The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®

 

Ditta Baron Hoeber

Cakes and Emily

 

Dear Emily,                                                                                    August 6,1995


I made the coconut cake again. This second time was easier.


The recipe:
            2 cups sugar            6 eggs
            1 cup butter            1 grated coconut
            2 cups flour            1 cup coconut milk


            Cream the butter and sugar. Gradually add flour, then the beaten egg yolks.
            Beat the whites separately and fold them into the batter along with about 3/4
            of the grated coconut and all the coconut milk. Fill the cake pans half full and
            bake at 350 degrees for 25 - 30 minutes. The remaining coconut is for coating
            the cake after glazing it with a simple sugar icing.


I used packaged unsweetened coconut (about 6 ounces for both cake and icing) and milk
for the liquid.


Also I mixed 1/4 of the beaten egg white into the batter first to lighten it. Then I added the
coconut and milk and folded the remaining egg white in at the end. The batter comes
about halfway up each pan if I use two 9” pans.


I made the icing with confectioner’s sugar and milk and some lime juice to cut the
sweetness. I kept it thin so it’s just enough to hold some coconut but you can still see
through it to the color of the cake. I think it’s about the best cake I’ve ever eaten.


I like baking your cakes. I’m reading your poems in the small collections called fascicles in
which you are said to have grouped them. I’ve just begun but already find that the form
enriches the reading for me. The poems resonate off of each other. Read together they
become more complex and dense in meaning and at the same time they seem to me to
become clearer.

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                        August 8,1995

 

It didn’t taste as good the second time. Why? The texture and so on were fine. I think it
was the icing. I can’t really remember if I used milk or water or both the first time but I
must certainly have used more lime juice. Perhaps it’s important that the cake was not fully
cooled when I iced it this time. Perhaps the lime flavor seeps down into the cake and gets
a bit steamed and faded if the cake isn’t dead cold.


I’ll try again. We’ll see.


If I’m right about the icing it means the wonderfulness of this cake is halfway due to me. Of
course it’s not certain that this is even your own recipe and the icing is only suggested. The
idea for the lime comes from me. On the other hand you were known to have made a
coconut cake and I can’t imagine it had an over-sweet icing. You must have given it your
own redeeming twist. What do you say we divide the credit 1/3 – 2/3. You get the 2/3
being the elder and among the angels.

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                        October 17,1995

 

Making the cake the third time I was very careful. I measured out the coconut and wrote
the amount down in the recipe book (2 cups coconut: 1 1/2 + for the cake, 1/2 - for the
icing). I made sure each pan had an equal amount of batter. I waited until the cakes were
cold before icing them and I used a lot of lime. Served it the next day. I think that waiting
until the cake had cooled completely was crucial. I won’t forget. It is a very good cake!


I’ve read up to fascicle #23. I had been reading one each day but then my own work took
me over. Now I read when I am sure of enough time. Sometimes I hesitate. I want to be
able to concentrate and sometimes I feel too fragile or too preoccupied to face you.


My favorites so far are numbers 5, 9, and 22. Almost all the fascicles are convincing to me.
The few that I’m unsure of are 2, 4, 7 and 18. I think I’m just not partial to the poems in
these. When your metaphors are mainly floral I drift away.

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                         March 25,1996

 

About the Federal Cakes. I’ve made them a few times – I make small quantities and mess.
The best is plain, cut in 1 1/2” rounds and sprinkled with demerara sugar before baking.
The heavy grain of the topping sugar is important somehow.


They are familiar to me. Like a cookie my grandmother and then my mother used to
make.

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                         October 30,1996

 

I made the coconut cake again – this time with fresh coconut. The yield was exactly 1 cup
of milk and the meat gave about 3 cups. I used all the coconut assuming that the increase
in bulk was due to the fact that it was fresh.


My assessment was correct as regards flavor. I cannot see a difference in quality of flavor
between the fresh and the dry coconut. The additional moisture, however, made the
(thoroughly cooked) cake too candy like and pasty for my taste.


Perhaps it would have been better to use only 2 cups of the fresh but I think I will go back
to using the dried coconut. It’s easier for icing.


My method for icing is to combine all the ingredients except the coconut, to ice the cake,
and then throw the coconut at it in handfuls. Using fresh makes this an even more frantic
and comical endeavor than usual. The fresh stuff doesn’t want to let go of my hands!


I’m thinking about the gingerbread for next.


I’ve titled my manuscript: “A Book in Seven Fascicles.” It’s an odd word – fascicle. I wonder
if you yourself ever used it. I don’t like the sound of it much but I like its meaning. Bundles,
bunches. As if the poems were pressed together for warmth.

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                         March 12,2003

 

It’s been awhile. I baked the gingerbread but I forgot to write.


I baked it in a black pan. It came out cake like and tasted strong and plain. I used real
molasses and freshly grated ginger so it had some bite. But I think it needs a lemon icing. A
mix of lemon juice and confectioner’s sugar would taste tart and bright with the dark
peppery cake.


And I’ve been making Black Cake for years at Christmas. Not every Christmas. Just some.
The recipe that’s called yours is very complete and always comes out right so I guess it isn’t
food for conversation. But you might like to know that when he was small one of my sons
made me a pencil drawing of a slice of your Black Cake. The drawing is delicately made in
different shades of black so you can see the form of the cake. It’s a lovely drawing. I have it
pasted in my book above your recipe.


Did I ever tell you how we met? The interesting thing about how we met is that I don’t
remember it. I only know that years ago when I found myself writing poetry I turned to
you. I have no idea how I knew. The way I imagine it is that you just touched me on the
shoulder.

 

 

 

DITTA BARON HOEBER's book length manuscript Without You was a semifinalist in this year’s Word Works Washington Prize. Her chapbook length manuscript Time Enough was a semifinalist in 2015 for the Verse Tomaž Šalamun Prize. In addition, her manuscript Forget was a semifinalist for the 2015 Omnidawn Poetry Chapbook Contest.

 

 

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