“I used to do more stuff,” Rodgers says as she blends tofu with eggs, nuts, seeds and spices for the burgers. “But I’ve whittled it down to this. The kitchen is where I’m most at home.”
She and the 92 other residents also work full-time at this 450-acre compound near Charlottesville, dividing their duties according to interest and need among jobs that support the community, which was founded in 1967 and is now one of the oldest such places in the country. Those jobs include such domestic duties as cooking, cleaning, growing vegetables and maintaining cars and bicycles, crucial tasks that keep Twin Oaks members happy (not to mention clothed, fed and cared for). And for many, they include working at one of the businesses that help pay the egalitarian community’s expenses. For a long time, the most profitable venture was its handmade hammocks. These days, the tofu business — whose slogan is quoted on that apron Rodgers is wearing — is just as important, and getting more so.
My first exposure to Twin Oaks was through the tofu, which I started buying a few years back and appreciate for its fresh, clean flavor and firm, easy-to-work-with texture. When I met a couple of residents offering samples of the product at the Whole Foods Market on P Street several months ago, their friendly energy made me interested in learning more. And when I realized they eat a home-cooked lunch and dinner together every day, I drove down to their sprawling property in Louisa, Va., on a recent weekday to get a firsthand look, and taste.
One of those members I met at Whole Foods was Aubby Duggan, 37, whose duties include sales and marketing management of the Twin Oaks tofu line. “We used to have other people do it,” she says, referring to the store demos. “We would see sales for the store jump by maybe six or seven units. When we go in there ourselves, we can sell 60 pieces in an hour, because we live here and we make it and we’re excited about it.”
The most common question Duggan gets from would-be buyers at those demos is, “What did you do to this tofu to make it so good?” When she tells them that she quickly seasoned and pan-fried it, nothing more, they often react with skepticism.
That’s probably because even many experienced cooks find tofu mysterious and foreboding. They’ve read about various ways to get all that water out of it and some flavor in: wrapping, pressing, microwaving — even freezing. But because Twin Oaks doesn’t pack its tofu in water, there’s no need for such fuss.