In addition to writing sublime poetry, Emily Dickinson was also an excellent cook and baker. She often baked sweets and cakes for her neighbors and the neighborhood children. But poetry was never far from her mind and she combined her cooking arts with her literary skills. On the back of her recipe for this coconut cake was penned this poem:"The Things that never can come back."
"The Things that never can come back, are several —
Childhood — some forms of Hope — the Dead —
Though Joys — like Men — may sometimes make a Journey —
And still abide —
We do not mourn for Traveler, or Sailor,
Their Routes are fair —
But think enlarged of all that they will tell us
Returning here —
"Here!" There are typic "Heres" —
Foretold Locations —
The Spirit does not stand —
Himself — at whatsoever Fathom
His Native Land —"
Nelly Lambert, a Dickinson scholar at Catholic University, discovered in Dickinson's letters her delight at cooking and how often she referenced it in her letters. Lambert shares her discovery in an article for NPR (which includes the recipe and cooking suggestions for the Coconut Cake and an image of her handwritten recipe):
Dickinson discussed baking in many of her letters — evincing both her trademark wit and a zest for life that belies the common image of her as a depressed figure. Note the animation in her letter to a friend about some burnt caramel rule: "I enclose Love's 'remainder biscuit,' somewhat scorched perhaps in baking, but 'Love's oven is warm.' Forgive the base proportions."
In my own life, I have experienced the poet-cook as my father Emile Snyder published numerous volumes of poetry and was well known among his family and friends as a committed gourmet cook. It is one of the things I miss most about his absence -- I have his poems, but oh how I would love to sit in his kitchen again and watch him prepare something extraordinary, steam rising from the pots with fragrant aromas, the crisp freshness of garlic, parsley, basil under the crush of his knife, the sizzle of olive oils, the hiss of the wine poured into a frying pan with shallots and the whoosh of flame stirred up to release the alcohol -- and me getting tipsy on all the vapors. More than ten years later I still have my father's hand written recipes, stained from laying too close to the cutting boards. And I am reminded of all that reading Dickinson's opening lines: "The Things that never can come back, are several —/Childhood — some forms of Hope —/the Dead —"
For more reading, I recommend the article "Emily Dickinson and Cooking, from the Emily Dickinson Museum and "In Praise of the Cook" I wrote a while ago for The Journal of Mythic Arts on the mythic powers of the cook in fairy tales and folklore.