Category Archives: Food

Emily Dickinson–Hello Cousin!

Daguerreotype of Emily Dickinson from Wiki Media, in the public domain.

I cannot think of a more exciting announcement to make during the month of Women. As the title indicates–I can now call poet Emily Dickinson, cousin.

The Belle of Amherst and Black Cake

Of course I had known the poetry of this premier American Poet since I started reading. But my close attraction with Emily really developed when I played the role of Emily in the one-woman play, Belle of Amherst at the Invisible Theater in Tucson, Arizona. Emily’s opening lines of that play:

This is my introduction. Black cake. My own special recipe.

(After some digressions and introducing herself, she proceeds to share her recipe.)

“Black Cake: two pounds of flour, two pounds of sugar, two pounds of butter, nineteen eggs, five pounds of raisins, one and a half pounds of currants, one and a half pounds of citron, one half pint of brandy–I never use Father’s best–one half pint of molasses, two nutmegs, five teaspoons of cloves, mace, and cinnamon, and–oh, yes, two teaspoons of soda, and one and a half teaspoons of salt.”

“Just beat the butter and sugar together, add the nineteen eggs one at a time–now this is very important–without beating. Then beat the mixture again adding the brandy alternately with the flour, soda, spices, and salt that you’ve sifted together. Then the molasses. Now, take your five pounds of raisins, and three pounds of currants and citron, and gently sprinkle in all eight pounds–slowly now–as you stir. Bake it for three hours if you use cake pans. If you use a milk pan, as I do, you’d better leave it in the oven six or seven hours.”

Now does that remind you of anyone? Someone who loves to cook and share recipes? Although she gained fame posthumously as a poet, during her lifetime, she was well known around Amherst for her skill at baking.

Emily Dickinson Black Cake
Emily Dickinson Black Cake

You can see my modernized version of Emily’s Black Cake here. In fact, Emily’s recipe intrigued me from the first time I read the play. And while I was rehearsing, I experimented with baking the cake. Then I made some to be sold during intermissions at my performance of Belle of Amherst. I have also made her ginger bread and her coconut cake. All delicious.

My Connection to Emily Dickinson

You don’t work so long on the development of a one-woman show without feeling very close to the subject, and I certainly felt close to Emily. As I’m sure you know, she was born, lived and died in Amherst, Massachusetts, where her family had been leaders in the community and the college of Amherst. When I did that play so many years ago, I never dreamed that I had more than just the connection that comes with acting.

A few years ago, as I was tracing my great-great-etc-grandparents from New England, I came across 6th great-grandmother Elizabeth Dickinson Belding. She came from Amherst. Surely she must have been related to Emily Dickinson and her family.

The Dickinson Family seemed to be bewilderingly large and spread out over New England, and I was at that time pursuing another line of ancestors, so I set aside the notion that I might be related to Emily. But I did not forget.

Today I looked for a family tree for Emily and compared her ancestors to the ancestors of my (much earlier) 6th great-grandmother, Elizabeth Dickinson Belding and her father (my 7th great-grandfather). II only had to go back one more generation to find my connection to Emily. Here is what I found, starting with our MRCA (Most Recent Common Ancestor), Nathaniel Dickinson– my 8th great-grandfather, and Emily’s 5th great -grandfather.

My Tree

  • Nathaniel Dickinson 1601-1676
  • Hezekiah Dickinson 1646-1707
  • Elizabeth Dickinson Belding 1693-1797
  • Samuel Belding 1719-1793
  • Martha Belding Bassett 1756-1842
  • William Bassett 1779-1833
  • Mary Bassett Morgan 1810-1890
  • Harriette Morgan Stout 1842-1928
  • Vera Stout Anderson 1881-1964
  • Harriette Anderson Kaser 1906-2003
  • Vera Marie Badertscher

Emily Dickinson Tree

  • Nathaniel DIckinson 1601-1676
  • Samuel Dickinson 1638-1711
  • Ebenezer Dickinson 1690-?
  • Nathan Dickinson SR 1712-1796
  • Nathan Dickison Jr. 1735-1825
  • Samuel Dickinson 1775-1838
  • Edward DIckinson 1803-1874
  • Emily Dickinson 1830-1886

You will notice that my line comes down through the women in the tree, starting with Elizabeth Dickinson, the daughter of Hezekiah Dickinson. The only exception is William Bassett (1779-1833). Emily’s line, on the other hand, follows the male Dickinson line all the way. My 7th great-grandfather is the brother of her 4th great grandfather, Samuel DIckinson (1638-1711). Samuel is my 8x great uncle.

Emily’s family started in North America in Connecticut, but for four generations before Emily, they had lived in Amherst, Massachusetts.

How appropriate that my bookworm great-great grandmother turns out to be the same generation as Emily DIckinson! And had Emily, instead of being a recluse, had been married and had children, her great-great grandchildren would be in my generation.

The conclusion? Emily Dickinson is my 6th cousin, 3 times removed. Don’t get confused by the “removed”. The three times removed simply means that once you find our MRCA you look at how many generations difference there are between that person in my line and in her line. In this case it is 8x great grandfather and 5x great grandfather–so, 3x removed.

Emily Dickinson Has a Poem For It

How better to end this little tribute to my new-found cousin than with one of her poems. This one is used as the foreword to the printed Belle of Amherst.

Me--come! My dazzled face
In such a shining place!
Me--hear! My foreign Ear
The sounds of Welcome--there!

The Saints forget
Our bashful feet--

My Holiday, shall be
That They--remember me--
My Paradise--the fame
That They--pronounce my name--

Emily Dickinson

The Not-Swedish, Apple, Not-Pie

Not Really Apple Pie
(Not Really) Swedish Apple Pie
Jump to Recipe

You can find several versions of a “Swedish Apple Pie” on the internet. Most of them look like fruit crumbles, rather than pie. This one has no bottom crust, but has a top crust that resembles a large cookie rather than pie crust. The result is a very easy, very delicious, but very ugly “pie.”

A caveat–I do not have Swedish ancestors, unless you count some stray Vikings who attacked and maybe bedded my Scottish or English distant ancestors. I do have a Swedish sister-in-law, and through her some Swedish acquaintances.

My Swedish friend tells me that she has not seen this “Swedish Apple Pie” in Sweden. They are more likely, she says, to make a dessert with oats that looks like a crumble.

Even though I constantly remind you of my Perfect Pie Crust recipe, sometimes there is a reason to use something different.

But sometimes taste wins out over authenticity, ya know? It took my husband and I about 36 hours to devour this delicious dessert–call it what you will.

In the recipe, I have included a link to the web source of the recipe that I adapted. There you can also find the recipe for traditional Swedish vanilla cream sauce, which really is Swedish, and might be served on this dessert if this were a Swedish dessert.

Not Really Apple Pie
Print

(Not) Swedish-Apple-(Not) Pie

An easy, delicious, ugly "pie" with a cookie crust.
Course Dessert
Keyword apple, fruit, pie
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour 8 minutes
Servings -6 slices
Author Vera Marie Badertscher

Equipment

Ingredients

  • 4-6 Cups apples peeled, cored, and sliced 1/4" thick
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp cardamon
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts or pecans Optional
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter melted
  • 1 egg

Instructions

  • Heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a pie plate and set aside.
  • Mix the 3 Tablespoons of sugar and spices and pour over sliced apples. Stir well.
  • Spread apples in pie plate. Level them out.
  • Whisk together flour, the one cup of sugar, salt and spices.
  • Stir in melted butter. Add lightly beaten egg and stir until blended.
  • Pour the crust mixture over the apples and spread evenly, keeping 1/8-1/4 inch away from edge. Scatter nuts on top.
  • Place pie plate on cookie sheet to catch drips. Bake pie for one hour, or until crust is a golden brown, like a finished sugar cookie. (It took an extra 15 minutes in my oven.)
  • When done, cool on cooling rack. Serve warm or cold with whipped cream or ice cream if you wish.

Notes

While my Swedish friend says this is not really the way that the dessert is made in Sweden–where it is more of a crumble made with oatmeal– this dessert is delicious.  If you want to make it a bit more Swedish, you can use the traditional Swedish topping, Vanilla Cream Sauce.  You can find the recipe for Vanilla Sauce where I got the basic recipe for this “pie” at That’s Some Good Cooking.
I added nuts to the recipe because I thought it would up the flavor, and also perhaps improve the looks a bit. Unfortunately, I only have a picture of the original–without nuts.
Note for the Minority of Us Who Do Not Have Microwave Ovens
Microwaves are great for melting butter, but I do not have a microwave oven (and don’t miss it).  I have discovered an easy way to melt butter  if you have an oven that is under the range of your stove.  I turn on the oven, and then put the butter in a small pyrex dish or spare measuring cup on the top of the stove.  The butter melts from the oven heat while I am setting out ingredients, greasing the pan, peeling the apples, etc.  Of course this doesn’t work if you have a built-in wall oven. You can also put the dish with butter in the oven, but keep a close eye so it doesn’t start boiling and spattering!  

Chocolate Drop Cookies, a Vintage Recipe

Chocolate drop cookies with white frosting.

Recently, I posted on Facebook a picture of a loaf of bread that I made with a recipe from Ken’s maternal grandmother, Helen Kohler. Bless Social Media. The picture of the loaf of bread led me to a batch of Chocolate Drop Cookies.

Do you remember the 3-way bread recipe that I published nearly 3 years ago? Check back to see the recipe that can be used for free-form bread, rolls, or coffee cake. Later I used an adaptation of the recipe to make Swiss New Year’s Bread. Last week I used the same recipe to make two loaf pans of bread. So now it is a 5-way recipe! This is still my favorite bread recipe. Thank you Grandma Kohler. And thank you Kay Badertscher Bass for passing the recipe on to me.

And thanks to Facebook for allowing this conversation between Ken’s cousins, reminiscing about their Grandma’s cooking. Someone mentioned Chocolate Drop Cookies that Grandma kept in a big blue enameled pan. Several others remembered them. Then Beth posted the recipe card. She didn’t remember where she got it, but it is labeled “Grandma Kohler,” and meets the criteria that everyone remembered of the Chocolate Drop Cookies that Grandma frosted with confectioners sugar.

Grandma Kohler’s chocolate cookies

I cheated a little on the authenticity of my husband’s cousins’ memories. I frosted half the cookies in a simple confectioner’s sugar white frosting, and half in the same frosting with cocoa powder added. Apologies to Grandma Kohler, but I never get enough chocolate.

Chocolate drop cookies in black and white

In the recipe below, I have expanded on some of the sketchy directions, but stuck to the recipe. They bake up puffy and soft and they are unlike any cookies that I have made before. I am so grateful to Kay for sharing the post on Facebook and thus starting the conversation, and for Beth providing the precious recipe.

Chocolate Drop Cookies Cooling
Print

Chocolate Drop Cookies, a Vintage Recipe

A favorite cookie of my husband's cousins when they went to Grandma's house, Chocolate Drop Cookies is an authentic vintage recipe.
Course Dessert, Snack
Keyword cookie, chocolate, vintage recipe, Helen Kohler
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 12 minutes
Servings 24 cookies
Author Vera Marie Badertscher

Ingredients

  • 1/2 Cup Butter Room temperature
  • 1 Cup Brown sugar Sieved so there are no lumps
  • 1 egg Room temperature
  • 1/2 Cup sour milk Room temperature (See Note)
  • 2 squares chocolate Melted and brought to room temperature
  • 1 1/2 Cup Cake flour (See Note)
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Instructions

  • Heat oven to 375 degrees. Grease or line with parchment paper, two cookie pans.
  • Melt chocolate in microwave (See Note for alternate method). Set aside to cool
  • Measure flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and sift together into medium bowl.
  • Cream together butter and brown sugar until smooth
  • Beat egg into butter/sugar mixture. Stir in sour milk, then stir in cooled, melted chocolate.
  • Fold in dry ingredients only until well blended. Do not overbeat.
  • Drop by tablespoon, 1" apart on cookie sheets.
  • Bake at 375 degrees for 10-12 minutes. Test by touching top of cookie. It should still be soft but no leave an indentation.
  • Cool on pan for ten minutes and remove to cooling rack.
  • When totally cool, frost with confectioners sugar frosting of your choice.

Notes

When sour milk is called for, you can use regular whole or 2% milk and add vinegar.  For 1/2 cup sour milk, add 1/2 Tablespoon of vinegar to the 1/2 cup milk and let stand 5 minutes.  If you do not want to bother with this, it is perfectly acceptable to substitute 1/2 cup of sour cream or buttermilk. Plain yogurt will work as well. Just be sure it is not flavored.
Melting chocolate. The chocolate will melt more quickly and evenly if you chop it with a large knife before melting. I do not have a microwave so I had to come up with a different way to melt chocolate.  I put the chopped chocolate in a small pyrex dish and set it on top of my electric stove where the hot air from the oven comes through.  This recipe calls for such a small amount of chocolate that it melts very quickly.

Now that I am well stocked with cookies, I need to get back to the complex research of Obadiah Stout and his family’s wanderings through the west. See you next week.