Brion Gysin became friends with Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas in the 1930’s when he was living in Paris, painting and hanging around with Picasso, Man Ray, Max Ernst and others. He later moved to Morocco and opened a restaurant. That only lasted a few years. He returned to Paris and stayed at the Beat Hotel in 1958 with his friend William S. Burroughs. He developed a “cut up technique” where he would take a poem and cut it apart and then tape it back together. The permutation poem is made up of single phrases with the words rearranged in different order. He worked with words, music, sound and photography.
One of his great claims to fame, however, came out in Alice B. Toklas’ cookbook originally published in 1954:
(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 St. Theresa did, you can do better if you can bear to be ravished by ‘un evanouissement reveille.’
Take 1 teaspoon black peppercorns, 1 whole nutmeg, 4 average sticks of cinnamon, 1 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 canibus 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.
Obtaining the canibus may present certain difficulties, but the variety known as canibus sativa grows as a common weed often unrecognized, everywhere in Europe, Asia and parts of Africa; besides being cultivated as a crop for the manufacture of rope. In the Americas, while often discouraged, its cousin, called canibus indica, has been observed even in city window boxes. It should be picked and dried as soon as it has gone to seed, and while the plant is still green.
Alice B. Toklas was later linked with marijuana brownies and they were sometimes called Alice B. Toklas brownies. It is funny she became almost synonymous with marijuana brownies because most likely she never even made this recipe or tried any marijuana. It created quite a sensation when it first came out and the publisher was briefly worried that it might cause them some legal problems but there was nothing to worry about. The book has never been out of print.
The cookbook was written after Gertrude Stein’s death and was meant to be part autobiography. It is full of anecdotes about Alice’s life along with classic French recipes. In one review the book was referred to as the precursor of Julia Child’s The Art of French Cooking. It is interesting reading but I find her recipes to be a little vague.
Potatoes Smothered in Butter
from The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook
Peel 2 lbs. medium-sized potatoes, cut in eight pieces. In a saucepan over medium heat put 3/4 cup butter. When the butter has melted, put the potatoes into the saucepan and cover. Stir with wooden spoon from time to time. Reduce heat after 1/4 hour. If the butter is too reduced add more. (This will depend on the kind of potatoes used.) Increase heat to medium, then to high. The potatoes should be browned and crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. Salt (no pepper) and serve very hot.