Aromas and Flavors of Past and Present - a Book of Exquisite Cooking
By Alice B. Toklas


Alice B. Toklas lived in the shadow of her lover, Gertrude Stein, but she was a fascinating person in her own right. She reveals a lot about herself and her life with Stein in Paris in her most famous book, The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook, where she writes, among other things, about their never-ending parade of servants and their foibles; houses in which they lived; their cars (one was named Lady Godiva, because it was bare - it had no accessories); their art collection; and the culinary preferences of friends such as Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. Surprisingly, its recipes - or at least the ones I've tried - work, although I've yet to test the famous "haschich fudge", of which cannabis is an ingredient.

Sadly, Aromas and Flavors lacks the charming anecdotes that made The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook such a classic, and, in fact, there's very little of her "voice". Many of the recipes have introductions, but whether they are by Toklas or her editor, Poppy Cannon, is not always clear. (Some, however, are obvious: consider, for example, the suggestion of using canned or dehydrated onion soup to make Toklas' classic recipe of onions cooked with beef bouillon.)

Still, the recipes are tempting. We tend to think of chef Joel Robuchon as the creator of supremely lavish, heavily buttered mashed potatoes, but Toklas' recipe for "extravagant mashed potatoes" came first, and uses a pound (450 grams) of butter for four potatoes. Not all the recipes are as fattening (although few could be considered dietetic), and highlights include stuffed breast of veal; venison chops with juniper berries; stuffed duck; roast chicken with olives; potatoes primavera; iced peaches a la Grecque (with the suggestion, presumably Cannon's, of substituting canned peaches for Toklas' fresh fruit); "a splendid avocado sherbet"; and puff pastry.