Alice B Toklas, partner of author Gertrude Stein, was mostly fame-adjacent. She would find a sort of prominence as the lens through which Stein wrote in the book The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas. The two held weekly salons at their home in Paris that became cultural touchstones in the years leading up to World War II and, in general, supported Modernist and abstract arts in their early days.
Toklas would gain a sort of second wind after Stein's death in 1946. In 1954, Toklas wrote her own version of the events of Stein's Autobiography with The Alice B Toklas Cookbook, an odd blend of memoir and recipes. It's an engrossing read. Full recipes are woven seamlessly into the lives of Toklas, Stein and their inner circle. There's even a fascinating dinner party involving Pablo Picasso.
The cookbook has a reputation for being eccentric. The recipes are notoriously difficult—they feature expensive, hard-to-find ingredients and instructions like rotating a full pig on a spit continuously for 24 hours. But hidden in the back of the book is a recipe given to Toklas by artist Brion Gysin that garnered both attention and controversy—so much so that it was deleted from the US edition of the book. How does a 77-year-old woman garner controversy with a recipe? Well ... here it is:
Take one teaspoon black peppercorns, one whole nutmeg, four average sticks of cinnamon, one teaspoon coriander. These should all be pulverized in a mortar. About a handful each of stoned dates, dried figs, shelled almonds and peanuts: chop these and mix them together. A bunch of Canabis [sic] sativa can be pulverized. This along with the spices should be dusted over the mixed fruit and nuts, kneaded together. About a cup of sugar dissolved in a big pat of butter. Rolled into a cake and cut into pieces or made into balls about the size of a walnut, it should be eaten with care. Two pieces are quite sufficient.
This is hashish fudge; the classic recipe led to Toklas being associated with the counterculture of the '60s and even being invited to cooking parties and book readings where she would read the text of her recipe. It also ended up in the 1968 Peter Sellers movie I Love You, Alice B Toklas, about a businessman being tempted by pot and hippies. Somewhere the recipe would become brownies instead of fudge, and history would do the rest.
This is the origin of edibles in the modern sense. To a lesser degree Toklas' last name has also become associated with pot smoking in general. The word "toke" has its origins in the Spanish word "tocar," but the resemblance in the name and the word reinforced each other.
You might have noticed the recipe is hardly easy to follow. And that it is not “fudge.” There are no measurements or times included, and it’s vague how these things become “fudge.” I’m guessing she used the word to indicate that you caramelize the sugar and butter because these treats resemble the classic Turkish candy majoun more than anything. I decided to attempt it anyway (without marijuana—it’s illegal outside of the state’s Medical Cannabis Program). Here is my version:
- ¾ cup peanuts
- ¾ cup almonds
- 1 tsp. black pepper
- 1 tsp. coriander
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- 1 tsp. nutmeg
- 1 cup dried Turkish figs
- 1 cup dried dates
- 1 cup sugar
- 4 oz. butter
- (If you live in Colorado or have a green card ... it needs to be ground up)
In a food processor, chop up the peanuts and almonds. You want these fine, not pulverized. Add in the pepper, coriander, cinnamon and nutmeg (and perhaps the cannabis). Mix this up well.
Finely chop the figs and dates. Mix these into the nuts. You can use a food processor or knead with your hands. You want the fruit to break down a bit.
Heat the sugar in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Stir constantly so it does not burn. It will clump then melt into a thick brown/amber-colored liquid. Keep stirring. Add the butter, it will spit and get angry so be careful. Stir 2-3 minutes until the butter is melted. Allow the mixture to boil for 1 minute, it's going to rise in the pan.
Remove from heat add the nut and fruit mixture. Stir vigorously. It's going to thicken fast. Lay out some parchment and use a metal spoon to form balls the size of large marbles. The mixture will be quite hot. You should end up with a few dozen.
Assuming it went well, you'll have something that resembles a nut cluster or date ball. They taste like granola and are a great treat. Alice's notes say that one or two are more than enough. Depending on your optional ingredient choices, this is definitely true.