Alice B. Toklas did the cooking while her lifelong partner, Gertrude Stein, composed impenetrable and inscrutable works, including a 1931 work titled, of all things, How to Write, which contained this passage: "Grammar little by little is not a thing. Which may gain. There. Make twenty-five be a woman. The meaning of that does not interest me. It is a complexion that interests that makes ridiculous because that does not make it something else. But it does make them which is again me."
When Stein died in 1946, friends encouraged Toklas to write about their life together — a suggestion that horrified her. She did agree to write a cookbook, eventually titled The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook, and in the process composed many charming stories that culminate in recipes. "Bass for Picasso," for example, describes how she cooked a fish for the artist decorated with mayonnaise she turned red with tomato paste ("not coloured with catsup — horror of horrors"). And "Little-known French Dishes Suitable for American and British Kitchens" makes Toklas appear to be an adventurous fusion chef.
The book is best remembered, however, for a recipe for Haschich Fudge, submitted by an obviously mischievous friend named Brion Gysin, and included in a section titled "Recipes From Friends." The recipe, which calls for a generous sprinkle of Cannabis sativa — marijuana — suggests that "it might provide an entertaining refreshment for a Ladies' Bridge Club or a chapter meeting of the DAR." The "fudge" supposedly will produce "euphoria and brilliant storms of laughter; ecstatic reveries and extensions of one's personality on several simultaneous planes are to be complacently expected."
It is doubtful that Toklas tested the recipe, and judging from the prose, which diverges significantly from her own style, she probably didn't write it either. After publication, when she learned that the recipe called for marijuana, she feared that some might attribute Stein's peculiar writing style to the influence of Haschich Fudge. (Time magazine wondered if the recipe might possibly be "a clue to some of Gertrude's less earthly lines.")
The recipe was dropped from the first U.S. edition of The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook, but restored in subsequent editions, and Toklas herself became indelibly linked to marijuana brownies after the appearance of the 1968 film, I Love You, Alice B. Toklas, in which Peter Sellers plays a square who falls in love with a hippie and decides to "drop out" after getting stoned by eating some "groovy" brownies.
While the recipe may be famous, three facts about Haschich Fudge remain largely unknown.
1. The "fudge" contains no cocoa or chocolate whatsoever.
2. The recipe itself is absurd. It calls for "a handful" each of dried figs, almonds, peanuts and "stoned dates" (get it?), mixed with pulverized peppercorns, nutmeg, cinnamon and coriander in a paste made from sugar and butter. "Rolled into a cake and cut into pieces or made into balls about the size of a walnut, it should be eaten with care," the recipe dictates, but if you follow these instructions the result is a crumbly mess that refuses to hold together.
3. The result tastes awful.
The recipe defies efforts to salvage it. Heating the ingredients in hopes of encouraging the butter to glue the dried fruit and nuts together succeeds only in hardening the concoction. Mixing in strings of shredded coconut also fails to bind things together, although the coconut helps conceal the dirtlike appearance of the "fudge."
Harper Perennial has just reissued a new softcover edition of The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book, including a delightful forward by the late food writer M.F.K. Fisher, written in 1984. The book fits in nicely with contemporary American foodie culture.
The most famous recipe in the book, however, should be ignored. If you want to get together with friends to discuss the cookbook, or better yet, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, written with uncharacteristic clarity by Stein and considered her most accessible book, serve standard brownies.
If you want to make them from scratch, you won't find a recipe in Toklas' cookbook, but here's a classic that will see you through.
Read & Feed is a monthly column in Taste that matches popular book club selections with food to serve at meetings. If you have suggestions, send an e-mail to email@example.com. Put BOOK FOOD in the subject line.