Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, and Expat Brownies

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Toklas and Stein walk a fabulous poodle

When I was an undergrad, I listened to Monique Truong read from her novel The Book of Salt.  In the book, she imagines the lives of Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein through the eyes of their Vietnamese cook, pulling the reader through a world of smells and tastes. Prior to the reading, she went on for quite a while about how she had discovered Gertrude Stein and how much Stein had inspired her. She was (as most Stein fans are) completely obsessed.

At 18 years old, I didn’t get it. Nor did I bother to read anything about Stein or Toklas before the event (a mortal sin in graduate school).

A few years and books later, I am definitely a Stein fan and I totally get it. I have always known but I have never really known. Initially being completely confused and alienated from Stein’s notoriously difficult Stanzas In Meditation, it was Stein’s rather grandiose personality that pulled me in, almost from beyond the grave. Gertrude Stein (the person, not the prose), pulled me in from behind the pages of her books and I’m totally hooked.

In putting together a paper that relates Stein’s writing styles to Picasso’s cubism, I’ve unearthed some really interesting literary artifacts related to both Stein and Toklas. The one that follows is one of my favorites.

When I was younger, I imagined Alice and Gertrude doing a lot of “hanging out” in their living room; talking to Picasso and drinking expensive bottles of red wine. Alice was always sitting in the background, dwarfed by Stein, silently thinking with her hands folded. This was not far from the truth. In addition to hanging out with geniuses, they were also making brownies.

Toklas, who always felt intimidated by Stein’s hugeness, never published anything while Stein was alive. When Toklas was 75 and battling hepatitis, she wrote a cookbook. It had been a lifelong ambition.

Here, in full, is Toklas’ recipe for “hachich fudge”:

This is the food of Paradise – of Baudelaire’s Artificial Paradises:  It might provide entertaining refreshment for a Ladies Bridge Club or a chapter meeting of the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution).  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 an ‘un évanouissment reveillé’.

Take 1 teaspoon black peppercorns, 1 whole nutmeg, 4 average sticks of cinnamon, 1 teaspoon coriander.  These should all be pulverized in a mortar.  About a handful each of de-stoned dates, dried figs, shelled almonds and peanuts:  chop these and mix them together. A bunch of cannabis sativa can be pulverized.  This along with the spices should be dusted over the mixed fruit and nuts, kneaded together. About a cup of sugar dissolved in a big pat of 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.  Two pieces are quite sufficient.

Obtaining the cannabis may present certain difficulties, but the variety known as cannabis sativa grows as a common weed, often unrecognized, everyone in Europe, Asia and parts of Africa; besides being cultivated as a crop for the manufacture of rope.  In the Americas, while often discouraged, its cousin, called cannabis indica, has been observed even in city window boxes.  It should be picked and dried as soon as it has gone to seed and while the plant is still green.

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One comment

  1. Kathleen Brown · · Reply

    I love the photo!! Great article.

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