Emily Dickinson Bakes a Cake

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

You’ll forgive me if I’m a bit distracted, and offer you a blog post from last year, rewarmed. My excuse–I’m doing a final review of the galleys on a book that Charnell Havens and I wrote about Navajo artist Quincy Tahoma. Instead of Thanksgiving dinner, I’ll be stewing words. And if that isn’t bad enough, The Ohio State plays Michigan on Saturday. Go BUCKS!

Emily´s study
Emily’s Study, Amherst

Autumn makes me think of travel to 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[,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.)


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, cinnamon
  • 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.

The photo comes from Flickr under a Creative Commons License. Click on the image for more information.

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About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, or recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She has written for Reel Life With Jane, Life is a Trip and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

6 thoughts on “Emily Dickinson Bakes a Cake

  1. Best of luck with the final runthrough! May everything work out smoothly and give you lots of relief and pleasure.

    Thank you for the cake recipe. With its winter-time ingredients, writerly connection, and your recommendation, this is a treat I will definitely make this week, then serve around Christmas 🙂

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