Celebrate Emily Dickinson’s 188th Birthday with Her Own Cake Recipes: Coconut Cake, Gingerbread, Doughnuts & More

Hap­py Emi­ly Dick­in­son Day!

What are you doing to cel­e­brate the poet’s 188th birth­day?

The Emi­ly Dick­in­son Muse­um took advan­tage of the week­end to cel­e­brate the occa­sion a cou­ple of days ear­ly with Vic­to­ri­an crafts, read­ings, fes­tive piano music, a dis­play explor­ing the Dick­in­son fam­i­ly’s gift-giv­ing tra­di­tion, and slices of coconut cake, baked from the birth­day girl’s own recipe.

Giv­en the Belle’s pen­chant for home-baked good­ies, we’re dis­pens­ing with the more high-mind­ed endeav­ors to con­cen­trate on the sweet side of this lit­er­ary hol­i­day.

LitHub reports that

…when­ev­er Dick­in­son saw chil­dren play­ing in her fam­i­ly gar­dens, “she head­ed for the pantry, filled a bas­ket with cook­ies or slices of cake—often gingerbread—carried it upstairs to a win­dow in the rear of the house (so their moth­ers wouldn’t see), and attached the bas­ket to a rope to slow­ly low­er it to the “storm-tossed, starv­ing pirates” or the “lost, roam­ing cir­cus per­form­ers” eager­ly wait­ing below.

Tru­ly, we owe it to her to return the favor.

Shall we start with some Emi­ly Dick­in­son dough­nuts?

Like many expe­ri­enced home cooks of the peri­od, Dickinson’s instruc­tions are a bit vague. She seems to have got­ten the recipe from an acquain­tance named Kate, jot­ting down mea­sure­ments and ingre­di­ents, after which, she knew what to do.

If you’ve nev­er worked with yeast before, you might want to pro­ceed straight to her Black Cake recipe…

Or not. You may have 5 pounds of raisins on hand, but this is no spur-of-the-moment recipe.

As librar­i­ans Heather Cole, Emi­lie Hard­man, and Emi­ly Wal­hout demon­strate below, this whop­per needs to spend 3 weeks wrapped in a brandy-soaked cheese­cloth after it comes out of the oven.

Onward then to Miss Dickinson’s gin­ger­bread.

As if those with Decem­ber birth­days aren’t over­shad­owed enough by the tyran­ny of Christ­mas! Must their spe­cial day’s cake fla­vor be dic­tat­ed by that big goril­la too? (For those who say yes, Rosa Lil­lo of Pem­ber­ley Cup and Cakes breaks the recipe down 21st-cen­tu­ry style, adding a sim­ple icing sug­ar glaze and an embossed flo­ral pat­tern.)

Per­haps that famous coconut cake real­ly is the best choice for observ­ing Emi­ly Dick­in­son Day.

See if you can detect a note of inspi­ra­tion in that but­tery fla­vor. As was her habit, Dick­in­son flipped the scrap of paper on which she’d list­ed the ingre­di­ents, and pen­cilled in the begin­nings of a poem:

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 —

Those whose Emi­ly Dick­in­son Day gift giv­ing list includes a poet­ry lover / ama­teur cook may wish to stuff their stock­ings with a copy of the 1976 book Emi­ly Dick­in­son: Pro­file of the Poet as Cook with Select­ed Recipes.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Emi­ly Dickinson’s Hand­writ­ten Coconut Cake Recipe Hints at How Bak­ing Fig­ured Into Her Cre­ative Process

The Online Emi­ly Dick­in­son Archive Makes Thou­sands of the Poet’s Man­u­scripts Freely Avail­able

An 8‑Hour Marathon Read­ing of 500 Emi­ly Dick­in­son Poems

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  See her onstage in New York City through Decem­ber 20th in the 10th anniver­sary pro­duc­tion of Greg Kotis’ apoc­a­lyp­tic hol­i­day tale, The Truth About San­ta, and tonight, as the host of the book-based vari­ety show, Necro­mancers of the Pub­lic Domain. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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