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And We Thought We Knew Emily Dickinson
Here's what I thought I knew about the poet: She was an eccentric whose largely hermetic life screamed austerity and mystery. And I can't help it: The first words that pop into my head when I hear her name are always, "Because I could not stop for death" and not "hope is the thing with feathers." So when I read in this post on the New York Times' Diner's Journal blog that she was really into baking, I was shocked. Here I always pictured Dickinson living on milky tea and cold pot roast (since she was too busy writing to eat the meat while it was hot). It turns out Dickinson loved to bake cakes or and loaves of rye bread. Manuscripts, letters and fragments from Dickinson's life have just gone on display at the Poets House in New York City, many for the first time, and among them is her recipe for coconut cake, written in her own hand. (Read more about Dickinson's unlikely hobby--and the baked good that won her second prize at the Amherst Cattle Show of 1856--here.)
Keeping with my perception of Dickinson, the instructions are stark and simple; there are no notes in the margins about how so-and-so likes this case with extra coconut or hot pink sprinkles. It's a very Dickinson-esque recipe, but still: It reminds me how thinking we know a person just by sizing them up is just wrong. Everyone--even famous, much-biographied writers--can surprise us.
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