Showing posts with label Emily Dickinson. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Emily Dickinson. Show all posts

Friday, June 26, 2015

Emily Dickinson's Rice Cakes

by Sheila Connolly

This past weekend fell into a knot of family events—birthdays for both my husband and myself, Father’s Day, the summer solstice (it rained, so no dawn). We usually take ourselves out to dinner, but we couldn’t get inspired by any of the local restaurants in our neighborhood (few and far between, at least the good ones), so we decided to go where we knew we’d find plenty of restaurants: Northampton and Amherst. Saturday was one of Northampton’s market days, so I loaded up on fresh asparagus and garlic scapes. When we arrived in Amherst, we discovered they were holding a three-day event featuring a million or so restaurants, and you could graze at little expense. Despite generally ominous weather the event was well-attended: that is definitely foodie territory.

By Sunday morning it was pouring buckets, so we decided to visit Emily Dickinson’s house (which I had seen but my husband hadn’t). Lovely, as always, and not crowded. The house next door, The Evergreens, was built later by Emily’s brother Austin, and I had never managed to see it, so we followed our very well informed docent to it.

Oh, my. Through a convoluted series of events, the house has changed almost not at all since it was built, in the high Victorian style. It really is like stepping into the past (except that the place needs a lot of work after 100-plus years!). I love grand formal rooms, but I also love what goes on in the back of the house—kitchens and larders and pantries and such. The docent apologized that the stove there now dates from 1903, I think, but the refrigerator (yes, there was one), sinks, etc., are all as they always were (and in the adjacent dining room, the table was set for dinner, with the original family china). (The kitchen in Emily’s house next door is currently off limits to visitors. No picture-taking was allowed at either house.)

Emily was said to be the baker in the family, although if you look at her dress (a replica is on display at her house), it’s clear she was a slight woman, and she had some significant health issues (although there’s still a lot of argument about what they were). So let’s assume she had one or another servant helping her with the baking, especially with the dishes that made vast quantities, like her famous Black Cake recipe (which I presented here in 2010).

This time I’d like to share a simpler—and smaller!—recipe for rice cakes, which would have been served with tea to callers. They’re much more appropriate for spring or summer baking, plus they're quick and easy to whip up when you see guests coming.

Emily Dickinson’s Rice Cakes

1 cup rice flour
1 cup powdered sugar
2 eggs (at room temperature)
1/2 cup (salted) butter, softened
1 tsp milk mixed with 1/4 tsp baking soda

You may add spices to flavor the cakes—mace and/or nutmeg are suggested. Or you could add a teaspoon of vanilla. I went with mace.

Note: this recipe was adapted for modern cooking!

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Cream the butter. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs. Add the sugar to the butter and mix, then blend in the eggs.

In honor of Emily I used a vintage sifter

 Sift together the dry ingredients, and add to the butter-egg mixture. Add the milk mixed with soda.

Grease an 8x8” square pan (actually my pan is closer to 7x7”, so I used a 9x9” pan instead—it worked fine) and line it with parchment paper. Pour in the batter and bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, or until the top is lightly browned.

Let cool in the pan before cutting, then cut into squares.

The small cakes are not too sweet, with a bit of crunch (due to the rice flour—it was somewhat coarsely milled). You could serve them with strawberries when they’re in season (which they were in Northampton)!

For cozy-lovers: This is Emily's sister Lavinia (with a cat). The sisters lived together in The Homestead for most of their lives. Lavinia loved cats and had many. Emily hated the cats. Must have been an interesting household.

No privies in sight at either of the Dickinson residences, but some really interesting antique plumbing!

Privy to the Dead is available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Emily's Cake

by Sheila Connolly
Emily Dickinson's birthday is December 10th: she would have been 180 this year.  Obviously she hasn't lived that long, but her poetry most definitely has, and it continues to fascinate each new generation of readers.  It seems apt that my new book, A Killer Crop, is coming out three days before her birthday (even though I had no control over that!), because she plays an important role in the story.  To say much more would give away the plot.
Of course I've visited the Dickinson house in Amherst, Massachusetts, where Emily lived much of her life.  The tour includes the kitchen—if you can call it that.  By today's standards it's pretty minimal.  However, that did not deter Emily from cooking, aided by a series of Irish servants, which was typical of the day.  A number of her recipes have been recorded in the delightful pamphlet, Emily Dickinson:  Profile of the Poet as Cook (Nancy Harris Brose, Juliana McGovern Dupre, Wendy Tocher Kohler and Jean McClure Mudge, 1976), and variations have appeared in other sources.

Two years ago my daughter and I decided to make Emily's Black Cake, for reasons that escape me now.  It is, in simplest terms, a fruitcake—but what a fruitcake!  If one follows the recipe in the pamphlet, clearly not intended for modern cooks, it is a monstrous thing, which is very funny when one considers that Emily herself was rather short and slight, as demonstrated by a dress of hers on display the Amherst house.  I mean, really—two pounds each of flour, sugar and butter?  Nineteen eggs??

But we persevered.  The first problem was finding a bowl large enough to mix this behemoth, and a pan large enough to bake it.  I hied me to my local antiques mall and acquired one of each.  The second problem is putting it all together and mixing it—I might recommend a canoe paddle if you have one handy.

The concoction cooks in a low oven for, oh, five to six hours.  Don't plan to do anything else that day.  But wait!  There's more!  It is strongly recommended that you set the baked cake aside for a month or two in an air-tight container, visiting it once a week to pour some brandy over it (the authors of the pamphlet recommend that a "sober" person be responsible for this important duty).

My daughter and I followed all the steps (yes, including the brandy), then dismembered the beast come December and sent manageable pieces to our dearest friends—who, as I recall, never commented.  Ah, well, it is, after all, a fruitcake.  And we now have only a lone remnant which has survived, unchanged, for over two years, to remind us of our endeavor.  Must have been the brandy.  I hope Emily is proud of us.


2 pounds sugar
2 pounds butter
19 eggs
2 pounds flour
2 teaspoons nutmeg
5 teaspoons (each) cloves, mace, and cinnamon
2 teaspoons soda
5 pounds raisins
1¼ pounds currants
1¼ pounds citron
½ pint brandy
½ pint molasses

Blend the sugar and the butter.  Add eggs.  Blend the dry ingredients and mix all together with other ingredients.

Bake at 250 degrees F for 5-6 hours if using a milk pan, or 2 1/2 hours if divided between two tube pans.

I suppose you could reduce the ingredients to a manageable modern size—but where's the fun in that?

Happy 180th Birthday, Emily.