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.
Woven within chapters such as "Dishes for Artists," "Food in French Homes," and "The Vegetable Gardens at Biligin," the 300 recipes run the gamut from hors d'oeuvres and salads to breads, entrées, drinks, and sweets. Original (and sometimes whimsical) dishes like Stuffed Artichokes Stravinsky, Gigot de la Clinque, and Bavarian Cream Perfect Love appear among more traditional offerings, such as Boeuf Bourguignon, Chicken à l'Estargon, and Green Peas à la Goodwife. Many of the recipes (which are written in abbreviated-narrative style) will be attempted only by adventurous cooks with time (and, in some cases, money) to spare. The rest of us will enjoy reading the recipes, the droll reminiscences, and the fantasizing about a time when the dishes' creation could be relatively commonplace. The tour of this era and its food, by one of literature's great cook-writers, is obligatory reading. --Arthur Boehm