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October 24, 2011 7:31 AM   Subscribe

A Coconut Cake From Emily Dickinson: Reclusive Poet, Passionate Baker. [NPR.org] Poet Emily Dickinson withdrew from society for most of her adult life. And yet, she was known to lower a basket full of cakes from the window of the home she rarely left to crowds of expectant children on the street below. The Poet's House in New York City put on exhibit an original manuscript of a Dickinson cake recipe that contained coconut. That recipe calls for the following ingredients. 1 cup coconut, 2 cups flour, 1 cup sugar, 1/2 cup butter, 1/2 cup milk, 2 eggs, 1/2 teaspoon soda, 1 teaspoon cream of tartar.
posted by Fizz (25 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Having just toured the home where Dickinson spent her life, I must give a big thank you for the timing of this post. Our tourguide stressed that Dickinson did a great deal of housework, including baking bread, and also pointed out that her now-romanticized habit of wearing white probably came from practicality--white clothing could be bleached. Although a recluse she was certainly capable of great enjoyment and this recipe is a charming reminder of her humanity.
posted by kinnakeet at 7:41 AM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was not the biggest fan of her poetry growing up, but lately I've started to appreciate her much more. I think it might have something to do with the fact that I'm a bit more mature now and I'm seeing things I missed during my youth.
posted by Fizz at 7:46 AM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


That's a recipe for doom cake if I ever heard one.
posted by hermitosis at 7:58 AM on October 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


I really love the outraged (OUTRAGED!) comments at the NPR link aimed at the author/the NPR media juggernaut in general for changing the recipe.

I have an Emily Dickinson poem tattoo, so I'm all about this. Thanks for the link.
posted by Ideal Impulse at 7:59 AM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


That's a recipe for doom cake if I ever heard one.

No, no, you're thinking of the Sylvia Plath recipe.
Too soon?
posted by Fizz at 8:00 AM on October 24, 2011 [12 favorites]


I saw this on Jessamyn's twitter yesterday. As she said, it was "everything you need to know about NPR in one rewritten Emily Dickenson cake recipe + comments."
posted by snapped at 8:01 AM on October 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


I wonder how those kids came to be expectant. Did she start lowering cakes before there were any kids to take them? Did kids start out by gathering around her windows and demanding cake?
posted by penduluum at 8:13 AM on October 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


Also, you can totally sing this recipe to the tune of "Yellow Rose of Texas".
posted by padraigin at 8:19 AM on October 24, 2011 [9 favorites]


Earth Balance® butter substitute - Because you've never actually read the label on a stick of butter.
posted by Brodiggitty at 8:27 AM on October 24, 2011 [5 favorites]


penduluum: It was the voices, whispering to her, "Lower it, and they will come."
posted by IAmBroom at 8:38 AM on October 24, 2011


The original recipe was the kind of cake my mom and grandma used to make. It is a good cake, especially with butter icing and coconut on top.

The "updated" one was something else, perhaps nice to include it for people with allergies, but bearing little relation to the original. Yeah, that's NPR, and I am fairly liberal about most things but fed up with them on many counts. In their own way as one-sided as the moronic Faux News, but from the other far side.
posted by mermayd at 9:03 AM on October 24, 2011


Perhaps it bears little relation to the original, but I think that it's neat. Either way, you can make a cake by Emily Dickinson.

Earth Balance® butter substitute - Because you've never actually read the label on a stick of butter.

Oh goody. A continuation of vegan baking hate.

I used to be a "regular" baker and I know that the usage of real butter is rarely eclipsed by Earth Balance, but at least people who can't/won't eat real butter have something that approximates.
posted by Kitteh at 9:09 AM on October 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


NPR tries so hard to be right down the middle. They also have endless corporate sponsors. They actually are not all that liberal or lefty.

That said, Yaaaay REAL recipe!

No I doubt the children stood around chanting 'cake! cake! cake!'

Because if their family, the neighbors or the servants heard that those kids would have been very soundly spanked. Now 'playing' nearby while keeping a sharp look out, I am sure the kids did that.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 9:17 AM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wonder how those kids came to be expectant. Did she start lowering cakes before there were any kids to take them? Did kids start out by gathering around her windows and demanding cake?

Boy #1: "Hey... that crazy woman Dickinson is giving out free Cake, let's go."
Boy #2: "Doesn't work that way. You have to ask for the cake in iambic pentameter. Bitch be crazy!"
posted by Fizz at 9:22 AM on October 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Boy #2 is Tom Sawyer, of course: he knows that only ballad meter, not iambic pentameter, will get you any cake.

And yeah, I like that the cake is extremely dense but deceptively sweet. It's a good thing it's not just a food form of the poetry ,though, because that'd mean it contained a bitter kernel of Death at the end of each slice.
posted by RogerB at 9:30 AM on October 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


A simple recipe for cake
Of coconut and flour
Requires —

Co-operation
Of the cow, assent
Of hen; a summer
Of the sun —

Of me, just half an hour.
posted by pracowity at 9:39 AM on October 24, 2011 [17 favorites]


Also, you can totally sing this recipe to the tune of "Yellow Rose of Texas".

Also, to the opening theme from "Gilligan's Island".

Hence....coconut.
posted by gimonca at 9:41 AM on October 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


Alas I could not stop for cake
Because I am carb-free.
posted by The Whelk at 9:54 AM on October 24, 2011 [10 favorites]


A year ago or so, I went to the San Francisco public library to hear Aífe Murray who wrote Maid As Muse, which is about the impact having servants had on Emily's writing. She wrote more when she had servants, which is probably no surprise, but Aife posits the servants, mostly Irish and black, also had an impact on the language of her poetry.

Emily was quite well known for her baking and Aife Murray passed out several of Emily's recipes during her talk and a number of recipes are in the book.
posted by shoesietart at 10:06 AM on October 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


And yet, she was known to lower a basket full of cakes from the window of the home she rarely left to crowds of expectant children on the street below.

Creepy.
posted by hal_c_on at 11:10 AM on October 24, 2011


The anecdote related to our tour group was that some local children were playing around the Dickinson home, and "stormed" the house as pirates, demanding booty. The treasure provided was baked by Emily Dickinson herself, who lowered a basketful to the gratified pirates, who then "liberated" the household. No mention of cake, or of this being a repeat occurrence.
posted by kinnakeet at 11:51 AM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's like The Lorax, but with cake.

How did Dr. Seuss not think of that?
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:23 PM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


I ship Emily Dickinson/HP Lovecraft

But seriously growing up in New England, depressed and death-haunted, I loved and identified with her poems.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 3:17 PM on October 24, 2011


Yay! I love Emily. In High School, my creative writing teacher and I unsuccessfully tried to stage a production of The Belle of Amherst, a one woman play about Emily. One of the scenes (possibly the opening one) has her welcoming the audience and serving them her famous Black Cake recipe. From the play:

(She places the cake on the tea cart)

Black Cake: two pounds of flour, two pounds of sugar, two pounds
of butter, nineteen eggs, five pounds of raisins, one and a half
pounds of currants, one and a half pounds of citron, one half pint
of brandy -- I never use Father's best -- one half pint of molasses,
two nutmegs, five teaspoons of cloves, mace, and cinnamon, and --
oh, yes, two teaspoons of soda, and one and a half teaspoons of salt."

(Emily has removed her apron)

"Just beat the butter and sugar together, add the nineteen eggs,
one at a time -- now this is very important -- *without beating.*
Then, beat the mixture again, adding the brandy alternately with
the flour, soda, spices, and salt that you've sifted together.
Then the molasses. Now, take your five pounds of raisins, and
three pounds of currants and citron, and gently sprinkle in all
eight pounds -- slowly now -- as you stir. Bake for three hours
if you use cake pans. If you use a milk pan, as I do, you'd better
leave it in the oven six or seven hours."


posted by Sylvia Plath's terrible fish at 4:07 PM on October 24, 2011


So, are there any bakers here who can advise as to which of the original versions is preferable, and give directions?
posted by alexei at 11:26 PM on October 25, 2011


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