When I read The Alice B Toklas Cook Book for the first time, More than a cookbook and memoir, it could almost be called a work of literary. The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook has ratings and 80 reviews. Paul said: starsYes this really is primarily a cookbook with some reminiscences thrown. I was recently fortunate enough to find a copy of the handsome out-of-print Folio Society edition of The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook (public.
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The book, published inwas given to me by a fellow member of a coojbook of pretentious young persons I ran around with, who had nothing but amused contempt for middlebrow American culture, and whose revolt against the conformity of the time largely took the form of patronising a furniture store called Design Research and of writing mannered letters to each other modelled on the mannered letters of certain famous literary homosexuals, not then known b.tkklas such.
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The Alice B Toklas Cook Book fitted right in with our programme of callow preciousness; we loved its waspishly magisterial tone, its hauteur and malice. Her de haut en bas footnote pointing out that “a marinade is a bath of wine, herbs, oil, vegetables, vinegars and so on, in which fish or meat destined for particular dishes repose for specified periods and acquire virtue” filled us with ecstasy.
The Cook Book itself sits in a kind of bath of reminiscence about Toklas’s life with Gertrude Steinfrom which its own literary virtue derives. More than a cookbook and memoir, it could almost be called a work of literary modernism, a sort of pendant to Stein’s tour de force The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas, published in The similarity of tone of the two books only deepens the mystery of who influenced whom.
Was Stein imitating Toklas when she wrote in Toklas’s voice in the Autobiography, or did she invent the voice, and did Toklas then imitate Stein’s invention when she wrote the Cook Book? It is impossible to say. Leafing through my copy of the Cook Book, the evidence of ancient food stains leads me to the recipes I actually cooked, and there are not many of them.
Most of Toklas’s recipes were and remain too elaborate or too strange to attempt I did make – loving its perversity – her Gigot de la Clinique, which involved taking a large hypodermic needle and injecting a leg of lamb twice daily for a week with orange juice as it sat in the obligatory marinade of wine and herbs.
Underlinings and marginal comments also highlight the passages – such as those quoted above – whose tart snottiness gave me special delight in the s.
But there is one chapter whose pages bear no gravy stains or underlinings and whose bare cleanness makes it look almost unread. It is entitled “Food in the Bugey during the Occupation”, and in it Toklas writes of the years of the Nazi occupation, which she and Stein spent in an area of provincial eastern France called the Bugey – first in a handsome old house near the town of Belley, and then in another old house in nearby Culoz.
When I had occasion to read this chapter again, I was struck by its evasiveness, no less than by its painfully forced gaiety. How had the pair of elderly Jewish lesbians escaped the Nazis? Why had they stayed in France instead of returning to the safety of the United States? Why did Toklas omit any mention of her and Stein’s Jewishness never mind lesbianism?
Well, in the 50s one did not go out of one’s way to mention one’s Jewishness. Gentlemanly anti-Semitism was still a fact of American life. The fate of Europe’s Jews was known, but the magnitude of the catastrophe had not registered; the term “Holocaust” was not yet in use.
Today, the evasions seem egregious, though hardly incomprehensible. What cookbooo now know about Stein’s and Toklas’s war makes it easy to see why the complex actuality of their situation and conduct found no place in The Alice B Toklas Cook Book.
Or with complexity, she might have added. In Augustwhile driving to the French Riviera to visit Picasso, Stein and Toklas veered over to the Bugey and spent a night in Belley at a hotel called the Pernollet, which had been recommended to them for its good food. The food turned out to be mediocre, but they liked the hotel and the countryside so well that they stayed on – wiring Cokbook that they b.yoklas be delayed a week, and finally never making it to the Riviera at all.
Stein and Toklas returned to the Pernollet summer after summer eating elsewhere and presently began looking for a place of their own in the region. They were prepared to bt.oklas, build or rent, but could find nothing cookboom suited. Then one day, across a valley, they saw, in the hamlet of Bilignin, “the house of our dreams”, as Gertrude Stein writes in the Autobiography, and continues:. Go and ask the farmer there whose house that is, Gertrude Stein said to me.
I said, nonsense it is an important house and it is occupied. Go and ask him, she said. Very reluctantly I did. He said, well yes, perhaps it is for rent, it belongs to a little girl, all her people are dead and I think there is a lieutenant of the regiment stationed in Belley living there now, but I understand they were to leave.
You might go and see the agent of the property. He was a kindly old farmer who always told us allez doucement, go slowly.
We had the promise of the house, which we never saw any nearer than across the valley, as soon as the lieutenant should leave. Finally three years ago the lieutenant went to Morocco and we took the house still only having seen coookbook from across the valley and we have liked it always more.
Stein wrote The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas in the fall of in a kind of paroxysm of desire for the fame and money that had so far eluded her. Since her youth, she had wanted “gloire”, as her friend Mabel Weeks reported, but her experimental writings had not brought it. Finally, at the age of 58, she decided to so to speak prostitute herself and write a book in regular English that would be a bestseller.
That it actually became one may be a measure of the genius Stein claims for herself throughout the book. What kind of a genius she was is hard to pin down.
She had trained to become a medical doctor, specialising in psychology, and only after dropping out of the Johns Hopkins medical school in her last year, indid she begin to think of writing as her conduit to glory. Her apprentice work was conventional and unpromising, rather stilted.
The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook by Alice B. Toklas
After she settled in Paris, inhowever, as if her muse were finally roused by the Old World’s more bracing air, she began to produce the writings for which she is known – stories, novels and poems that are like no stories, novels or poems ever written but seem to be saturated with some sort of elixir of originality.
In the trio of stories Three Lives, written inand the novel The Making of Americans, begun in and completed inStein is still writing in regular, if singular English, but by she had started producing work in a language of her own, one that uses English words but in no other way resembles English as it is known. Two years later, in “Tender Buttons,” inspired by cubist still lifes, Stein raises the stakes:. Out of kindness comes redness and out of rudeness comes rapid same question, out of an eye comes research, out of selection comes painful cattle.
So then the order is that a white way of being round is something suggesting a pin and is it disappointing, it is not, it is so rudimentary to be analysed and see a fine substance strangely, it is so earnest to have a green point not to red but to point again. Apple plum, carpet steak, seed clam, coloured wine, calm seen, cold cream, best shake, potato, potato and no no gold work with pet, a green seen is called bake and change sweet is bready, a little piece a little piece please.
A little piece please. Cane again to the presupposed and ready eucalyptus tree, count out sherry and ripe plates and little corners of a kind of ham.
The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook
The unflagging inventiveness of Stein’s language experiments, and the consistent authority of her tone, brought her ever greater renown in the world of the avant-garde. But this wasn’t enough for her – cooknook wanted to conquer the large outer world as well.
With The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas, she not only achieved the vulgar celebrity she craved, but brilliantly solved the koan of autobiography by disclaiming responsibility for the one being written. Speaking in the voice of her companion, Stein can entirely dispense with the fiction of humility that the conventional autobiographer must at every moment struggle cookbookk maintain.
Stein’s playful egomania pervades the book “she realises that in English literature in her time she is the only one”as does an optimism that gives the story of her life the character of a fairy tale. Nothing bad ever happens to her; every difficulty is overcome as if by magic.
While a student at Radcliffe in the late s, faced with an examination in William James’s philosophy course for which she has not studied, Stein writes on the examination paper: The next day she receives a postcard from James: I often feel like that myself” – and he gives her the highest grade in the course.
Her whole life is like that. Picasso is going to paint her portrait, but after 80 or 90 sittings, he says, “I can’t see you any longer when I look,” irritably paints out the face, and goes to Spain for a vacation.
The odd couple
On his return, he paints the face from memory and presents Stein with the famous masklike portrait. An American friend, WG Rogers, wrote of a car trip in the French countryside with Stein and Toklas – during which the two women constantly fought. Every arrangement was an occasion for dispute. Stein was the naughty child who wants to have fun no matter what, and Toklas was the grown-up with tightly compressed lips.
The ego was in the front seat” – Stein did the driving: The battle which most geniuses fight within themselves was exteriorised and fought openly between her and her friend. The practical spirit is an essential but unlovable spirit.
Toklas remains the dour ugly crone to Stein’s handsome playful princess. Then one day, across a valley, they saw, in the hamlet of Bilignin, “the house of our dreams”, as Gertrude Stein writes in the Autobiography, and continues: Two years later, in “Tender Buttons,” inspired alce cubist alicf lifes, Stein raises the stakes: A box Out of kindness comes redness and out of rudeness comes rapid same question, out of an eye comes research, out of selection comes painful cattle.
Apple Apple plum, carpet steak, seed clam, coloured wine, calm seen, cold cream, best shake, potato, potato and no no gold work with pet, a green seen is called bake and change sweet is bready, a little piece a little piece xookbook.
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