Destination: New England
Books and Play: The Belle of Amherst by William Luce; The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, edited by Thomas H. Johnson; and a Recipe
Autumn makes me think of New England, and New England makes me want to get out The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson . In a former life, I played Emily in the play The Belle of Amherst: A One-Woman Play
and ever since I have been making the black cake she is making at the beginning of that play. I make it on Thanksgiving weekend, wrap it in cheesecloth dipped in brandy and serve it on Christmas Eve. (Cut the recipe in half or one-quarter if you must, but DO NOT call it a fruitcake.)
EMILY DICKINSON’S BLACK CAKE
as adapted by Vera Marie Badertscher
- 2 Pounds flour (8 cups)
- 2 pounds sugar (4 cups)
- 2 pounds butter (4 cups)
- 19 eggs
- 5 pounds raisins
- 1 1/2 pounds citron
- 1 1/2 pounds currents
- 1/2 pint brandy* (1 cup)
- 1/2 pint molasses (1 cup)
- 2 nutmegs (4-6 tablespoons, ground)
- 5 tablespoons total: cloves, mace, cinammon
- 2 tablespoons soda
- 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
* Emily says, “Not my father’s BEST brandy.”
Sift flour, soda, spices, salt. Beat butter and sugar, add eggs a few at a time, beating after each addition. Add brandy alternately with flour mixture. Add molasses. Sprinkle in fruit, slowly as you stir.
Bake at 250 degrees one and a half to three hours depending on the size of the pans you use. Full recipe makes one large “angel food cake” pan; plus 2-3 loaf pans.
Remove from pan to cool. Wrap in cheesecloth dipped in brandy. Store in air tight container for several weeks, dribbling on some more brandy from time to time.
Note: I have looked at other recipes on the Internet and immodestly believe this version is best. Slow baking and thorough basting are key.
Click on the image for an Emily poem. Come back every day this week for more New England. Tomorrow a book set in Cape Cod; Thursday a look at the Pilgrims, and France on Friday a surprise connection between France and New England.