Alice Babette Toklas was in San Francisco, California into a middle-class Jewish family. She met Gertrude Stein in Paris on September 8, 1907, the day she arrived. Together they hosted a salon that attracted expatriate American writers, such as Ernest Hemingway, Paul Bowles, Thornton Wilder and Sherwood Anderson, and avant-garde painters, including Pablo Picasso, Henry Matisse, and Georges Braque. Acting as Stein’s confidante, lover, cook, secretary, muse, editor, critic, and general organizer, Toklas remained a background figure, chiefly living in the shadow of Stein, until Stein published her memoirs in 1933 under the teasing title The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. It became Stein’s bestselling book. The two were a couple until Gertrude Stein’s death in 1946.
After the death of Gertrude Stein, Toklas published her own literary memoir, a 1954 book that mixed reminiscences and recipes under the title The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook. The most famous recipe therein (actually contributed by her friend Brion Gysin) was called “Haschich Fudge,” a mixture of fruit, nuts, spices, and “canibus [sic] sativa,” or marijuana. Her name was later lent to the range of cannabis concoctions called Alice B. Toklas brownies. Some believe that the slang term toke, meaning to inhale marijuana, is derived from her last name. The cookbook has been translated into numerous languages. A second cookbook followed in 1958 called Aromas and Flavors of Past and Present; however, Toklas did not approve of it as it had been heavily annotated by Poppy Cannon, an editor from House Beautiful magazine. She also wrote articles for several magazines and newspapers including The New Republic and the New York Times.
In 1963 she published her autobiography, What Is Remembered, which abruptly ends with Stein’s death, leaving little doubt that Stein was the love of her lifetime. Her later years were very difficult because of poor health and financial problems, aggravated by the fact that Stein’s heirs took the priceless paintings (some of them Picassos) which Stein had willed to Toklas. Toklas also became a Roman Catholic convert in her old age. She died in poverty at the age of 89, and is buried next to Stein in Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France; Toklas’ name is engraved on the back of Stein’s headstone.