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  • Sharon White

Weather Reports or Emily Makes Cakes

Updated: Feb 22, 2020

Watering pansies, ruffled deep blue or purple, and Elizabeth, my neighbor, recites the names of all the flowers--"panzee" like a chimpanzee.

The squirrel and I have a battle on the succulent wreath. She pulls out bits of moss and dirt. I put them back.

Magnolias blooming (show offs) and the tiny green blush of trees. On the river the shiny cormorant dips into the water and pops back up.

Emily Dickinson was a cook, I learn from Aife Murray in Maid as Muse, who made all the cakes and bread for her family. Her kitchen was a place to write--it’s the last place that I’d think about writing, and yet sometimes the little blue tile counter works--the place where I read student papers. She sat in the pantry, the green blinds on the window tilted so she could look outside. She was also a gardener: "With the banking and burying of the garden, with the splitting and storing of bulbs, saving seeds, turning the soil, digging in, replanting, weeding out, snapping off, tying up, and pinching back--in those seasonal knowns, Emily found, as Adrienne Rich would have it, what she didn't know she knew."

I just chopped up vegetables for soup--tomatoes from Italy, zucchini from Florida, potatoes from Idaho. Dickinson's ingredients would have come from closer to her home. She worked in an "open enclosure," Murray writes. separating eggs, sifting flour, listening to the conversations of her family and their servants in the kitchen or the yard. Her work was social sculpture "cognitive, creative, and boundary crossing." Poems and recipes written in her slanted writing on chocolate wrappers and envelopes.

Dickinson’s recipes exist along with her poems and letters. Here are two:

rice cake

One cup of ground rice.

one cup of powdered sugar.

Two eggs.

one -half a cup of butter.

one spoonful of milk with a little soda.

Flavor to suit.

And a letter and recipe to a friend who sent some bulbs (I suppose like the bulbs blooming right now in my garden):

Dear Nellie

Your sweet beneficence of Bulbs I return as Flowers, with a bit of the swarthy Cake baked only in Domingo.

Lovingly ,


2 pounds Flour— 2 Sugar— 2 Butter— 19 Eggs— 5 pounds Raisins— 1 ½ Currants 1 ½ Citron ½ pint Brandy ½ — Molasses— 2 Nutmegs— 5 teaspoons Cloves—Mace—Cinnamon 2 teaspoons Soda—

Beat Butter and Sugar together— Add Eggs without beating—and beat the mixture again— Bake 2½ or three hours, in Cake pans, or 5 to 6 hours in Milk pan, if full—

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