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The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book Paperback – August 10, 2010
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“Alice was one of the really great cooks of all time.... The secret of her talent was great pains and a remarkable palate.” (James Beard)
“A book of character, fine food, and tasty human observation.” (The New Yorker)
“It will be the fiercest Francophobe who can read Alice’s recipes and not hanker for a taste, the dullest cook who will not want to get to the kitchen and try them out.” (Time)
“A cookbook that is delightful by way of its fine food has been made doubly pleasurable by the addition of shrewd worldly comment, by reminiscences, personalities, anecdotes, by the strong characters of the Misses Stein and Toklas.” (New York Herald Tribune)
From the Back Cover
Long before Julia Child discovered French cooking, Alice B. Toklas was sampling local dishes, collecting recipes, and cooking for the writers, artists, and expats who lived in Paris between the wars. Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Wilder, Matisse, and Picasso shared meals at the home she kept with Gertrude Stein, who famously memorialized her in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas.
The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book, however, is her true memoir: a collection of traditional French recipes that predates Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Toklas supplies familiar recipes such as coq au vin, bouillabaisse, and boeuf bourguignon, along with what is perhaps the earliest instructions for haschich fudge (“which anyone could whip up on a rainy day"), and she entertains with fascinating memories of Paris—Toklas' home for most of her life—and of rural France, Spain, and America.
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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 book...it'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.
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.