The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book
by Alice B. Toklas
Harper Perennial, August 2010
Paperback 320 pp., ISBN: 978-0061995361
The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book finds new life in a paperback edition released this year by Harper Perennial, fifty-six years after its original publication. Far from seeming outdated or tired, this fusion of refreshment and remembrance is as lively and amusing as ever. Toklas's personable style and relatively arbitrary selection of recipes may not satisfy all of her modern readers, but the Cook Book is sure to satiate those of us who crave stories as much as we do a delicious meal.
Chapter headings such as "The French Tradition," "Murder in the Kitchen," and "Food in Bugey During the Occupation" indicate that the Cook Book is more than a mere compilation of recipes; Toklas intersperses recipes among anecdotes of her travels through the French countryside with her partner, Gertrude Stein. For example, readers learn how to cook "Duck with Orange Sauce," but only after first learning how Toklas's pet duck, Blanchette, came to be served in orange sauce for dinner one night after being chased by a neighbor's dog and then put out of its misery by the cook. And before getting to the recipes a few chapters later in "Food in the United States in 1934 and 1935," Toklas writes about Gertrude Stein's reluctance to visit the United States given the poor reputation of American food. Stein was finally persuaded to visit the U.S. only after an American friend mailed a menu from the restaurant of one of the hotels where Toklas and Stein would be staying: "The variety of dishes was a pleasant surprise even if the tinned vegetable cocktails and fruit salads occupied a preponderant position." Alas.
Readers may at times find themselves reading more for Toklas's accounts of country life and Parisian parties than for her recipes—some of which require inordinate amounts of time to prepare (see "Clear Turtle Soup" on page 126, which has a preparation time of four days) and ingredients that may be hard to come by (unless a local butcher carries boar, pigeon, and frog legs). That said, there are plenty of less complicated yet still tantalizing recipes such as Gazpacho of Segovia, Chicken Montsouris, and Toklas's much-sought-after Haschich Fudge, "which anyone could whip up on a rainy day."
This Cook Book is the result of Toklas's years of culinary and life experience, cooking her way through several decades of parties for friends and artists, serving up braised grousse and brioche from recipes gathered from all over France and the United States during the first half of the twentieth century. With this paperback reprint, Alice B. Toklas reminds readers why we find the old French lifestyle so charming—and its cuisine so desirable.December 19, 2010