We must not look at goblin men,
We must not buy their fruits:
Who knows upon what soil they fed
Their hungry thirsty roots?
As I start my 7th month in quarantine, I have been trying to cultivate delight. Because Halloween is my favorite holiday and I’ve been deep in floral Victoriana for the second volume of The Queer Language of Flowers zine volume (forthcoming 2021), I decided to make a Halloween cake based on my favorite scary (and outrageously queer) Victorian poem: Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market.”
When I attended the Great Victorian Radicals Bake Off at the Seattle Art Museum in August 2019, I didn’t post a picture of “The Goblin Market Sweet Shop” by Kelly Senseman because there were two possible blurry photos it could have been (I believe it’s the one below, see Seattle Refined for another angle).
This poem is definitely one of those pieces of media that feels simultaneously like “uh, that sounds homoerotic, so let’s make them sisters” and also like it would have fit in with the literary testimony read at Oscar Wilde’s trial.* In the poem, two sisters, Laura and Lizzie, live in a wood where goblins come by selling fruits, all in season at once and from every climate zone. Laura cannot resist and trades a lock of her hair for the fruits, then begins to waste away for want of fruit. Lizzie tries to barter with the goblins; when she will not eat, the goblins smash their fruit all over her. She then uses the fruit juices to revive Laura:
She cried “Laura,” up the garden,
“Did you miss me?
Come and kiss me.
Never mind my bruises,
Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices
Squeezed from goblin fruits for you,
Goblin pulp and goblin dew.
Eat me, drink me, love me;
Laura, make much of me:
For your sake I have braved the glen
And had to do with goblin merchant men.”…
She clung about her sister,
Kissed and kissed and kissed her:
Tears once again
Refreshed her shrunken eyes,
Dropping like rain
After long sultry drouth;
Shaking with aguish fear, and pain,
She kissed and kissed her with a hungry mouth.“Goblin Market” by Christina Rossetti
About the Cake
I wanted to represent the lusciousness and bounty of the goblin fruits, so I designed a two layer chocolate cake with blackberry-coconut frosting and fresh blackberries between the layers and decorated with a sugared rosemary nest full of blackberries, blueberries and a couple ground cherries (also known as cape gooseberries).
I tried a method for “sugared berries” in which I dipped the fruit in egg white, coated it in sugar, and let it harden. Unfortunately, the sugar got kind of lumpy. If I were doing this again, I think I would have just sprinkled extra-fine sugar on top before serving. (To make extra-fine sugar, I ran granulated sugar through my spice grinder, a repurposed coffee mill).
For the sugared rosemary, I just used the method of wetting it and adding sugar, then letting it dry and adding more sugar. You can also dip the rosemary in hot simple syrup, let it dry, then coat in more sugar. I’ll have to try some other methods of candying or sugaring berries and herbs for decoration.
The cake and frosting turned out well, though. The frosting is Minimalist Baker’s Coconut Whipped Cream with about 5-7 blackberries crushed and whipped in at the end. The cake is half a batch of Chocolate Cake from Heather Baird’s Sprinkle Bakes Cookbook. I think a cake with hazelnuts or plums would also be a good choice.
You could certainly do this with whatever small seasonal fruits you have: strawberries, raspberries, cranberries, cherries, etc.
Happy Halloween, readers!
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*Problematic fave Oscar Wilde’s court testimony transcription, published in The Real Trial of Oscar Wilde, essentially consists of the Marquess of Queensbury’s lawyer asking Wilde if his writings could be read as kinda gay and Wilde denying it, then the lawyer or Wilde reading the super homoerotic passages ad nauseam.