5.26.2012

When a Brownie is Not a Brownie

Okay, I need to tell you upfront that there is no brownie recipe at the end of this post. There is, however, a recipe for chocolate mousse. Confused? Keep reading...

When I was in high school in the early 70s (yes, I am that old!), there were common references to 'Alice B. Toklas Brownies.' Being fairly naïve, I didn't learn until I was in college that this referred to brownies laced with marijuana. I had no idea who Alice B. Toklas was, or why she was famous for these brownies. Some hippie, I assumed. As I neared my senior year in college, I discovered the poetry and writings of Gertrude Stein; my college opera department put on Four Saints in Three Acts with music by Virgil Thompson and the libretto by Gertrude Stein. It was a pivotal moment for me in my love of 20th century opera. I still didn't know who Alice was.

Flash forward several years when I was principal bassist with the Albany Symphony Orchestra. I came to know a patron of the orchestra and we became close friends over the years. Bunny opened my eyes to many wonders in life, and continues to do so to this day. Once, at her home on the Hudson River, she served a chocolate mousse from the Alice B. Toklas Cook Book. "Who was Alice?" I asked - finally I could find out. Bunny told me about her and Gertrude Stein, and how they were life-long partners, and that Alice had written the cookbook, and that Gertrude had written Alice's autobiography! What about the brownies?

She went on to tell me that, in some versions of the book (including hers), the original recipe for the 'Alice B. Toklas Brownies' is printed. "But," she said, "they aren't actually brownies, it is a recipe for Haschich Fudge." Knowing my love for chocolate, she warned, "Don't get too excited, though, I don't think there is any chocolate in them either!" Thus the title for this post - the brownies that never were brownies! It turns out that they are fruit and nut balls spiced with cinnamon, coriander, black pepper, nutmeg, sugar and - of course - cannabis, held together with a pat of butter.

In a time before Amazon, I started my search for an old copy of the Alice B. Toklas Cook Book through the Bryn Mawr Bookstore - a used book shop. They were able to track down a first American edition for me dated 1954; tucked inside the front cover was a copy of Alice's obituary from 1967. I was sure the book would have the much talked about recipe, but it didn't. Happily, Bunny photocopied hers and I have inserted it where it belongs in my book, right after the chocolate mousse recipe that she made that evening.

I discovered years later that the British edition has the recipe and that the editors caught on before issuing the American edition. When confronted about the recipe, Alice simply said that all the recipes in her book were given by friends and not all were tested... Thus, she had NO idea about the haschich fudge recipe. Seriously? Me thinks the lady doth protest too much! Still, who cares? It's a fun story. And the introduction to the recipe is priceless:
Haschich Fudge
(which anyone could whip up on a rainy day)
This is the food of Paradise - of Baudelaire's Artificial Paradises:
it might provide an entertaining refreshment for a Ladies' Bridge
Club or a chapter meeting of the DAR.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 'un évanouissement reveillé.'

The chapter in which Alice entertains Picasso, Matisse and Picabo
Lately there has been a lot of buzz about Alice and Gertrude. The film Midnight in Paris features several scenes with Gertrude, and only one where you see a subservient Alice answering the door at their 27 Rue de Fleurus home. The film, although fiction, shows a lot of truths. It lets us know with whom Alice and Gertrude spent their time, it shows a very accurate recreation of their salon with its paintings by Matisse and Picasso, and it portrays a world of genius. Is there an equivalent today?

Much more important to the story, there is an exhibit of Gertrude and Leo Stein's (sister and brother) collected art currently on exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City through June 3 - The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso and the Parisian Avant-Garde. Sadly, I will not get to see it except through the eyes of my friends and family who have seen it. You can, too, by going to The Modern Trobadors website, in which Susan talks about her visit to the exhibit.

Sir Francis Rose's charming endpapers from the book.
I highly recommend reading Alice's cookbook. It is much more than recipes. It is a peek into history - into an era of great interest as they describe their lives, their dinners, their guests and their vie quotidienne. It is filled with stories of their adventures during World War II, and has charming pen and ink illustrations by Sir Francis Rose.

The chocolate mousse recipe - called Very Good Chocolate Mousse - is a recipe from Madame Delteil, wife of author Joseph Delteil. It is certainly the simplest of mousse recipes I have made and is best when made with the highest-quality sweet chocolate. In my early days that meant Nestlé morsels, but now I use Belgian, Swiss or Italian chocolate (54% cacao). There are many more rich and complicated versions of chocolate mousse but there is a lightness and spongy quality to this that I like very much.

Sterling Tiffany zarfs with gold aurene Steuben inserts. My favorite consomme bowls!
And I like that I am 'making history.'

~ David

Very Good Chocolate Mousse

1/2 pound sweet chocolate
6 eggs
3 tablespoons water


Grate the chocolate and melt in a frying pan with 3 tablespoons water over very low heat (I broke the chocolate into pieces and used a double boiler). Add the yolks of the eggs previously stirred and mix well. Remove from heat and add the whites of eggs beaten stiff. Put into the serving bowl and into the refrigerator overnight. Always liked. Rather sponge-like.

Madame Joseph Delteil
Grabels (France, just northwest of Montpellier)

Serves 6

David's Notes:
• For easy serving,  I often divide the mousse into 6 goblets or bowls before chilling. Cover them to avoid them forming a skin.
• Don't use bittersweet chocolate - only the bitter comes through! A combination of milk and semi-sweet works well. One can also use German's Sweet Chocolate for perfectly good results.
•A dollop of whipped cream is always nice....
• When holiday time comes around again, I may try making the haschich fudge, hold the haschich! I am wondering if they are akin to 'sugar plums.'

14 comments:

  1. What an interesting read David. I have never heard of Alice Toklas before. Thanks for the introduction.
    Haschich fudge... interesting. I'm sure that can be made easily here ;)

    Thanks for the mousse recipe. One can never have too many chocolate mousse recipes, right?

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  2. MAgda - I highly receommend the book - the stories they tell are quiet amazing. I really wish I could have known them!

    I will definitely try the fudge sooner than later - probably without the special added ingredient! The flavors sounds so exotic and wonderful.

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  3. I LOVE this post David! And since I live in NYC (and am a member of the Met) will definitely venture northward from Chelsea and see the exhibit before it ends next week. I also really loved the movie Midnight in Paris and Kathy Bates' version of Gertrude Stein. Here's my Gertrude Stein story: Many (many) years ago I was in Bryant Park Cafe for a friend of a friend's 30th birthday party (see, it WAS many many years ago). The friend who invited me and I decided to take a break from the festivities to 'partake' of a certain type of cigarette she had in her purse. Wondering just were 2 well-dressed gals could do so discretely, we wandered a bit into the park's darkness until we found a spot behind a stature. As my friend pulled out her lighter, we both turned around to see who's immortal being we were about to smoke behind....it was a stature of Gertrude Stein! Needless to say, we both agreed that this MUST be the 'official' smoking of a certain substance section of the park!

    Here's to Gertrude and Alice, and Chocolate Mousse!

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  4. So much interesting things to learn through this post. Nowadays life is too fast and many talents fake for a gathering place to exist with artists like those.
    A chocolate mousse with water and no sugar is an interesting recipe! And the plain instructions are priceless. Love that kind of old recipes.

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  5. Hi David,

    This is one of my favorite posts of yours--and not just because we co-posted (although that always makes the process so much fun!). I always love reading about your personal experiences with your recipes. I will definitely make the mousse!

    To Karin above, Definitely head up down to see the exhibit and let us know what you think.

    I just added some new photos to my post about the Stein exhibit, including a painting by artist Monte Dolack who, with his wife, has traveled throughout France in the footsteps of these artists.

    To the Steins!

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  6. David this post made me so happy! I am most definitely going to try to get my hands on a copy of Alice's book. A fantastic post (I have read it 3 times now)! :)

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  7. Karin - thanks for your GS/ABT story! Must see the statue next time I am in town... And, I want your thoughts after you see the exhibit!

    Paula - I think you are right about the pace of life keeping us from having those kinds of communities. Sad, isn't it? Maybe your café can be a gathering place in BA!? - The mousse is very tasty and light - I think you will like it!

    Susan - thank you! It was a really fun post to write and I loved co-posting with you. I just so wish I could see the exhibit! I will go back and look at the new photos.

    Anna - I am glad this post made you so happy! The book is available now in reprint on Amazon.com from 1984 in paperback WITH the "special" recipe included!

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  8. what a treasure of a post David!

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  9. Thanks, Anh! It was a fun one to write!

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  10. Hi David, I nominated you for a storytelling award. Check it out in my page!

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  11. Dear  ,

    they are right looking for the historic truth about Gertrude Stein in this however wonderfull exhibition,"The Steins Collect;Matisse,Picasso,Cezanne and the Parisian Avant Garde" in NewYork at the Metropolitan Museum of Art .

    What a pleasure to see the portrait of Gertrude Stein by Riba-Rovira .

    Who was as Picasso an antifascist and antinazi artist .Persecuted by Franco and the Nazis .And is in this exhibition ,thanks to Rebecca Rabinow and Edward Burns, perhaps the only one artist would fought them weapons in his hands .
    Whose father was in jail after the spanish civil war .

    So Riba-Rovira is beside Tchelitchew and Balthus and Francis Rose near Picabia and Picasso in the last room of this exhibition with Cézanne, Matisse .

    You have an interesting article in Appollo London Revew about him .And also in Artes Magazine from San Francisco where the exhibition was before .

    The main document as a revelation is in the mention beside the picture with the Preface Gertrude Stein wrote for first Riba-Rovira's exhibition in the Galerie Roquepine in Paris on 1945 .

    Where we can read Gertrude Stein writing Riba-Rovira "will go farther than Cezanne...will succeed in where Picasso failed...I am fascinated " by Riba-Rovira Gertrude Stein tells us .

    And you are you also fascinated indeed as Gertrude Stein by Riba-Rovira ?
    Me I am when I see « L’Arlequin » on the free access website of « Galeria Muro ».

    Gertrude Stein spoke in this same document not only Picasso and Cezanne but also Matisse and  Juan Gris .
    Riba-Rovira went each week in Gertrude Stein's saloon rue Christine with Masson, Hemingway and others. By Edward Burns and Carl Van Vechten we can know Riba-Rovira did others portraits of Gertrude Stein .

    But we do not know where they are ;and you do you know perhaps ?

    With this portrait we do not forget it is the last time Gertrude Stein sat for an artist who is Riba-Rovira .
    This exhibition presents us a world success with this last painting portrait before she died .And her last Gertrude Stein's Art Retrospective before dead .

    It illuminates the tone as an esthetic light over that exhibition now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York thanks to Curator Rebecca Rabinow .
    Coming from San Francisco "Seeing five stories" in the Jewish museum to Washington in National Portrait Gallery .And now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York for our pleasure .

    And the must is to see for the first time in the same place portraits by Picasso, Picabia, Riba-Rovira, Rose ,Tall-Coat, Valloton .Never before it was .

    You have the translate of Gertrude Stein's Riba-Rovira Preface on english Gertrude Stein's page on Wikipedia and in the catalog of this Roquepine exhibition you can see in first place the mention of this portrait .And also other pictures Gertrude Stein bought to Riba-Rovira .
    There is another place where you can see now Riba-Rovira's works in an exhibition in Valencia in Spain "Homenage a Gertrude Stein" by Riba-Rovira in Galeria Muro ,if you like art ...

    We do not missed today that all over Europe a very bad wind is blowing again bringing the worth in front of us .And we must know that at least were two antinazis and antifascists in this exhibition but the only one fighting weapons in hands would be Riba-Rovira who did one of the first three « affiches » supporting Republicans in the beguining Spanish civil war .

    Seeing Potrait of Gertrude Stein by Riba-Rovira in the Metropolitain Museum of New York with Picasso ,Cézanne ,Matisse we feel a recreation of spirit .

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  12. With the current controversy about Gertrude Stein and after the Edward Burns's answer it is interesting to Know one of the last Gertrude Stein's vew before dying when she speaks about art it is also politic .

    Stein's preface to the exhibition by Francisco Riba Rovira at Roquepine Gallery in May 1945:
    « It is inevitable that when we really need someone we find him. The person you need attracts you like a magnet. I returned to Paris, after these long years spent in the countryside and I needed a young painter, a young painter who would awaken me. Paris was magnificent, but where was the young painter? I looked everywhere: at my contemporaries and their followers. I walked a lot, I looked everywhere, in all the galleries, but the young painter was not there. Yes, I walk a lot, a lot at the edge of the Seine where we fish, where we paint, where we walk dogs (I am of those who walk their dogs). Not a single young painter!
    One day, on the corner of a street, in one of these small streets in my district, I saw a man painting. I looked at him; at him and at his painting, as I always look at everybody who creates something I have an indefatigable curiosity to look and I was moved. Yes, a young painter!
    We began to speak, because we speak easily, as easily as in country roads, in the small streets of the district. His story was the sad story of the young people of our time. A young Spaniard who studied in fine arts in Barcelona: civil war; exile; a concentration camp; escape. Gestapo, another prison, another escape... Eight lost years! If they were lost, who knows? And now a little misery, but all the same the painting. Why did I find that it was him the young painter, why? I visited his drawings, his painting: we speak.
    I explained that for me, all modern painting is based on what Cézanne nearly made, instead of basing itself on what he almost managed to make. When he could not make a thing, he hijacked it and left it. He insisted on showing his incapacity: he spread his lack of success: showing what he could not do, became an obsession for him. People influenced by him were also obsessed by the things which they could not reach and they began the system of camouflage. It was natural to do so, even inevitable: that soon became an art, in peace and in war, and Matisse concealed and insisted at the same time on that Cézanne could not realize, and Picassoconcealed, played and tormented all these things.
    The only one who wanted to insist on this problem, was Juan Gris. He persisted by deepening the things which Cézanne wanted to do, but it was too hard a task for him: it killed him.And now here we are, I find a young painter who does not follow the tendency to play with what Cézanne could not do, but who attacks any right the things which he tried to make, to create the objects which have to exist, for, and in themselves, and not in relation.
    This young painter has his weaknesses and his strengths. His force will push him in this road. I am fascinated and that is why he is the young painter who I needed. He is Francisco Riba Rovira. »
    Gertrude Stein

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  13. Perhaps you have something to tell about when Gertrude Stein tells us on Cezanne, Riba-Rovira, Matisse, Picasso, Juan Gris...

    Because why did she help Riba-Rovira ?

    Was she only fascinated by his art ?

    Was it a politic mistification and manipulation to make on his back a new vitginity for her...
    Because as she tells ,he was persecuted by the nazi .Certainly arrested after "sabotages" in coke working in St Etienne ,if he would not escape from Vannes in a transit camp where the ss wera from Holland he would be send to Mathausen as a red and republican spanish .
    But in all that when we saw in the Met the portrait of Gertrude Stein he did we can read in his way of painting a kind touch of something hieratic ,very straight ,as you must to be after beeing down .
    Running and running more to escape when you not even a diamond to have a glass of water .All his life fighting the faschism as you him with Picasso when they did the book to support coke miners in the Asturies who were on stricke in Spain at the same moment Franco killed Juan Grimao in the sixties ...

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