the Holy Spirit in Cleveland, and Praylines made by the nuns at the St. Benedictine monastery in Canyon, Texas.” And then there are the “13 flavors of cheesecake” baked by the Eastern Orthodox Nuns of New Skete. It’s quite an enterprise, turning out “400 cheesecakes per baking session” for a total of more than 10,000 sold in 2012.
The nuns of New Skete work quietly, because when they “bake, they pray.” Sister Cecilia Harvey keeps a sense of humor about this, asking, “Can you not be aware of God while you’re putting cheese in a bowl and mixing things up?” Meanwhile, “wall-mounted religious icons” keep an eye on things. The monastery dates back to 1969, when “seven nuns, ages 21 to 40,” left a convent in Indiana, “searching for a way to live contemplatively and also engage with the world … After visiting the Monks of New Skete,” they built their own monastery nearby.
The cheesecake idea came along about eight years later via a local abbot, and the cheesecake recipe courtesy of one of the sisters. The nuns actually built their own “cheese-slicers, carts and boxing frames in their carpentry shop.” A basic cake weighs four pounds, “serves 16, has lemon accents, is lined by pulverized vanilla cookie crumbs and retails for about $41.” The business grew by word-of-mouth, although the nuns now keep a Facebook page in partnership with the monks, and of course a website “for their commercial products, and a second site for homilies and spiritual beliefs.”