Emily’s Carib Cake?

Posted in cooking, poetry on October 9th, 2019 by admin – Be the first to comment

Black Cake comes readily to mind when thinking of Emily Dickinson with her hands on a mixing bowl, pencil and paper ready at the side of her pastry board.

Her recipe for Black Cake uses an enormous number of eggs, pounds of sugar and flour, dried fruits, brandy and molasses.

It’s extremely rich, nay intoxicating, and with Emily Dickinson’s baking skill, her version was no doubt superb.

Black Cake is sometimes called fruit cake or, in the England of her Dickinson ancestors, this cake would be a holiday pudding.

In fact, this holiday pudding associated with England seems to have arrived in the Caribbean by way of the English lured to those islands to turn a profit from the triangular slave trade: human beings for sugar for rum.

Emily Dickinson was baking her Black Cake in mid-19th century New England. She was several generations removed from her English ancestors and their holiday fruit pudding.

And it appears to not be the version of fruit cake she made famous and for which her family clamored.

Her Black Cake resembles the version that emerged out of triangle trade; a cake perfected before her by bakers who were enslaved in the Caribbean.

As I learned from the Canadian poet, NourbeSe Philip, what makes the Black Cake of Trinidad and Tobago (where she was born) so distinctive in color and in flavor — and so prized — is the process of burning the sugar and the use of rum.

Emily Dickinson’s recipe, above, doesn’t call for the triangle trade’s rum but it does use copious amounts of the traded-for molasses — a substance that seems to have kept industrial Boston humming in profits in that same era (and beyond until the molasses flood anyway).

Slavery and its spectre were everywhere around this poet.

These thoughts about Emily Dickinson and her possible Caribbean-originated Black Cake were inspired by the evocative essay by NourbeSe Philip titled “Making Black Cake in Combustible Spaces” (in 21 – 19 from Milkweed). Highly recommended!

Emily Dickinson Does Stand-Up

Posted in cooking on June 6th, 2018 by admin – Be the first to comment

A funny thing happened

on the way to the kitchen….

Credit: T.O. Sylvester

Taste Ours-

Posted in cooking on August 22nd, 2015 by admin – Be the first to comment

Coconuts to crack and grate, lemons and limes to zest, we worked at big round tables mixing everything by hand a la Emily Dickinson and her maid Margaret Maher. The two often worked together and so we baked in small groups too.

We made fresh coconut cake and gingerbread formed into light and soft cookies — all from Emily Dickinson’s own recipes.

At left is one of our work tables and the right the coconut cakes about to go into the oven.

Here are the post-oven results cooling on racks and ready to be consumed at our afternoon tea.

A satisfying day in Amherst, MA where workshop participants sought summer and tasted Emily’s.

All part of my new project #OldSkills4NewMinds

Emily A La Carte!

Posted in cooking on July 11th, 2015 by admin – Be the first to comment

Roll up sleeves, tie apron, take hammer to coconut “testa” and “mesocarp” and grate the “nut” -

That’s some of what we’ll be doing in my Emily Dickinson baking workshop when preparing to make these light-as-air and delicious coconut cakes.

It’s this Saturday, July 17, in Amherst, MA

You may sign up for that workshop or for Marta McDowell’s herbarium-making intensive or any piece of the Emily-themed weekend!

Call: 413-259-1584  or write:  jsgray [at sign]

Would have Summer? Taste of ours

325 Degrees of Edible Success

Posted in cooking on May 14th, 2015 by admin – Be the first to comment

That’s gingerbread fresh from my oven made from Emily Dickinson’s recipe.

These cookies are glazed with egg yolk and a piece of candied ginger.

For a few days I’ve been testing Emily Dickinson’s recipes for gingerbread, rice cake, and coconut cake.

Today I’ve declared the baking a divinely edible success –

I’ll be leading a baking workshop with these recipes in July for an Emily-themed weekend in Amherst, Massachusetts, the poet’s hometown.

“Would you like Summer? Taste of ours-” takes place July 17-19, 2015 and celebrates Emily Dickinson’s passions as poet, gardener and baker.

The weekend will be height of summer & hands-on:

We’ll make gingerbread cookies from Emily’s recipe and her coconut cake which is — if today’s test in my kitchen is any indication –  like eating a sweet cloud. For the 8″ cakes, pictured, I grated about half a fresh coconut. The top is dusted with more coconut and decorating sugar.

Horticulturist extraordinaire Marta McDowell will be leading the gardening and flower aspects of what promises to be a wonderful weekend. If I wasn’t in it, I’d sign up for it!

If you’d like to taste summer Emily-style, join us!

By the way, are you wondering if the poet could bake as well as she wrote? Her father insisted on her bread and the family and neighbors perhaps knew her better as a baker than a writer!

But writing was never far away for she kept paper and pencil by her pastry board. There are poems written on the reverse of her recipes (or vice versa). Nothing like having your hands busy to free up your mind for that “naturally occurring wisdom.”

Would you like Summer? Taste of Ours -

Posted in cooking on January 27th, 2015 by admin – Be the first to comment

Baking Gangnam Style Amherst Style!

Join me next July 17-19 in Emily Dickinson’s lovely town of Amherst, Massachusetts

We’ll explore the life of the poet through her passions of gardening, baking, writing

Garden digger Marta McDowell leads a flower project

I’ll teach you how to bake Emily Style

Jane Wald will get readerly

Sign up early to ensure your space at the greenhouse, kitchen & library tables!

Kitchen Improv Artist – ED x2 NYC

Posted in book news, cooking on August 7th, 2012 by admin – Be the first to comment

Two Manhattan events spotlight Emily Dickinson’s daily domestic life.

Saturday, Sept 15 at 8:15 p.m.  (ArtStar
195 Chrystie Street #700C) as part of the NYC Lit Crawl:

An Emily Dickinson Sense-Surround

Meet the Poet as Gardener, Baker & Musician on her Homestead Farm. What did Emily Dickinson see, smell, taste, touch, and hear in the act of creation? Experience the poet’s world by listening to music she played & poems she wrote — with aroma, touch & tastes from kitchen and garden.

With horticulturist Marta McDowell, historical musician David Giovacchini, the Emily Dickinson Museum director of interpretation Cindy Dickinson, and writer-baker Aífe Murray. Co-sponsored by the Emily Dickinson International Society.

Tuesday, September 18 at 6:30 p.m. (103 Orchard Street) for a  Tenement Talk where the Tenement Museum meets Downton Abbey.

A writer-to-writer investigation of the creative process and its interplay with domesticity and intimacy using Yankee poet Emily Dickinson and Irish immigrant maid, Margaret Maher, as signature figures.

We’ll meet these two women in the kitchen where together they cook, wash dishes, and write. In the rarely seen female zones, voices and culture press one upon the other to astonishing effect.

How does the figure of an immigrant maid in Emily Dickinson’s story alter our notion of the poet at work?

With award-winning novelist Kathleen Hill in conversation with writer-baker Aífe Murray. Co-sponsored by Glucksman Ireland House.

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Bake a Novel

Posted in cooking, poetry on January 8th, 2011 by admin – Be the first to comment

I’m washing sand from kale and blousy leaves of spinach for a winter greens soup when a notion comes into my head for a new writing project.

It drops like a gift and I’m reminded of how I compose best when my hands are busy doing something else.

Like the poem that must have been written when Emily Dickinson made coconut cake from a recipe passed on by Mrs. Carmichael.

I can see ED standing at the pastry board in the butter yellow pantry with a hammer and nail spilled off to the side, pieces of hard coconut, a tin grater, and snowy piles, hard shells swaying on the pastry board as her hand pushes coconut meat hard into ragged teeth.

The coconut cake recipe that ED copied onto lined stationary calls for

1 pound sugar

1/2 pound of butter

1/2 pound flour

6 eggs

1 grated coconut.

Absently grating when the words arrive in her head: “The Things that never  can come back” and she scrambles to turn over the recipe, Mrs. Carmichael’s recipe for coconut cake, to jot down:

The Things that never
can come back, are
several -
Childhood – some
forms of Hope – the Dead -

Back and forth, grating and writing, the words pile up:

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 what -
soever Fathom
His Native Land -

The recipe, as copied down on the reverse side of this poem (with its original line breaks), calls for no leavening. Was it understood to put in a teaspoon of baking powder or soda? Or perhaps she knew to separate the eggs, beating the whites til they formed stiff peaks for folding into the batter?

I made them as cupcakes (leavening is less of an issue) with butter cream icing and dusted with flakes of toasted coconut. Lucky patrons of Copperfield’s and Diesel Bookstores ate them when I read from Maid As Muse last spring.

The modernized version of Mrs. Carmichael’s / Emily Dickinson’s recipe that I used to sustain the bookstores masses included

2 cups of sugar

1 cup of butter

2 cups of flour

6 eggs

1 to 2 cups of grated coconut

1 cup coconut milk.

Because I’m now excited by the new writing project, I’ll try the coconut cake recipe again with either separated eggs or baking powder or soda.

Keep cooking, I tell myself, and you’ll keep writing.

This must be why ED never gave over all the kitchen tasks to her maid (just the hardest ones) keeping some of the cooking to stir up the next poem.