Of the many landmark events that have happened in this country during my lifetime—the digital revolution, the election of a black man as our Chief Executive, the legalization of same-sex unions—the one event that I thought would happen before any of these, the end of this country’s flawed and to quote Bernie Sanders’ “absurd” so-called “War on Drugs”, has yet to come about. Sure, the tide is changing, and these draconian laws seem as doomed as those resulting from the enactment of the Eighteenth Amendment in 1920 (repealed by the Twenty-First Amendment in 1933, except in Mississippi, which did not repeal Prohibition until 1966), but the vast majority in this country still live under the same Pharisaic dictates.
In most other parts of the world cannabis is regarded as a harmless intoxicant at worst, more benignly as an herbal remedy for a wide variety of disorders including glaucoma and Alzheimer’s. Cannabis has long been held in high regard for its properties in North Africa where poet and artist Brion Gysin ran a restaurant, in Tangier, in the mid-1950s. Gysin later moved to Paris, where he lived in a flophouse on the rue Gît-le-Coeur that later became famous as the Beat Hotel, where he met budding novelist William Burroughs. Gysin’s “cut-up technique” a Dadaesque device in which text is cut up and arranged to create new text, deeply influenced Burroughs, who incorporated the technique to great effect in his novel Naked Lunch. (Eudora Welty was to later use a similar method with more disciplined results.)
Doubtless it was in Paris that Gysin met Alice B(abette) Toklas, the celebrated companion of American writer Gertrude Stein, whose own avant-garde techniques had profoundly influenced another American novelist, Ernest Hemingway, a generation earlier. Gysin gave Toklas his recipe for haschich (sic) fudge, which she reproduced in her culinary classic, now entitled The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook (Alice just called it Cook Book) in 1954. Such was the nature of American Puritanism towards cannabis then that publishers in this country omitted the haschich recipe from their editions, but it was included in the second American, published in 1960, and was one element in not only promoting usage of cannabis in the growing youthful counter-culture, but also as a stimulus to the gay rights movement (The Alice B. Toklas Memorial Democratic Club of San Francisco was the first registered Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Democratic Club in the nation, forming in 1971, only two years after the Stonewall riots in the infancy of the LGBT civil rights struggle.) Here is Alice’s recipe from the 1984 edition, which has an erudite introduction from the incomparable M.F.K. Fisher.
(which anyone could whip upon a rainy day)
This is the food of Paradise—of Baudelaire’s Artificial Paradises; it might provide 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 unévanouissement revelle’.
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 cannabis 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 cannabis may present certain difficulties, but the variety known as cannabis 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 cannabis 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.