Alice B. Toklas and Her Famous Pot Fudge

51HIrTy5vfLOn the 7th of March 1967, Alice Babette Toklas, a longtime lover, secretary, editor, cook, and companion of the writer Gertrude Stein, died in Paris, France. An American of Polish descent, Toklas met Stein in Paris on the 8th of September 1907, and fell in love with her. The feeling was mutual, and so the pair decided to share their life together. Their relationship was very much Yin-Yang, as they complemented each other in many ways. Toklas remained a background figure in this relationship, supporting Stein in her writing career. But the later did not take it for granted, and acknowledged her partner by, for example, publishing her 1933 memoirs under the perverse title The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas.

The couple’s reputation as culturally significant came largely from their wide circle of friends. Their home on 27 rue de Fleurus became a meeting place for many accomplished and aspiring artists, such as Pavel Tchelitchew, Man Ray, Jacques Lipchitz, Matisse, Braque and Picasso, the photographers Alvin Langdon Coburn, Cecil Beaton, and Carl Van Vechten, the writers and poets Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Paul Bowles, Thornton Wilder, Sherwood Anderson, Edith Sitwell, and many others. The gatherings took place on Saturday evenings and it was allegedly Toklas who took on the role of the hostess for the wives and girlfriends of the artists in attendance, who sat in a separate room. According to Gertrude Stein, the Saturday evening  salons started with Stein’s collection of Matisse’s works, as “…people began visiting to see 71N20d5LLkL._SL1500_the Matisse paintings – and the Cézannes: “Matisse brought people, everybody brought somebody, and they came at any time and it began to be a nuisance, and it was in this way that Saturday evenings began.”” (James R. Mellow, Charmed Cirlce: Gertrude Stein & Company). While Stein entertained the famous artists and writers, Toklas always remained a little withdrawn. W.G Rogers wrote in his 1946 memoir: “She was a little stooped, somewhat retiring and self-effacing. She doesn’t sit in a chair, she hides in it; she doesn’t look at you, but up at you; she is always standing just half a step outside the circle. She gives the appearance, in short, not of a drudge, but of a poor relation, someone invited to the wedding but not to the wedding feast.” (W.G. Rogers, When this you see remember me GERTRUDE STEIN in person).

After Stein’s death in 1946, Toklas faced major financial difficulties, as the couple’s relationship had no legal recognition and Toklas was deprived of rights to much of Stein’s estate by the latter’s family. In order to make a living, she started writing. In 1954, she published The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook, one of the bestselling cookbooks of all time. The cookbook is in a major way Toklas’ autobiography as, apart from recipes for many culinary experiments, it also contains her personal recollections of the famous attendants to the Saturday evening salons. “The eclectic dishes included a doctored mayonnaise – “garlic ice cream” – from Carl Van Vechten; lamb curry from his wife Fania; designer Pierre Balmain’s chicken; Francis Rose’s Chinese-style zucchini; Cecil Beaton’s Greek apple pudding; laurel-leaf soup from the painter Dora Maar; two Hungarian dishes from Harold Knapik; and a small problem from one of Alice’s acquaintances, painter Brion Gysin: Haschich Fudge [sic] (which anyone could whip up on a rainy day).” (Linda Simon, The Biography of Alice B. Toklas).

Toklas_cookbook_coverAnd so, the recipe for the famous fudge, after a short introduction about its special qualities, goes as follows: “This is the food of Paradise – of Baudelaire’s Artificial Paradises: it might provide an entertaining refreshment for a Ladies’ Bridge Club or a chapter meeting of the DAR. In Morocco it is thought to be good for warding off the common cold in damp winter weather and is, indeed, more effective if taken with large quantities of hot mint tea. Euphoria and brilliant storms of laughter; ecstatic reveries and extensions of one’s personality on several simultaneous planes are to be complacently expected. Almost anything Saint Theresa did, you can do better if you can bear to be ravished by “un évanouissement reveillé.”

Take 1 teaspoon black peppercorns, 1 whole nutmeg, 4 average sticks of cinnamon, 1 teaspoon coriander. These should all be pulverised in a mortar. About a handful each of stoned dates, dried figs, shelled almonds and peanuts: chop these and mix them together. A bunch of canibus sativa [sic] can be pulverised. This along with the spices should be dusted over the mixed fruit and nuts, kneaded together. Rolled into a cake and cut into pieces or made into balls about the size of a walnut, it should be eaten with care. Two pieces are quite sufficient.” (The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book).

Despite staying in the shadow of Gertrude Stein for most of her life, Toklas did manage to mark her place as a writer. There have also been many references to her life and work in popular culture. One of them is 1968 Peter Sellers’ movie I Love You, Alice B. Toklas, in which Sellers’ character, attorney Harold Fine, falls in love with an attractive flower power hippie girl, known for making the best pot brownies.  

Film Credit: Headbeep

Advertisements