“It’s cheaper than buying them at the store”
When you head to the grocery store or the bakery, you can pick up any number of cookies or cakes. But there’s nothing better than the warm bouquet of oven-baked scents filling up your home. It’s the same thing with cannabis. Sure, edibles like Dr. Norm’s Chocolate Chip Therapy or Love’s Oven S’mores Brownies are awesome, but there are few things more fun than handcrafting your own cannabis-infused butter and whipping up some homemade Scooby Snacks for you and your friends.
Much like in the 1940s, when packaged baking mixes were booming due to postwar flour surpluses, the cannabis industry is having its own Betty Crocker moment—perhaps due to cannabis surpluses in states where marijuana is recreationally legalized. Cannabis aficionados are not only honing their cooking skills, but several products are making it easier for folks to “just add weed.”
But eating weed is far from new.
As High Times pointed out last September in their thorough history of edibles, French writers Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, and Charles Baudelaire—who concocted the literary tent poles of French culture—formed the “Club of the Hash-Eaters,” which mostly consisted of the three going out on the town and putting hashish in their coffee. A 2014 article in The Independent from claims, “Almost 5,000 years ago, Chinese physicians recommended a tea made from cannabis leaves to treat a wide variety of conditions including gout and malaria.”
[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]If you have a good base—a good cannabutter; a good canna-olive oil—you can take a portion of that and infuse it into so many baked goods or savory dishes[/quote]
But cooking at home with cannabis really entered the American mainstream when Gertrude Stein’s life partner, Alice B. Toklas, published The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book (1954, Harper) at the ripe age of 77, including her recipe for “Hashish Fudge”—a simple mix of pulverized cannabis, sugar, butter, peppercorn, cinnamon, coriander, nutmeg, dates, figs, almonds, and peanuts. (Toklas was give the recipe by artist Brion Gysin, and it later played a big role in the Peter Sellers 1968 comedy film I Love You, Alice B. Toklas!)
The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book
A far cry from the crumbled flower and pulverized hash of yore, modern-day medicated cooking has made leaps and bounds. There are dozens of celebrity cannabis chefs, such as the James Beard Award-winning pastry chef Mindy Segal or Chris “The Herbal Chef” Sayegh, making a name for themselves on both TV and with dinner parties. Some chefs appear on Bong Appétit, a Vice TV show about the science and culture behind eating weed. And there are cannabis cookbooks coming out in flocks.
One such cookbook is 2015’s Herb: Mastering the Art of Cooking with Cannabis by Portland-based food writer Laurie Wolf and Las Vegas-based “medicated chef” Melissa Parks. On a phone call from Vegas, where Parks was fresh off winning a preliminary round in High Times’ Cannabis Cup cook-off, the Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef waxed optimistically about the growing sector of homespun delights.
“There's this quest to personalize, not just cannabis, but food in general,” Parks says about why she thinks cooking at home with cannabis is gaining steam. “I think a lot of people are going out to eat, and trying to replicate a dish that they love. I don't see cannabis being any different. Now with the laws that are changing, consumers are realizing that they have freedom. With that freedom comes a sense of creativity.”
But with creativity also comes frustration. Possibly the biggest challenge of making edibles from scratch is the aforementioned cannabis-infused butter, called cannabutter. Most of Parks’ recipes, for instance, feature cannabutter or cannabis-infused olive oil. Cannabutter essentially infuses THC into butter, achieved by boiling cannabis and butter in a pot of water, straining out the green flowery bits, and letting the mix cool and solidify back into butter—but the process can seem daunting.
While Parks encourages everyone to try their own hand at making cannabutter, she recommends picking up any number of premade cannabutter products at a dispensary if it proves to be too challenging. She is currently in the research and development phase for a flavor-infused cannabutter company—flavors such as “Bloody Mary” cannabutter to be melted over meat, she says.
For those with a little disposable income, there are a few cannabutter-making contraptions out there, none more industry standard than Magical Butter, a Port Richey, Florida-based company founded by Garyn Angel in 2012. At $174.95, the butter infuser is about the cost of a mid-range blender, but cannabis chefs swear by them. If that isn’t in the budget, Parks recommends every fledgling cannabis cook purchase an instant-read thermometer, because cannabis is a fragile ingredient, and cooks will want to heat up the THC just enough to turn into psychoactive THCA (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid)—a process called decarboxylation—without burning off too much of the good stuff.
Once the cannabutter is made, there a number of mixes and kits hitting the market that are specifically geared toward cannabis cooks. Lisa Altschuler began Maryjane’s Confections when a friend was diagnosed with cancer and couldn’t smoke anymore. The friend enlisted Altschuler, a whiz in the kitchen, to make her some edibles.
One thing led to another, and the Ohio-based Altschuler is now in the launch phase of a full line of cannabis-friendly cookie, brownie, caramel, and gummy kits. Each comes with a stovetop infuser to make cannabutter, single-dose sized molds, child-resistant locking bags, and detailed instructions. And it comes with a secret ingredient that Altschuler discovered while developing her recipes.
“I bought this butter machine,” she says, “and when I first learned to cook with it, they recommended that you use lecithin powder. I said, ‘Ok, let me go to the store and buy this stuff.’ I went to health food stores, Whole Foods, everywhere—I couldn’t find it. I had to order it online. You only need a tablespoon of it, but you have to buy a one-pound bag. My mix comes with a one-tablespoon bag. Lecithin increases the potency when you infuse it with cannabis.”
[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]It’s this beautiful dichotomy of chemistry intertwined with flavor profiles[/quote]
But too much potency is also an issue, and while Altschuler’s instructions and single-serving cups are one solution, there are consistency issues that can be a challenge—particularly for nascent stony gastronomes.
“It’s what visits me and haunts me all at the same time in my dreams,” says Parks. “It’s this beautiful dichotomy of chemistry intertwined with flavor profiles. It’s a beautiful struggle.”
Parks suggests newbies figure out their personal dosage levels by testing out commercial products first, but also by doing their research on the type of flower they’re using in the cannabutter.
Herb, co-authored by Melissa Parks
“Once the home cook wraps their head around dosing for them, they can then start to look at what they're making in their own home for that translation,” she says. “Granted, every region, just like in wine production, is going to have different soils and different temperatures, (leading to) different strains. It’s up to the to the home cook to do their homework on their flower. Look for a certain percentage of THC. All of this information is available online.”
Or in her upcoming book, she says with a laugh.
“I’m writing another cookbook, which gives you a fundamental groundwork and takes it to the next level, where you can make good bases,” Parks says. “If you have a good base—a good cannabutter, a good canna-olive oil—you can take a portion of that and infuse it into so many baked goods or savory dishes.”
Nailing flavor and dosage is one aspect of a safe homemade edible experience, but any good cannabis-positive advocate has their eye on making sure that no one gets hurt when cooking with weed. Parks stresses that at-home cannabis chefs use a dedicated cooking set.
“You do not want to accidentally ingest anything,” says Parks, who warns that even the smallest amount of cannabis missed during cleaning can lead to unintended consequences.
Baked Smart, an Oregon-based company, has taken it a step further, producing edible decals. The Green Cross “Cannacals” can be either baked or water-adhered (like a temporary tattoo) onto edible products, and they’re marketing them both to edible companies who want to stay responsible and to home-cooking parents who might leave a baking sheet of brownies on the counter to cool. Leah D'Ambrosio, co-owner of Baked Smart (as well as Sconed, an award-winning toffee company), says that most times, people can’t tell the difference between cannabis-infused edibles and regular treats.
“If there’s two brownies out, and one’s infused and one’s not, I would eat first and ask questions later,” she says. “I would not want to have that (cannabis high) experience if I wasn’t prepared for it. As my partner Michael says, ‘With legalization comes responsibility,’ and it’s irresponsible if you make it at home or buy it at a dispensary and you have it out, and it’s not easily identifiable.”
D’Ambrosio is a vehement cannabis advocate, but feels that certain steps need to be taken in order to make sure everyone stays safe. A recent study by JAMA Pediatrics found that between the two years before Colorado legalized pot and two years after the legalization, kids hospitalized from accidentally eating cannabis edibles increased 34 percent, compared with a national increase of 19 percent.
“Even if people haven’t been educated on what that green cross means, they know intuitively if they see it on a food product, ‘Oh, that’s medicine,’” says D’Ambrosio. “Children as young as two can associate a symbol to meaning. We have friends with a little girl, and she knows that anything with a green cross is ‘for mommies and daddies, and sometimes grandmas.’”
It’s a safe step in the direction of a future where culinary cannabis is as much in the homes as it is store-bought.
But the best part, Lisa Altschuler from Maryjane’s Confections points out, is that home cooking can be the most cost-effective way of ingesting cannabis.
“It’s cheaper than buying them at the store,” she says. “One cookie at the store is going to cost you $5. And of course, it’s already infused, but my kits are only going to run $10 and $13, depending on what mix you buy, and that makes 24 servings. If you’re a home grower, that costs you nothing. Even if you buy the flower at the dispensary, it’s going to be just $30 to $60, depending on where you are, which is still way cheaper.”
The DIY cannabis movement is forging ahead, despite recent protestations and grumblings by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has vowed to crack down on state-legalized cannabis (against the wishes of 54 percent of Americans who support marijuana legalization, according to a 2016 Quinnipiac University). Not only that, but marijuana is being given a second look all around the world, from Portugal to Peru. In fact, just this week, Israel decriminalized pot. The rise of home cooking is the next logical step. As prices go down and companies become more savvy at gearing their cannabis home-cooking products to consumers, it’s not hard to imagine a gloriously infused future where more hosts try to impress their guests with cannabutter soufflé.