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Middle-burner Modernism: Alice Toklas’s Culinary Aesthetics


In her famous essay on the middlebrow, Virginia Woolf memorably bemoans the “mixture of geniality and sentiment stuck together with a sticky slime of calf’s foot jelly” that is middlebrow writing. Nauseating as it might be, the image speaks to the social function of food as a mediator of classed experiences and aesthetics, as does her follow-up suggestion that her “friends the lowbrows” ought to invite Hamlet to tea.[1] Taking that suggestion perhaps dangerously literally, this essay considers the effects of inviting Alice Toklas—via The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook—to tea, or to any other meal. This is not to say that the “battle of the brows” will be resolved by inviting anyone to tea, but rather that it might be re-imagined. Indeed, Toklas herself takes an invitation to lunch as an occasion to demonstrate the permeability of class categories, comparing the menus of two lunches she was served in the same French home, one “whose food was famous.”[2] The first—a formal nine-course meal with fresh silverware and plates for every course—began, appropriately enough, with a jellied meat that is inarguably highbrow, an “Aspic de Foie Gras,” and continued with equal complexity and extravagance, while the second—a family dinner—opened with the more prosaic “Lentil Soup” and extended over only six courses, all relatively simple. Between courses, the family members “methodically . . . wiped their knives and forks on pieces of bread” (Toklas, Cookbook, 11, 13, 14) For Toklas, as for her readers, these meals are “a revelation of the way life was led in a French family of fashion” and a reminder that behaviors (like menus, and jellied meats) can both reinforce class boundaries and cross them (14). Following Toklas’s example, a literary reassessment of the “battle of the brows” might be accomplished by attending to the ways in which middlebrow writers of the early twentieth century—as well as their “high modernist” counterparts—used the discourse of gustatory taste to negotiate and theorize questions of literary and aesthetic taste. Scholars of the middlebrow are accustomed to thinking of taste as a cultural and institutional force that structures the literary field; food studies offers a reminder that taste is also subjective, bodily, and often surprising. Even calf’s foot jelly is someone’s favorite food.

Gertrude Stein, Fanny Butcher, Bobsy Goodspeed and Alice Toklas. A dinner party in the home of Bobsy Goodspeed, 1934. Photographer unknown.
Fig 1. Gertrude Stein, Fanny Butcher, Bobsy Goodspeed and Alice Toklas. A dinner party in the home of Bobsy Goodspeed, 1934. Photographer unknown.

In this essay, the middlebrow is figured through a surprising spate of foods, most of them meats or sweets. Calf’s foot jelly and Aspic de Foie Gras occupy an indefinable middle space in between: each dish is both the savory meat-studded shape you’re probably imagining right now, and the ancestor of a thousand brightly-colored jiggly desserts. Like the middlebrow, gelatin is initially defined by its edges, firming up in the shape of what surrounds it. Yet the relationship between Jell-O and the middlebrow is more than metaphorical. Food practices and reading practices intersect—especially in middlebrow institutions such as the book club—and become mutually informing modes of consumption. Thinking these two modes together also draws attention to the bodily experience of literary consumption, inflecting the field of middlebrow studies with the theoretical concerns of queer theory, and demonstrating the literary complexity of seemingly straightforward pleasures. Bringing together these fields is a reminder of the importance of framing the middlebrow not simply as what falls “betwixt and between” high modernism and mass culture, but as a field with its own discursive modes and literary forms, including the cookbook (Woolf, “Middlebrow,” 116). To put that more fancifully, a food studies approach to Woolf’s metaphor reminds us to focus on the shape and qualities of the jelly itself, rather than the mold in which it sets.

First published in 1954, and perhaps most famous for its recipe for “Haschich Fudge,” The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook is a curious beast (Toklas, Cookbook, 273). Kyla Wazana Tompkins calls it “perhaps the seminal text in the modern literary history of food culture” and I can’t help but agree.[3] Despite this, it has received relatively little critical attention. Anna Linzie describes it as the “neglected counterpart or intertext” of Gertrude Stein’s “autobiography” of Alice, and attributes this scholarly neglect to a simple category error, wherein “despite the experimental properties of Toklas’s text, it has typically been read and categorized, if at all, simply as a trivial cookbook.”[4] Similarly, historian Katharina Vester notes that it has “received more recognition and attention from cooks than from scholars of modernist literature, autobiography, or queer studies.”[5] What Vester does not say is that it has also been ignored, notably, by historians who study cookbooks, most of whom focus instead on such familiar domestic figures as Fanny Farmer, Betty Crocker, and Irma Rombauer.[6] Too esoteric for one discipline and too trivial for another, Toklas’s Cookbook sits in an uncomfortable middle ground: the middlebrow. Toklas’s cookbook-cum-memoir is rife with both geniality and sentiment, as well as gossipy name-dropping, fond remembrance, and other middlebrow pleasures. Rather than disavowing these middlebrow qualities, Toklas embraces them, framing the book with an admission that “nostalgia for old days and old ways” likely “lent special lustre” to her memory of dishes and menus long past (Cookbook, vii). This is not entirely surprising, in a book that might reasonably be called the first celebrity cookbook.[7] And while Janet Malcolm recalls its ecstatic reception among a group “who had nothing but amused contempt for middlebrow American culture,” even this is not out of keeping with Woolf’s definition: the larger point of her essay, after all, is to demonstrate the absurdity of the so-called “battle of the brows.”[8]

Woolf’s satire is also informative; she draws a clear map of the warring factions. For Woolf, the middlebrow is the middle class; in attempting to describe the “betwixt and between”-ness of the middlebrow, she tells her readers where they live (South Kensington), what kind of furniture they buy (reproduction Queen Anne), and how they dress (perfectly). Academics should also note that the middlebrow are those who “make their money in teaching and in writing books about Shakespeare” (Woolf, “Middlebrow,” 117). Woolf might be tickled to learn that we’ve finally turned that critical eye on ourselves, as it were; enlivened in the decades since Joan Shelley Rubin’s groundbreaking 1992 study The Making of Middlebrow Culture, middlebrow studies has solidified into a field with an established method and object. Because middlebrow texts have been persistently dismissed by the academy, the very existence of the field enacts a challenge to the implicit systems of taste that structure scholarly inquiry. Scholars such as Rubin, Nicola Humble, and Janice Radway have clarified the way the feminization of the middlebrow led to its neglect, while others, including Meredith Goldsmith and Lisa Botshon, have helped the field expand beyond its initial construction as a “principally white and Protestant literary phenomenon.”[9] Yet the slippery question of “quality” persists, reframed as a question of the political. Do middlebrow texts exist largely to sate the masses, or does their apparent simplicity encode, as some scholars have argued, potentially liberatory critiques of dominant culture and aesthetics?[10] Food studies offers another way to reframe these questions, through careful attention to the cultural, institutional, and personal vicissitudes of taste, and the recognition of how taste structures the politics of “quality.”

One early and adamant opponent of the middlebrow, Dwight Macdonald, reanimates the defense of classed aesthetics that Woolf parodies so dryly. For Macdonald, “the special threat of Midcult is that it exploits the discoveries of the avant-garde,” and the most dangerous middlebrow writers are American expatriates and “lapsed avant-gardists who know how to use the modern idiom in the service of the banal.”[11] Though he isn’t talking about Toklas, he couldn’t describe her more succinctly, and his invocation of “the banal” anticipates recent and related trends in modernist criticism: food studies, and an interest in ordinariness, habit, and everyday life. Taking up that connection, one of the primary goals of this essay is to explore the ways in which the aims and methods of middlebrow studies and food studies might meaningfully entwine, and how each field can complement and deepen the other.

Another one of the goals of this essay is to offer a corrective to (and atonement for my own complicity with) literary criticism’s neglect of Toklas, affirming the Cookbook not just as a literary text, but as a theoretical one: Toklas has a lot to teach us about taking food seriously as art, as form, and as a creative materialization of affect. In what follows, I draw on the Cookbook both as a literary and cultural object and as what Eve Sedgwick would call “weak theory,” using it as a springboard for thinking middlebrow studies and food studies together. That this is possible speaks to the breadth of approaches encapsulated in food studies, including historical, sociological, ethnographic, and literary methodologies. For me, food studies must contain what Kyla Wazana Tompkins calls “critical eating studies,” and thus must be as much about the activities of cooking and eating, experiences that index a person’s orientation toward the world, as it is about specific foods and the ways they signify.[12]

Cakes and Muttons, Had and Eaten

Though neither food nor middlebrow culture is inherently feminine, the academic fields dedicated to their study seek to expand the literary canon in ways that are consistent with feminist critiques of that institution and often lead to the inclusion of more women. Specifically, they insist that “good taste” is socially constructed and historically specific. As Carolyn Korsmeyer discusses in Making Sense of Taste, gustatory taste has long been valued below aesthetic taste both because of its association with femininity, and because it poses “the threat of relativism to concepts of value.”[13] As Toklas puts it, taste “is not arguable,” being too personal, and too subjective (Cookbook, 147). Taking gustatory taste—as demonstrably subjective as it is—seriously makes harder to accept the idea that aesthetic categories might be objective; it becomes harder to know what’s good and what’s pap.

Despite this, food metaphors have often been used to naturalize judgments of aesthetic taste; for readers unaccustomed to examining their own gustatory taste, culinary analogies can affirm uncertain judgments. Woolf’s calf’s foot jelly is but one example.[14] Drawing on Pierre Bourdieu’s insights into the relationship between class and taste in Distinction, food studies allows us to both discern and value that subjectivity. Indeed, digging into these metaphors can be a way of literalizing middlebrow scholarship’s interventions and exposing the implicit valuations that ground the gatekeeping metaphor of “taste.” Food metaphors abound in Macdonald’s “Masscult and Midcult,” and the site of their abundance is revealing: if highbrow culture is “an expression of feelings, ideas, tastes, [and] visions,” mass culture is compared to homogenized milk that has somehow lost its cream, and become something that audiences “eat up”, though they “might as well be eating ice-cream sodas” (5). Macdonald, one imagines, would be just as “aghast” as Toklas was when she first discovered a French cook using tinned milk despite living “in a country of excellent fresh milk”; he might be less likely, though, to absorb the lesson of her anecdote, that the tinned milk was essential to “the very best crème renversée we ever ate” (Cookbook, 80). For Macdonald, this would be a dilution of standards, another way in which middlebrow culture “pretends to respect the standards of High Culture while it in fact waters them down” (“Masscult and Midcult,” 35). Middlebrow culture sits in the uneasy space between the abstraction of taste and the materiality of consumption: “Its cakes are forever eaten, forever intact” (49). What’s notable here is both the kinds of food (homogenized, sweetened) Macdonald evokes, and that food is only evoked in reference to mass or middlebrow culture; high culture isn’t consumed. Its cakes, one must presume, exist in a less paradoxical state, even if they do go stale.

Of course, attending to Macdonald’s cakes is not the only way to challenge his dissolution of the link between taste and consumption; Rubin succinctly points out that “the exercise of ‘taste’ always implicated exemplars of character in consumption,” reminding her readers that literature always exists within a market economy (The Making of Middlebrow, 25). But thinking through food enables another kind of swerve, one that insists upon the materiality of cultural consumption: a reminder that pleasure and pap aren’t the same thing. Toklas is explicit about this; because she “consider[s] cooking an art,” she “feel[s] that a way of cooking can produce something that approaches an aesthetic emotion” (Cookbook, 109). A bit further down the page, she asks what seems at first to be a rhetorical question: “If one had the choice of again hearing Pachmann play the two Chopin sonatas or dining again at the Café Anglais, which would one choose?” The next paragraph, a single line, is both an answer and a pivot to the next recipe. It reads, simply, “To return to our muttons” (109). Here, she tells us both what will produce the most joy and how to make that joy—apparently, with quite a lot of onions.  By implying that a well-made mutton is preferable to the virtuosic performance of romantic piano sonatas, Toklas lifts food to the status of art and aligns it with specifically modern or modernist art. These are interventions into systems of taste, but Toklas also reorients her readers toward consumption, suggesting that the pleasure of consumption is both always embodied, and something to value. That she names the pianist Vladimir von Pachmann is likely an artifact of her penchant for name-dropping, but it’s also significant in its specificity, given that Pachmann was famous not just for the way he played Chopin, but for the way he performed Chopin: with his whole body.

The specificity of mutton also signifies. Though rarely eaten today, in the Victorian era, “mutton was the middle-class staple.”[15] Mutton’s class implications persist into the modernist era. They are palpable, for example, in Howards End, where Margaret Schlegel’s sense of the highbrow futility of living life in which “nothing happened except art and literature,” dawns in the face of a middle-class eating room “where saddles of mutton were being trundled up to expectant clergymen.”[16] In the face of this impasse, Toklas offers the possibility of embracing both middlebrow pleasures and art and literature.[17] No longer a threat to rarefied taste, consumption can be understood instead as a way of developing and refining individual taste. This suggests an unexpected kind of refinement, in which what is embraced is not a “higher” standard, but one that is more visceral. Taste, on this model, is both an individual faculty and a historical and cultural contingency (or, as she puts it, is “conditioned by climate, soil, and temperament”), and it is importantly not a disinterested tool for identifying objective aesthetic value (Toklas, Cookbook, vii). Taking gustatory taste seriously forces us to re-evaluate the ways in which literary taste is transmitted, and to think about literary consumption—including middlebrow literary consumption—as a self-aware pedagogy of pleasure. And while most of Toklas’s readers couldn’t choose Pachmann’s performance, mutton was widely available. By comparing mutton to Chopin, Toklas makes evident the ways that consumption can both train our taste for art and teach us which arts we value, and affirms a model of consumption that is distinctly middle-class, happily middlebrow, and, perhaps most importantly, accessible to her readers.

This kind of pedagogical writing has long been considered the realm of the middlebrow; as Lauren Berlant writes, one of the implicit lessons of the middlebrow is that “self-cultivation toward more refined sensibilities does not neutralize the stupidities and irrationalities of attachment.”[18] Though Berlant is talking about love here, she knows—as extended meditations on eating in Cruel Optimism make clear—that attachments to food can be equally intense. Moreover, if one mark of the middlebrow author is that—in another reworking of that old chestnut about cake—she “can have her sex and hate it too,” learning to take pleasure in one’s own taste might shape a less-ambivalent attachment, a way of cultivating the self that remains irrational, but manages not to be stupid (Female Complaint, 224).

Literary Form, Served Two Ways

In addition to reframing the relationship between taste and consumption, bringing middlebrow studies and food studies together offers new ways of thinking about literary form. Firstly, it reminds us to expand our notions of what literary form is, and to consider the role of the cookbook within material and literary culture. As J. Michelle Coghlan puts it, we must consider “cookery books not as a discourse with a kinship to literary forms but rather as embodying a distinctly recognizable literary tradition.[19] As scholars of food history note, the cookbook is often a genre of feminine self-fashioning,  and well as one that, as Susan Leonardi has argued, performatively constructs an imagined community of women cooking together.[20] Recipes and recipe books circulate both alongside fiction and within it, and the two genres work together to provide a vision of everyday life.

Working at the intersection of these two fields reminds us as well to think formally about recipes themselves. Recent scholarship in literary food studies has commented on the likeness between poetic and culinary forms—Erica Fretwell, for example, draws parallels between “recipes and poems, cookbooks and fascicles, ingredients and fragments” that constitute “stylistic taste as a form of sensory subversion,” while Stacie Cassarino notes that “like poems, recipes are forms of innovation and defiance” that develop a sense of meaning through a “turn to the aesthetic.”[21] Turning toward the middlebrow suggests another way of valuing this likeness: one rooted not in subversion, innovation, or defiance, but in the way literary form might emerge from seemingly banal pleasures.

Though the novel-with-recipes is a form that has taken hold of the popular imagination relatively recently, the recipe has a rather more slippery history in the texts and archives of the nineteenth century, the modernist period and, as Toklas’s example demonstrates, in modernism’s middlebrow afterlives.[22] As Tompkins points out, our sense that the recipe is a purely instrumental form emerges largely from the home economics movement, which “sought to rationalize domestic labor by borrowing from science to standardize the recipe form,” and is bolstered by the history of copyright law, which understands a recipe to be a formula, and thus declines to protect it (“Consider the Recipe,” 442). It is also symptomatic of a tendency to understand form—understood as a term reflecting genre, or aesthetics—as “precisely that which distinguishe[s] art objects from everyday life,” a critical orientation that Carolyn Levine describes as “arbitrary and misleading.”[23] Yet even as Levine’s theorization of form as “patterning” (aesthetic, social, political, or even all three) offers a strong corrective to this tendency, she reifies a distinction between the material and the literary. Levine is inarguably correct when she writes that “[o]ne cannot make a poem out of soup,” but Toklas reminds us that one can, on the other hand, make soup out of a poem (Levine, Forms, 9).

The history of the recipe contains plenty of recipes rendered in verse, but what Toklas offers is something subtler: a reminder that the recipe is not just a formula but also an indirect representation of a material object, a way of looking transposed into words.[24] One chapter, called “Beautiful Soup,” opens with a brief tale of trying to find a recipe for gazpacho in Spain, being told that only tourists eat gazpacho, and then being given recipe upon recipe for variation upon variation, both Spanish and otherwise (Toklas, Cookbook, 51). Toklas outlines a theory of how these related soups must have developed through circulation and migration that somehow manages to be simultaneously half-cocked and remarkably plausible. More interesting still is the effect that emerges from bringing together seven recipes for very similar soups.

What the soups have in common is that they are vegetable-based, though not all vegetarian, that they have some salt, some kind of pepper, and some oil—usually olive, often added “drop by drop” (55). What the recipes have in common is that they end with the injunction to “Serve ice-cold” (55). What becomes even more noticeable when you read them all at once is what they don’t have in common, as odd locutions (“[p]ulp of 2 medium-sized tomatoes crushed”) begin to stand out, and the line between ingredients and instructions begins to blur, drawing attention to the logic of the line breaks, which often seems purely aesthetic (55). Reading these recipes as a group—or, more fancifully, as a suite—demonstrates that it is not only cooking that can produce “an aesthetic emotion,” but also the recipe itself. Moreover, if the collation of these recipes does some of the defamiliarizing, aestheticizing work of poetry, it also makes them more practical: Toklas’s recipes are often so elliptical as to be difficult to follow, and putting them side by side offers more resources to the determined cook.

Finally, A Modernist Fish

While recent work in modernist studies has carefully explored the complex aesthetic and cultural relationships between literary modernism and mass culture and challenged the oft-drawn equation between modernism and aesthetic elitism, this scholarship has only begun to help us dismantle the idea of the modernists themselves as snobs, and the sense that coterie culture is inherently exclusive and elitist. There is much to critique about these texts, especially with regard to their attitudes about race, but it is a mistake to dismiss them on the grounds of simple snobbery. Without a robust theory of middlebrow taste, it is too easy to equate Toklas’s embrace of middle-class foodways with a “slightly snobbish standard of cooking,” or to read Woolf’s essay as a sincere “diatribe” that “deride[s] the middlebrow” (Vester, A Taste of Power, 156; Rubin, The Making of Middlebrow, xiv, xiii).[25] I have argued that noticing the ways in which middlebrow forms, like recipes or letters to the editor, as well as middlebrow foods, like mutton or gelatin, are consumed and reproduced within the culture of high(brow) modernism offers one way to resist such readings. It also offers a reminder that modernist coteries were counterpublics, not in the sense that their members rejected the public, but in the sense that they resisted the dominance of a particular idea of the public, choosing instead to embrace ways of life and modes of discourse “that in other contexts would be regarded with hostility or with a sense of indecorousness,” in part for their challenges to highbrow ideals of taste and decorous consumption.[26] If queer taste was synonymous with sophistication in the nineteenth century, as Joseph Litvak argues in Strange Gourmets, modernism’s queer coteries, including both Bloomsbury and Stein and Toklas’s Paris salon, offer a new set of paradigms for taste, both gustatory and literary.

I’ll close with one final example, a fish Toklas cooks for Picasso. The decoration, which she describes at length, evokes the elaborate excesses of mid-century American cuisine:

A short time before serving it I covered the fish with an ordinary mayonnaise and, using a pastry tube, decorated it with a red mayonnaise not colored with catsup—horror of horrors—but with tomato paste. Then I made a design with sieved hard-boiled eggs, the whites and the yolks apart, with truffles and with finely chopped fines herbes. I was proud of my chef d’oeuvre when it was served and Picasso exclaimed at its beauty. But, said he, should it not rather have been made in honour of Matisse than of me. (Toklas, Cookbook, 30)

Notably, Picasso’s joke places Toklas among the modernists—not as one of the “wives,” the group to which she was often infamously relegated in her own salon—but as a person whose masterpiece is both delicious and worthy of aesthetic attention. In fact, it might be more accurate to say that Picasso’s joke confirms what her own account of cooking makes evident: that cooking is an art form, and one Toklas undertakes in a way that is both distinctly modernist and unmistakably middlebrow.


[1] Virginia Woolf, “Middlebrow,” in The Death of the Moth and Other Essays (London: Hogarth Press, 1942), 113–19, 117. The italics here are Woolf’s own, suggesting that it is the play itself that ought to be invited to tea, though the masculine pronoun and corresponding invitation to Ophelia in the next line suggest otherwise.

[2] Alice Toklas, The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook (Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1960), 11.

[3] Kyla Tompkins, “Consider the Recipe,” J19: The Journal of Nineteenth-Century Americanists 1, no. 2 (2013): 439–45, 442.

[4] Anna Linzie, The True Story of Alice B. Toklas: A Study of Three Autobiographies (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2006), 138, 148.

[5] Katharina Vester, A Taste of Power (Oakland: University of California Press, 2015), 156.

[6] Jessamyn Neuhaus alludes to the Cookbook once in Manly Meals and Mom’s Home Cooking: Cookbooks and Gender in Modern America (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003); it appears midway through a list intended to demonstrate that “cookbooks covered every imaginable topic in the 1950s.” The phrase “cooking like Alice B. Toklas,” appearing between “cooking for children” and “cooking with a blender,” seems intended to signify esoterica, and perhaps garner a laugh (167). Toklas gets a bit more attention in Megan Elias’s Food on the Page (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017), but again as something of a novelty, named not for her own accomplishments but for her appearance alongside “appliance manufacturers” on the dedications page of The Electric Epicure’s Cookbook (118). I single out these sidelong allusions not by way of critique, but because these books pay more attention to Toklas than most other histories of the cookbook.

[7] This is, of course, an unprovable claim, but while histories of the cookbook cite many earlier volumes penned by celebrity chefs, most date the rise of the cookbook whose author is a celebrity but not a chef to the 1970s, long after Toklas’s contribution to the genre.

[8] Janet Malcolm, “The Odd Couple,” Guardian, October 26, 2007.

[9] Lisa Botshon and Meredith Goldsmith, “Introduction,” in Middlebrow Moderns: Popular American Women Writers of the 1920s (Boston, MA: Northeastern University Press, 2003), 3–24,  5. See Joan Shelley Rubin, The Making of Middlebrow Culture (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992), Nicola Humble, The Feminine Middlebrow Novel, 1920s to 1950s (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), and Janice Radway, A Feeling for Books (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997).

[10] For examples of the latter point of view in a modernist context, see Jaime Harker’s America the Middlebrow (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2007), and Catherine Keyser’s Playing Smart (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2010).

[11] Dwight Macdonald, “Masscult and Midcult,” in Masscult and Midcult: Essays Against the American Grain, ed. John Summers (New York: New York Review Books, 2011), 3–71, 47, 48.

[12] Kyla Wazana Tompkins, Racial Indigestion: Eating Bodies in the 19th Century (New York: New York University Press, 2012), 2.

[13] Carolyn Korsmeyer, Making Sense of Taste: Food and Philosophy (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999), 45.

[14] For a lengthy discussion of how this kind of gatekeeping shaped Romantic-era magazine culture, see Brian Rejack’s article “Blackwood’s Magazine and the ‘Schooling’ of Taste,” European Romantic Review 24, no. 6 (2013): 723–42.

[15] Sarah Freeman, Mutton and Oysters: The Victorians and Their Food (London: Gollancz, 1989), 193.

[16] E. M. Forster, Howards End (Mineola, NY: Dover, 2002), 108.

[17] Of course, Stein also wrote about mutton—the second poem in the “Food” section of Tender Buttons (Los Angeles: Green Integer, 2002) is named after this less-than-tender meat—and this reading of Toklas helps clarify the second sentence in that poem: “Students, students are merciful and recognized they chew something” (39). For Toklas and Stein, to chew on something—to chew on mutton—is to ruminate in both senses of the word, and in doing so to feel pleasure, to experience art, and to open oneself up to the process of learning.

[18] Lauren Berlant, The Female Complaint: The Unfinished Business of Sentimentality in American Culture (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008), 228.

[19] J. Michelle Coghlan, “The Art of the Recipe: American Food Writing Avant la Lettre,” in Food and Literature, ed. Gitanjali G. Shahani (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018), 115–29, 127.

[20] In Mythologies (New York: Hill and Wang, 1972), Roland Barthes maps culinary aesthetics along class lines in a way suggestive of, if not entirely analogous to, Woolf’s discussion of consumption.

[21] Erica Fretwell, “Emily Dickinson in Domingo,” J19: The Journal of Nineteenth-Century Americanists 1, no. 1 (2013): 71–96, 74; Stacie Cassarino, Culinary Poetics and Edible Images in Twentieth-Century American Literature (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2018), 4.

[22] In her introduction to Clara Sereni’s novel Keeping House (Albany: SUNY Press, 2005), translator Giovanna Miceli Jeffries provides a comprehensive survey of this genre. As Coghlan demonstrates in “The Art of the Recipe,” the food writing of nineteenth-century American expat Elizabeth Robins Pennell “anticipates and enriches” modernist writing about food, and “underscores that cookbooks have a far longer lineage than we might imagine, intermingling with literary and religious texts we wouldn’t otherwise identify as cookery books”  (116, 127).

[23] Carolyn Levine, Forms: Whole, Rhythm, Hierarchy, Network (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2015), xi. Emphasis in original.

[24] For examples, see Tompkins, “Consider the Recipe.”

[25] That Vester, who is attentive to the ways Toklas destabilizes binaries of nationality, genre, and “the concepts of ‘high’ and ‘low’ art, and the gender implications that come with both,” reproduces this critical commonplace is evidence of its power (A Taste of Power, 169).

[26] Michael Warner, Publics and Counterpublics (New York: Zone Books, 2005), 119