A vist to Our Lady of Guadalupe -
Trappist Abbey Monks  create award winning Fruitcake 


The Willamette Valley in Oregon is home to 200 wineries and 10,000 acres of wine grapes. The beautiful rolling hills of the McMinnville/Lafayette area are striped with rows and rows of grapevines, where cool-climate grape varieties flourish. When David Lett’s local Pinot Noir won top honors in the 1979 Gault-Millau French Wine Olympiad, the valley’s position as a viable wine-making regions was validated.


But there’s more here than wine. In 1965, when hopeful vintners were planting their first Pinot Noir grapes, the Trappist monks of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Abbey had already been in the valley for ten years. They too came for the soil and the climate, relocating from New Mexico in search of land more hospitable to farming than what they found in the Southwest. Today, the Abbey and the ever-growing wine industry continue to live peacefully side by side, both communities nurtured and inspired by the beauty and bounty of the landscape.


Our Lady of Guadalupe is a community of 32 monks, most of whom have spent their adult lives at this Abbey. Their days are filled with prayer, work, spiritual study and contemplation. Trappists are committed to self-sufficiency, and strive to live solely by the work of their own hands. To this end, Our Lady of Guadalupe is home to several small industries: they harvest 900 acres of Douglas Fir, operate a small bookbinding shop and a large wine warehouse serving their neighbors --- and they bake an amazing fruitcake.


We visited the Abbey on a cool, rainy day in late September. As we drove along the quiet road leading to the monastery, it was easy to imagine spending many quiet hours among these hills and scattered stands of fir trees. Our host was Father Richard, the Abbey’s business manager, who took us through the cluster of buildings on our way to the bakery. In the bookbindery, monks work silently at their tasks, hand-binding theses, periodicals and monographs. In the wine warehouse, the feeling is more contemporary, as several loud forklifts move through a maze of cases of wine stacked almost to the ceiling.


The monastery’s decision to begin making fruitcake in the early 1980s was a purely pragmatic one. Their business building church pews and office furniture was dwindling, and they needed another source of income from an activity that would accommodate their aging population. At the suggestion of a monk who had run a similar business, they began to experiment with various fruitcake recipes – the monks themselves were the official taste-testers. 


In 1982, the Abbey began to bake and sell Trappist Abbey Fruitcake. In the early days, one monk, Brother Eugene, did all the baking. Now, three monks – all well into their seventies or beyond - work in the bakery each morning from the end of January until the beginning of October, and they bake more than 20,000 fruitcakes each year. The Trappist Abbey recipe is old-fashioned and straightforward – no scary, shiny green cherries here - and includes a three-month aging process after the cakes are soaked in brandy. 


Father Peter and Father Paul alternate the job of mixing and pouring the cake batter, and Brother Eugene helps when his health allows. After the batter is mixed and poured into the pans, the monks carefully top each loaf with their signature pattern of nuts and cherries, and then the fruitcakes bake at a low temperature for just under three hours. The monks work in silence, but Father Peter is quick to smile warmly and happy to answer our questions.


Father Richard has been the monastery’s business manager since 1983.  He is friendly and energetic; he’s dressed in blue jeans, boots, and a fleece vest, and he seems very much a man of the 21st century. In fact, he’s one of the only monks who has any regular contact with the outside world, and despite his clothing, his cell phone, and his modern office, Father Richard has spent most of the last 30 years within the confines of the abbey. 


Trappist monks belong to the monastic family following Christ according to the Rule of Saint Benedict.  The name “Trappist” comes from a reform movement that began in the 17th century at a French monastery, La Trappe, in Normandy. There are now 100 communities of Trappist monks, and 69 communities of Trappistine nuns around the world. Our Lady of Guadalupe has a retreat facility where retreatants – men and women of all denominations - are welcomed for short stays in the four cottages. The simple buildings surround a lovely, peaceful pond, and 800 acres of woodland offer unlimited opportunity for contemplative walks and hikes.


After a morning of observing work and prayer at Our Lady of Guadalupe, we’re invited to stay for lunch at the retreat center. The monks are vegetarians and eat simply, and we enjoy a lovely meal with Father Richard before heading back to the “real world.”

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