Friday, August 5, 2016

The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook


Stop right there.  Forget everything you think you might know about Alice B. Toklas and cooking.*

First, the elephant in the room.  At least at one point in time, if you asked people what they knew about Alice B. Toklas, one of the first responses you would get would be "Brownies!"  For that, the Hollywood marketing engines deserve at least part of the blame.  Are you a 1960's counterculture wanna-be? Come see our movie!

Yeah. And no. I think it is interesting to note that she died in 1967 and the movie came out in 1968.  *cough* Anyway, this is what I'm talking about.

Alice Babette Toklas was born in San Francisco in 1877 but left there for Paris after the earthquake of 1906, where she met the bigger-than-life Gertrude Stein.  From that time until Gertrude's death in 1946, she was "Stein's confidante, lover, cook, secretary, muse, editor, critic, and general organizer" (Wikipedia).  A publisher asked her to write a memoir and she demurred, but did agree to write a cookbook, adding that it would contain remembrances. And does it ever! Cooking for Picasso, driving through France...if I can find a website that has excerpts of the chapter "Murder in the Kitchen" I will post a link here.  It is wonderful, but I don't want to type it all out.  (AHA!  Google books saves the day.)

According to a Scientific American article, the chapter "Recipes From Friends" was a last-minute inclusion, as she was getting close to her deadline and was short on material. Apparently she put out the call to friends and they responded, some of them with quite a few recipes.  The only names I recognize are Brion GysinCecil BeatonCarl Van Vechten, and the "chef of the Algonquin Hotel".  Brion Gysin is the one responsible for the "Haschish Fudge" recipe (see? Not even brownies!), and if you feel the need for that recipe, it is on the Scientific American website.

Of course, attempting to publish that recipe in the US in 1954 caused a bit of a kerfuffle, causing Alice to say she hadn't realized what was there.  I'm inclined to believe it, as most of the "Recipes From Friends" chapter does read like a bunch up recipes were stuffed into the manuscript with a minimum of editing. In the edition I have, M.F.K. Fisher wrote the forward and she points out that not only do they not read like the rest of the book, but a few of the recipes sound positively ghastly.

This, on the other hand, sounds delicious, but I am partial to Bavarian cream.

Bavarian Cream Perfect Love

Mix 2 cups sugar and 8 yolks of eggs until lemon-coloured. Slowly add 2 cups hot milk in which 6 cloves have been heated. Put in saucepan over lowest heat. With a wooden spoon stir continuously in the same direction until the spoon remains thickly covered. Do not allow to boil. Remove from heat and pour over 1/2 tablespoon powdered gelatine that has been soaked for 5 minutes in 1/4 cup cold water. Stir in the same direction until the gelatine is completely dissolved, then strain and stir from time to time in the same direction until cool. When cold, mix with 3 cups whipped cream to which the grated zest of 2 lemons have been added. Pour into lightly oiled mould and place in refrigerator for 4 hours. Remove from mould to serving dish. The cream may be flavored with fruit purée. Two and a half cups purée and 1 tablespoon lemon juice are mixed with 1/2 cup icing sugar.

A chocolate cream is made by melting 3 ozs. chocolate in the milk; a coffee cream, by substituting 2 cups strong coffee for the 2 cups milk. For the rest, proceed as above.

*Okay, if I'm being fair, you might know plenty about Alice B. Toklas and/or her cookbook.  I'm old, and reacting to things from at least a couple of decades ago. Do people still talk about "Toklas brownies"?

The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook on Amazon

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