Customer Reviews: The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book
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on July 14, 2000
Ive been cooking with _Joy of Cooking_ for a long time now. _Joy_ makes reference to a chapter in this book, "Murder in the Kitchen," as a sort of primer on how to 'murder' a carp in the kitchen before cooking. I decided, on a whim, to buy the book.
I had no idea that having this new cookbook would be so rewarding!
Alice Toklas has some INCREDIBLE recipes in here (Scheherezade Melon being a favorite!), all of which should be tried and enjoyed.
Furthermore, this book contains recipes you simply wont find in other, newer, cookbooks. My girlfriend really summed this book up by suggesting that the recipes in this book are the recipes you know exist -- but are being passed from grandmother to granddaughter; you simply dont get these unless youre in that circle of people.
This cookbook is your way in to exquisite dishes that were prepared for the likes of Gertrude Stein, Hemmingway, Picasso, and Matisse.
That, and where else are you going to find a recipe for Hashish Fudge?
This book has my whole-hearted, overwhelming approval.
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on September 15, 1998
2014 marks the 60th anniversary of this cookbook.

This classic of 20th century food lit appears every few years in new editions and rightfully so. First published in 1954 by Alice B. Toklas, the life partner of Gertrude Stein, established Alice as a writer in her own right and made her world-famous(once again) with her "Haschich Fudge" aka Alice B. Toklas brownies! This recipe, which was not included in the first American edition, but was included in the British edition, does appear in this book. It's more than a cookbook, it's an affectionate remembrance by someone who knew and was known by some of the artistic giants of the 20th century.
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on June 27, 2001
I believe that this is one of the best French cookbooks of all time. Very old, traditional recipes explained in a way that makes even the more advanced ones seem doable. She also includes recipes from her youth in America and tells how she came across the recipe for Haschich Fudge. The stories interwoven are captivating, especially about the society she and Gertrude Stein kept, and their efforts during WWI as volunteers. In this respect it is a fascinating historical document. It is written as if she is speaking to you, and her speech is very blunt, to the point and quietly humorous. Very enjoyable to read.
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This cookbook was originally published by Michael Joseph, London, 1954, and that is the edition that you want. Why? Because all others have edited out Brion Gysin's (the cookbook spells it "Gysen") hilarious "Haschhich Fudge Recipe" on page 259, ("which anyone could whip up on a rainy day," as Gysin humorously noted.)

There are other reasons for obtaining the original London First Edition -- there is so much history associated with this cookbook. Of course Toklas was the lifelong companion of the often controversial feminist author, Gertrude Stein. Toklas continued to champion her companion's philosophies and writings for 20 years subsequent to Stein's death in 1946. The two resided chiefly in Paris and they weathered two world wars, often living in occupied territory, an actuality which was particularly dangerous for Stein who was Jewish, (Toklas was a Catholic.)

Regarding the history of the cookbook, these two ladies hosted many famous celebrities in their home where they were almost always fed by Toklas who prepared the high end meals in the household when guests were present. These people included Hemingway, Picasso, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Leonard Bernstein, Virgil Thompson, Carl Van Vechten, and a laundry list of similarly high-profile notables (I once made a count of over 300 of such associations.) Some of the very dishes that these people were fed are found in this cookbook.

If you acquire the London First Edition try to obtain one with its original dust jacket. It was drawn by Sir Francis Rose and Toklas was not particularly pleased with the result as she commented to a friend which can be read in her post-1946 personal correspondence: Staying On Alone. Rose also completed the other illustrations in the cookbook. (Rose was later involved in some scandalous and nefarious affair which Toklas vaguely alluded to in her letters, the precise nature of which I have been unable to unveil to date, but I continue to research for this juicy tidbit of celebrity gossip!)

If ever there was a scratch cook, it was Toklas. I believe that she truly "invented" more new dishes than any other cook I've ever heard of. In other cases of recipes found herein, she garnered them from small hotels throughout Italy, Spain, and France where her travels with Stein had taken her. These recipes are definitely not for the beginner and many of the ingredients are difficult to obtain. Thankfully, both Toklas and Stein were Americans and so she had the foresight to offer up American substitutions for obscure ingredients in some instances.

It's nice to get a cookbook that you can read like a terrific novel and this is certainly one of those rare editions. It became a burden to Toklas as she trudged on with the project but, with the help and support of her many famous friends, she completed the task and now we can reap the benefit of her phenomenal culinary skills. Anyone interested in traditional French cooking will find this cookbook to be pure treasure.

I should mention, before closing, that Toklas initially found Gysin's "joke recipe" to be appalling but as it turned out to be a slice of marketing genius, they ultimately remained friends for life. I doubt that Toklas knew much of Gysin's associations with his "Beat Generation Pals," such as William S. Burroughs, author of Naked Lunch: The Restored Text. You can read all about it in The Beat Hotel: Ginsberg, Burroughs & Corso in Paris, 1957-1963.

The original London 1954 edition: highly recommended (5 stars for that one)!
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on January 23, 2007
I have toted this little paperback around for about 25 years. The pages are grey and the cover is grimy. But I am reading it again for the joy of it, and again, realize it is one of my favorite books. Alice Toklas writes in the most enthusiastic, humorous and inquisitive prose that a "cookbook" could ever be presented. She writes each chapter as a special creative venture, and the reader learns how to cook all kinds of home-made French meals following her systematic and patient narrative. Her commentary on dining and cooking with the amazing stars of the art and literature world in pre-war Paris is breath taking in its simplicity and familiarity with said egos!

There are many references to certain menus she and Gertrude Stein dined on- from the country cottage farmer's table to haute cuisine. And wherever they dined, Alice was certain to beg for a recipe to take with her. These recipes add a wonderful scrapbook feel which gives you some absolutely perfect hand me down hits.

My book is the British version I believe, and has the hashish brownie recipe. I tried making it back in the '70's however it was pretty grainy since we didn't use the high quality product Alice most likely had access to. The intro to the brownies is hysterical - she advises the reader to make these on a rainy afternoon and serve to the bridge group ladies or the local DAR chapter meeting. Very tongue in cheek.
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on July 13, 2011
I have a lot of food allergies, so I read cookbooks more for the entertainment value than for the useful knowledge. I truly enjoyed reading The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book. Aside from the recipes, this is a truly fascinating memoir of life in France from World War I through World War II. It's an account of how people lived: What they ate and the cooks who cooked it. I re - learned that the French ate a lot of seafood. And remembered that just about all of a butchered animal was eaten in one form of another. The food choices that were available far exceed our choices at the supermarket. Mutton, wild boar, pigeon, rabbit, well as shellfish and fresh water and saltwater fishes. This is a "keeper" for me, because it's field guide to the history of culinary France.

The profiles of their hired help also was, well, these were real people. Some of them were from other regions: Austria, Indo - China, Swiss, and the Basque region. Any one of these people would have a story to tell in their own right. But it's evident that the French were never just French. There are people on the move, people bringing their cultures, foods, ways of cooking to the table. I enjoyed this's a travelogue, a time capsule, a food history book.

Also included in the book is a description of Ms. Toklas' garden in Bilignin, where she and Gertrude Stein summered for 14 years. It's a great account of the fruits and vegetables that she grew.

I have the 1984 edition. The recipes have been Americanized, so ingredients are given by volume, not by weight, and oven temperatures are in degrees Fahrenheit. (350, 400, etc.) The recipes are doable. There's a small cake recipe called Visitandines that I want to try. (It's curious for a cake because there's no sugar in it..I searched for other recipes and most have sugar. Is it an error that never got corrected, or is it authentic? Hard to tell).

I really liked this book. It's a great read on many levels.
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on February 11, 2012
The recipes are really a sidenote to the reminiscences in this memoir, but many of the reminiscences are about food so "culinary memoir" seems an accurate description. Apparently Gertrude Stein enjoyed eating very well, and it was Alice B. Toklas who made sure that she did. When Gertrude and Alice entertained, Alice planned the menus and oversaw the kitchen staff (there is much discussion of difficulties with staff). When they visited literary and artistic greats, Gertrude was in the parlor discussing their art and Alice was in the kitchen discussing food with their wives or cooks. When they traveled, Alice made sure in advance that the meals would be to Gertrude's satisfaction. So Alice's recollections of Gertrude Stein's lecture tour in the U.S. in 1934-35, for instance, are almost completely about food and the meals they had. That said, there were plenty of fascinating people sharing those meals and we know enough about most of them that it's actually rather refreshing to have her comments on their food tastes instead of the more expected antecdotes.
This is, however, more than a memoir: there are a lot of recipes and they are more accessible than I had anticipated. Some of them, for sure, are not suitable for a modern kitchen without staff. But many can be adapted quite easily. And the infamous marijuana brownies? It's actually a hashish fudge, submitted by an artist friend living in Morocco and in the Mideastern manner contains no chocolate. The introduction he gives to the recipe is one of the cleverest parts of the book, suggesting the fudge to enliven meetings of the DAR and commenting that the ingredients (he gives the Latin botanical name for the hashish) may be difficult to find in the U.S. but are quite common in the window boxes of Greenwich Village!
This book is a wonderful addition to any library; when I gave it as a birthday gift recently it became the center of conversation for the rest of the evening.
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on June 16, 2015
The recipes are quite suspect--I do not, for one second, believe that you could combine the ingredients Ms. Toklas recommends and, applying the techniques she describes, produce anything edible--I have cooked for a living, and can assure you it is quite unlikely that most of the recipes are on the level. Nevertheless, the book is a treasure, and I refer to it quite often, simply for her eccentric wit, and her enchanting stories of adventures with Ms. Stein and the Lost Generation. Not only is there chic and glamour, but quiet French village life during the Nazi occupation, oozes off the pages in lavender, moonlight and rosy nostalgia. I visited their adjoining plots at Pere Lachaise in Paris--remarkably, Alice's information is inscribed on the back of Stein's grey granite monument, and Alice's space, next to the crushed white marble covering Gertrude, does not even have grass growing over it. I love this book and it's brilliant author.
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on February 6, 2014
Not just a cook book; it's full of wonderful short vignettes, experiences from the life of Gertrude Stein & Alice, the visits of artists and writers and what was served. Many of the recipes include spirits so I assume there were many parties. It's a fun read and well written allowing you to enter into the life and times from a very interesting age, plus the dishes sound delicious. Can't wait to serve them along with a story of how they came about.
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on November 20, 2014
What I like most is her recipe for french fries. She predates Guy Fierri and Emeril Lagasse in writing that French fries should be cooked at a cooler temperature first and then a final time at a higher temperature.
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