On summer days when neighborhood children played in Emily Dickinson’s Amherst, Massachusetts, backyard, the poet would open an upstairs window to lower a basket of her home-baked gingerbread to the ground. But gingerbread wasn’t Dickinson's most coveted, famous recipe. While we remember Emily Dickinson for her striking, sensitive poetry, her Amherst neighbors knew her for her sticky-sweet, brandy-soaked black cake. Today, food bloggers and Dickinson scholars have resurrected the recipe, whose digitized original is available to all brave bakers through Harvard’s Houghton Library.

Dickinson’s black cake is a traditional fruit cake, but pause before you crack a joke. Dense, dark, brandy-soaked, and full of syrupy raisins, this molasses-rich original is worlds away from the much-maligned commercial fruitcakes available in the United States today. It's also massive. Dickinson's original recipe calls for 19 eggs, five pounds of raisins, and one and a half pounds of citron, an often-candied fruit that tastes like a thick-rinded, less-acidic lemon. Beaten by hand, the resulting batter weighed more than 20 pounds. Baked, then wrapped in cheesecloth and soaked in brandy for at least a month, the finished cakes were likely gifted to Dickinson's friends and neighbors.

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