April 30

Alice B. Toklas' Birthday

The relationship between Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas provided the opening dialogue in a M*A*S*H* episode in which Hawkeye's concise assessment of the couple was "They wrote together, they traveled together, am gave each other German haircuts." 

Alice Babette Toklas was born in San Francisco, California into a middle-class Jewish family. After moving to Paris in 1907,she met Stein met  in 1907 and soon became life partners.
Gertrude and Alice hosted a salon in Paris that attracted expatriate American writers, avant-garde painters, and famous photographers. Alice was always living in Gertrude's shadow until Stein published her memoirs in 1933 under the title The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas.

It was Alice's inclusion of her friend Brion Gysin's recipe for "Haschich Fudge" in her memoir/cookbook, The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook, that brought her international fame.  This recipe was later  modified into a cannabis brownie recipe that captured the imagination of thousands of glassy-eyed amateur bakers and became known as Alice B. Toklas brownies. The term "toke" (referring to taking a hit of marijuana) is accredited to Toklas' name.

A shallow testament to her drug culture fame was provided by the 1968 Peter Sellers  film,  I Love You, Alice B. Toklas.  There however, an interesting 1996 biographical film, Gertrude Stein and a Companion, with Marian Seldes as Alice. More memorable is the reference to Toklas and Stein in both the stage and film versions of Mame. In a lyric of the song  Bosom Buddies, Vera Charles declares: "But sweetie, I'll always be Alice Toklas if you'll be Gertrude Stein."

Alice B Toklas by Carl VanVechten-1949

Gertrude preferred writing and engaging her coterie of writer, artists, and other friends in spirited discussions. Alice preferred to stay in the background and served as her cook, secretary, muse, editor, critic, and general organizer. They both loved traveling and good food. Alice began collecting recipes primarily from provincial French restaurants that eventually were included in The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook which was one of the best selling cookbooks of the 1950's and has never gone out of print, due in part for her hashish fudge recipe.

It was an unusual book at the time, combining  remembrances of her travels with Gertrude and the recipes from many of the restaurants at which they ate. One of Alice's and Gertrude's favorite restaurants was the Hotel Bourgeois near Belley, France. Alice became a close friend of the chef, Madame Marie Bourgeois, who was twice decorated as the best chef in France. It was from Madame Bourgeois that Alice learned so much about French cooking and it was her recipes that became the foundation for Alice's popular memoir/cookbook.

Here is an example of Alice's evocative introduction to her recipe for Morilles a la creme:

  "We were seduced at once by the little town, the hotel and the forest. We not only ordered lunch but engaged rooms to spend the night. While waiting for lunch to be cooked, we walked in the forest where Gertrude Stein, who had a good nose for mushrooms, found quantities of them. A cook would be able to tell us if they were edible. once more a woman was present  in the kitchen. She smiled when she saw what Gertrude Stein brought for her inspection and pointed to a large basket of them on the kitchen table, but said she would use those Gertrude Stein had found. for what she was preparing for our lunch"  

Thee following recipe is an adaptation of Alice's recipe, since it is a very popular provincial French dish which is prepared differently by every French cook. Alice's recipe calls for morels which are mushrooms with convoluted spongy caps resembling a honeycomb. Morels range in color including black (Morchella angusticeps), yellow (Morchella esculenta), and white (Morchella deliciosa), and in size from two to five inches, although the giant yellow morel called  can grow up to twelve inches. Black morels are considered to be the most delicious of the mushrooms and in Scandinavian countries, they are known as "the truffles of the north".
Morels are generally considered to be the most delicious of all mushrooms, but are often difficult to obtain fresh because of their short harvesting period beginning at the and of April and lasting only through the early May, depending on the species, and variables such as air temperature, ground temperature and rain levels. Some species last for only a few days while others may last about two weeks. Morels are usually found growing in warm, moist places near dying or dead elm trees, as well as near sycamore, birch, and other hardwood trees, and occasionally in old apple orchards  Dried morels are available in specialty food shops.

                                   Yellow Morels


Morilles à la Crème
(Morels in Creme)


Special Equipment:
1 10" flan pan

1 recipe for a 10' basic pastry *
lb fresh morels (If using dried morels, use 1/2 lb
    and soak them in sherry for 1/2 hour)
3 TB fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup chopped leeks (whites only)
3 TB butter
3 TB sherry (omit if using reconstituted morels
   soaked  in sherry)

salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
3 cups Morney sauce *

* See Appendix A

  1. Preheat oven to 350º F.
  2. Line flan pan with pastry. Lightly prick dough. Do not pierce through dough or Morney sauce will leak through crust. Fill crust with beans or rice and cook for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and remove beans or rice.
  3. Melt butter in skillet. Lightly cook leeks until softened. Add morels, lemon juice, am sherry am cook for 6 minutes. Add salt & pepper to taste. Remove skillet and set aside.
  4. Layer morel mixture in flan. Set pan on oven shelf. Pour in Morney sauce. Slide flan into oven and bake for 15 to 20 minutes until set. Do not let filling brown. Remove from oven and cool for 20 minutes before cutting am serving


© 2010 Gordon Nary