Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Let Them Eat Emily Dickinson's Coconut Cake


From Charles Baudelaire to Dylan Thomas most poets are associated with their favorite libation. Emily Dickinson is associated with her favorite kitchen treats. One of America's most celebrated poets wielded a rolling pin as well as a pen. Her recipe for Indian bread (bannock) won second prize at the Amherst, Massachusetts Annual Cattle Show in 1856.

An ongoing exhibition (October 20, 2011 - January 28, 2012) at the Poets House in New York City celebrates Emily Dickinson's life and gives visitors an opportunity to glimpse original manuscripts. One of the more unusual items on display is Emily's hand written recipe for coconut cake that was found in a copy of her first edition of letters published in 1894. In the spirit of Emily Dickinson and the holiday season we share it here in the hopes of lightening your festive spirit and to fill your belly.

1 cup Cocoanut...
2 cups Flour
1 cup Sugar
1/2 cup Butter
1/2 cup Milk
2 Eggs
1/2 teaspoonful soda
1 teaspoonful Cream Tartar
This makes one half the Rule

A word of caution: There were no thermostats in ovens in the mid-19th century so 21st century bakers should set the oven temp to a setting appropriate for such a concoction.

Written on the back of one draft of her coconut cake recipe shared with a friend was a draft of one of Emily Dickinson's most cherished poems, The Things that never can come back, are several —:


The Things that never can come back, are several —

The Things that never can come back, are several —
Childhood — some forms of Hope — the Dead —
Though Joys — like Men — may sometimes make a Journey —
And still abide —
We do not mourn for Traveler, or Sailor,
Their Routes are fair —
But think enlarged of all that they will tell us
Returning here —
"Here!" There are typic "Heres" —
Foretold Locations —
The Spirit does not stand —
Himself — at whatsoever Fathom
His Native Land —


— Emily Dickinson


While you may raise a toast to Baudelaire or Thomas this Christmas season, prepare a slice for Emily and share her passion not just for literature but for baking with your family.

Reach into the past to create the Christmas traditions of tomorrow.

The Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst hosts an annual baking contest for Emily's recipe for the aforementioned coconut cake as well as her Indian bread, black cake, and gingerbread recipes.