Dessert Recipes of Iconic Thinkers: Emily Dickinson’s Coconut Cake, George Orwell’s Christmas Pudding, Alice B. Toklas’ Hashish Fudge & More

Image via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

Of all the desserts to attain cul­tur­al rel­e­vance over the past cen­tu­ry, can any hope to touch Alice B. Tok­las’ famous hashish fudge? Call­ing for such ingre­di­ents as black pep­per­corns, shelled almonds, dried figs, and most vital of all Cannabis sati­va, the recipe first appeared in 1954’s The Alice B. Tok­las Cook Book. (Tok­las would read the recipe aloud on the radio in the ear­ly 1960s, a time when the fudge’s key ingre­di­ent had become an object of much more intense pub­lic inter­est.) More than a how-to on Tok­las’ favorite dish­es, the book is also a kind of mem­oir, includ­ing rec­ol­lec­tions of her life with Gertrude Stein — her­self the author of the osten­si­ble Auto­bi­og­ra­phy of Alice B. Tok­las.

This puts us in the realm of seri­ous lit­er­a­ture where sweets, you might assume, are scarce­ly to be found. But bak­ing con­sti­tut­ed a part of the cre­ative process of no less a lit­er­ary mind than Emi­ly Dick­in­son, whose hand­writ­ten recipe for coconut cake appears above.

That same sheet of a paper’s reverse side, which you can see in our ear­li­er post about it, bears the first lines of her poem “The Things that nev­er can come back, are sev­er­al.” Dick­in­son also, as we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly post­ed here on Open Cul­ture, had her very own recipes for gin­ger­bread, donuts, and some­thing requir­ing five pounds of raisins called “black cake.”

It may seem obvi­ous that women like Tok­las and Dick­in­son, born and raised in the 19th cen­tu­ry, would have been expect­ed to learn this sort of thing. But a fair few of the lit­er­ary men of gen­er­a­tions past knew some­thing of their way around the kitchen as well. George Orwell, for instance, wrote an essay on “British cook­ery,” ear­ly in which he states that “in gen­er­al, British peo­ple pre­fer sweet things to spicy things.” While describ­ing “sweet dish­es and con­fec­tionery – cakes, pud­dings, jams, bis­cuits and sweet sauces” as the “glo­ry of British cook­ery,” he admits that “the nation­al addic­tion to sug­ar has not done the British palate any good.” And so he includes the recipe for a Christ­mas pud­ding which, sub­tle by that stan­dard, calls for only half a pound of the stuff.

Born a gen­er­a­tion after Orwell, Roald Dahl made no secret of his own sug­ar-addict­ed British palate. In his book Char­lie and the Choco­late Fac­to­ry Dahl had “daz­zled young read­ers with visions of Cav­i­ty-Fill­ing Caramels, Ever­last­ing Gob­stop­pers, and snozzber­ry-fla­vored wall­pa­per,” writes Open Cul­ture’s own Ayun Hal­l­i­day. But his own can­dy of choice was “the more pedes­tri­an Kit-Kat bar. In addi­tion to savor­ing one dai­ly (a lux­u­ry lit­tle Char­lie Buck­et could but dream of, pri­or to win­ning that most gold­en of tick­ets) he invent­ed a frozen con­fec­tion called ‘Kit-Kat Pud­ding,’ ” whose sim­ple recipe is as fol­lows: “Stack as many Kit-Kats as you like into a tow­er, using whipped cream for mor­tar, then shove the entire thing into the freez­er, and leave it there until sol­id.”

If you’re look­ing for a slight­ly more chal­leng­ing dessert that still comes with a cul­tur­al fig­ure’s impri­matur, you might give Nor­mal Rock­well’s favorite oat­meal cook­ies a try. Going deep­er into Amer­i­can his­to­ry, we’ve also got Thomas Jef­fer­son­’s recipe for ice cream, the taste for which he picked up while liv­ing in France in the 1780s. That same coun­try’s cui­sine also inspired Ernest Hem­ing­way’s fruit pie, meant for sum­mer-camp­ing with one’s pals: “If your pals are French­men,” Hem­ing­way adds, “they will kiss you.” Alas, if any­one has deter­mined the exact recipe for the most famous dessert in all of French lit­er­a­ture, Mar­cel Proust’s mem­o­ry-trig­ger­ing madeleines, they haven’t released it to the hun­gry pub­lic.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Recipes of Icon­ic Authors: Jane Austen, Sylvia Plath, Roald Dahl, the Mar­quis de Sade & More

Ernest Hemingway’s Sum­mer Camp­ing Recipes

82 Vin­tage Cook­books, Free to Down­load, Offer a Fas­ci­nat­ing Illus­trat­ed Look at Culi­nary and Cul­tur­al His­to­ry

His­toric Mex­i­can Recipes Are Now Avail­able as Free Dig­i­tal Cook­books: Get Start­ed With Dessert

Wagashi: Peruse a Dig­i­tized, Cen­turies-Old Cat­a­logue of Tra­di­tion­al Japan­ese Can­dies

Ani­mat­ed Noir: Key Lime Pie

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.