Cook this Thanksgiving like Alice B. Toklas: Recipes from the Beinecke Library
Irene Rich, a leading lady at the dawn of Hollywood’s Golden Age, was one of the few movie stars to make a successful transition from silent film to “talkies.” She also made a delicious turkey dressing.
“Miss Rich never knew that she could cook until she concocted this stuffing,” explains the text, rather improbably, underneath a photo of the actress holding an enormous roasted turkey on a platter. “It proved to be so delicious that all her friends are asking for the recipe.”
Rich shared her recipe — a standard turkey stuffing with Italian sausage, onions, and celery — in “Favorite Recipes of the Movie Stars,” a magazine published in 1931 featuring dishes from Gary Cooper, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., and dozens of other actors, like Rich, whose stars have faded somewhat over the past 85 years.
The magazine is housed at Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, which counts cookbooks from the Middle Ages through the 20th-century among its collection. A small portion of the cookbooks features recipes from famous actors, authors, and artists. Anyone on the hunt for offbeat dishes for Thanksgiving dinner could do worse than to page through these quirky culinary artifacts.
“Please don’t thank me, thank Alice B. Toklas,” one could explain to guests who have just enjoyed “Potatoes Crainquebille” from the “The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book” — several editions of which are held at the library.
The famous expatriate and close companion of Gertrude Stein offers several French-inspired possibilities for an American Thanksgiving spread, including “Young Turkey with Truffles,” “Green Peas a la Good Wife,” and “Mashed Potatoes Luxembourgeiose,” a dish whose recipe is only slightly longer than its name:
“Mash potatoes in butter, and red wine instead of milk.”
Poet Don Blanding offered a recipe for “Turkey at a Vagabond’s House” — named after his best known work — in “Famous Recipes by Famous People,” a cookbook published in 1940 that featured dishes from luminaries such as Walt Disney, John Steinbeck, and Upton Sinclair.
Blanding’s is perhaps the only Thanksgiving-appropriate recipe within the slender volume, which nonetheless contains several amusing gems.
FBI director J. Edgar Hoover contributed a recipe for “G-Man Turtle Soup,” which one imagines provided him a warm and soothing repast after a tiring days of overseeing domestic surveillance operations.
“The favored provender of the Roosevelt family at Sunday night suppers is scrambled eggs,” explained “Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt,” who, in all fairness, probably had no time for lavish Sunday meals.
Some of the famous offered no recipes whatsoever.
“Sorry, I couldn’t cook a potato,” explained novelist and playwright Thornton Wilder B.A. 1920, whose papers reside at the Beinecke.
“Now if it was a cocktail recipe it might be different,” lamented Nobel Prize-winning author Sinclair Lewis, who endured a long struggle with alcoholism. “But I really do not think I have any favorite dish, much though I would like to include one.”
Hosts looking to confound and enrage their Thanksgiving guests might consider a “Dadaist” dinner recipe from the “The Artists’ and Writers’ Cookbook” offered by photographer and artist Man Ray: “Gather wooden darning eggs, one per person. If the variety without handles cannot be found, remove the handles. Pierce lengthwise so that skewers can be inserted in each darning egg. Lay the skewered eggs in an oblong or oval pan and cover with transparent cellophane.”
At dessert time, those going for a mellow and pleasant Thanksgiving feast — and who reside in states where such things are currently legal — should consult Toklas’ recipe for “Haschich Fudge.”
“It might provide an entertaining refreshment for a Ladies’ Bridge Club or a chapter meeting of the DAR,” Toklas wrote, going on to describe the “brilliant storms of laughter and “ecstatic reveries” the dish is sure to incite.
Once the dishes are cleared and the guests have gone home, a tired host should consult “John Keats’s Porridge: Favorite Recipes of American Poets” for this timeless classic from poet and novelist Robert Penn Warren, whose papers are housed at the Beinecke:
2oz. Jack Daniels Black Label
4 oz. non-chlorinated water
2 cubes of ice
½ hour in which to meditate on the goodness of God