For the cultured cannabis user, the pot brownie has become passe. What has taken its place is something altogether more exciting, albeit complicated. In the new era of cannabis cookbooks, putting weed in your food can be an art, a science and a craft.
“I think it says a lot about this . . . industry that we are all moving in this sophisticated direction,” said cannabis cookbook author Robyn Griggs Lawrence. Cannabis is becoming “just another ingredient.”
It’s not just any ingredient, though. Wanna get high? If you buy a cannabis cookbook, get ready to learn chemistry, botany and math.
People have been putting weed in their food as long as people have been cooking. Lawrence’s forthcoming book “Pot in Pans: A History of Eating Cannabis” begins with a chapter titled “Cavepeople Ate Cannabis,” citing research suggesting that humans began cultivating the crop in the Mesolithic era. Bhang, an Indian cannabis drink with spiritual associations, was referenced in scriptures dating to 1000 B.C. A Moroccan cannabis confection, majoun, also has historic roots. But many Americans’ introduction began in 1954 with Gertrude Stein’s partner, Alice B. Toklas, whose “Alice B. Toklas Cookbook” famously included a recipe for hashish fudge (the author reportedly did not realize the recipe contained cannabis, and didn’t test the recipe before submitting it to her publisher). That recipe evolved into the pot brownie after a famous scene in the Peter Sellers film “I Love You, Alice B. Toklas,” in which a hippie character puts a special ingredient in her brownie mix.
One of the earliest cannabis-themed cookbooks — really, a pamphlet — is 1967’s “The Hashish Cookbook,” by Panama Rose, a nom de plume of the artist Ira Cohen. But the cannabis cookbook wave kicked off with the 2012 publication of “The Official High Times Cannabis Cookbook,” from the editors of the cannabis-themed publication. Though a few came before it, the High Times book remains a top seller in the niche, with NPD BookScan reporting 27,000 copies sold.
High Times “was really the first publication to treat this as something other than ‘throw some weed into brownies’ and have it work,” said Lawrence. “They were the first ones to really start educating.”
Because, despite how they do it in the movies, you’re not actually supposed to put weed directly into your brownies. Time for a chemistry lesson: Every book will give you one, with varying levels of detail and dense, academic language. To activate the psychoactive properties of THC, it must go through a process called decarboxylation: the removal of CO2 according to the book “Sweet Mary Jane,” or “removing the carboxyl molecule found in THCA (the non-psychoactive acidic form)” in “Bong Appetit.” These are all very scientific ways to say: Heat your marijuana up. The classic way is to bake it for 30 minutes at low heat — too hot, and you’ll burn off some of your weed and waste money. You can also use a sous-vide circulator. (Or you can buy a device called the Magical Butter.)
But you don’t simply stick that decarboxylated weed into brownies, either. “Cannabinoids are hydrophobic” but fat-soluble, write the “Bong Appetit” editors. “Absorbing cannabis into your body along with fat also makes it more bioavailable, meaning it feels more potent in your body.” In layman’s terms: infuse it in butter, oil or cream, a process that will take several hours and require a mesh strainer and cheesecloth.
The stoners have all become scientists.
“They’re just trying to fight the stigma,” said Ngaio Bealum, of Netflix’s culinary cannabis show, “Cooking on High,” and a former purveyor of edibles. “So it’s, ‘We’re not just stoners, we’re all very fancy-a– cooks up in here. We’re very precise and scientific, and these recipes are state of the art,’ or whatnot.”
The precision isn’t just for show. Edibles makers need to get the dosing right. Eating cannabis is not like smoking it, and it takes much longer to have an effect. Many make the rookie mistake of eating too much, or drinking alcohol with their edibles, and the results can be unpleasant. Most recipes are designed to give people a very low, exact dose — typically three to seven milligrams. Authors recommend starting slow.
But if you get the dosing right, you still have to nail the recipe, which can be complicated. You could make the tower of maple-cream canna-puffs in “The 420 Gourmet.” Or infused blueberry-lemon maracons — a confection that can be hard for regular cooks to master even without the weed — from “Edibles.” Having company over? “Bong Appetit” suggests you make an infused whole sea bream stuffed with cannabis leaves, or poach a four-pound octopus in infused cannabis oil.
Are home cooks actually stewing whole octopuses in cannabis? In the Venn diagram of stoners and excellent cooks, it’s impossible to know how large the overlapping sliver is. And there are always cooks who love an intense project — weed cooking intersects nicely with 2017’s sous-vide craze in that way. But the books are also a novelty and a gift that can be given to people who may never cook from them. They’re for “people who are merely curious who want to look cool, and the people who just want to buy a gift for their Woodstock-going parents,” said Rux Martin, the editorial director of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
“There are probably some books on my bookshelf that I haven’t cooked from, but I bought because [they’re] inspiring,” said Stephanie Hua, one of the authors of the recently published “Edibles” and the founder of Mellows, a cannabis marshmallow company. “There may be a disconnect. But I think that isn’t really cannabis-specific.”
That said, the books all contain intro-level tinctures and infusions, and easy dishes such as mac and cheese, too. “It isn’t going to be the French Laundry,” said Hua.
Besides, any fussiness is a deliberate counterbalance to perceptions of cannabis food: that it’s all gummy bears and brownies. The more sophisticated the recipes, the more they inspire people to think about cannabis like wine, and the more respectability it earns.
Still, every book still has a brownie recipe. Sometimes, reluctantly.
“We actually originally presented our manuscript without a brownie recipe in it,” said Hua. “We have a killer blondie recipe, and we were like, ‘Let’s make a point. Like, not put a brownie in there.’ And our publisher was like, ‘No, this has to have a brownie in it.’”
Hua’s Booty Call Brownies have become one of the most popular recipes from the book.
The cookbook publishing industry’s enthusiasm for cannabis is a recent development.
Martin recalled that only four years ago, her company turned down an opportunity for a weed cookbook. “Fast forward about a year and a half later, and the entire landscape changed, and every publisher got in and was racing to catch up,” she said.
Including her: Next year, her company will publish “The Essential Scratch and Sniff Guide to Becoming a Cannabis Connoisseur,” by Richard Betts.
Earlier books skewed toward hippie-inspired recipes. Their covers were usually green, with prominent cannabis leaves. But the new books are stylish, emphasizing pink with splashes of green (preppy!), and with gorgeous photography that mimics the aesthetic of Instagram. They’re marketed toward women and moms, and they would look perfectly at home on a coffee table with some scented candles. They reflect the latest Pew data: Majorities of millennials (74 percent), Gen Xers (63 percent), baby boomers (54 percent) and women across age groups (56 percent) support cannabis legalization.
Lawrence also wrote “The Cannabis Kitchen Cookbook” and said she hoped it would find an audience of women like her. “We really wanted it to be something that a volleyball mom like me could have out on her counter and not feel weird about,” she said. “No fluorescent green.”
Many of the books’ recipes tend to be American or European, and while there are authors of color — including Hua, cannabis chef Andrea Drummer and Cedella Marley, daughter of musician Bob Marley — cannabis cookbooks seem to be increasingly geared toward white upper-middle-class moms. It’s something that Mennlay Golokeh Aggrey was trying to remedy with her recent book, “The Art of Weed Butter.” Aggrey is an African American cookbook author who lives in Mexico. Along with the recipes for brownies and mac and cheese, her readers will also learn how to make West African fried chicken and chacahua coconut beans and rice. She says the target audience for her book — middle-aged black women — has responded to seeing themselves reflected in the book’s origins, including the photos of Aggrey demonstrating recipes. A reader told her that “coming from another black woman, like, that felt more safe, even just to [see] your brown hands infusing something,” she said.
Aggrey also doesn’t shy away from politics and race in her book. She outlines the history of mass incarceration for cannabis offenses and its disproportionate effect on African American communities in a section that ends with the statement: “Sorry for the buzzkill.”
As legalization continues to spread, we’ll be seeing more and more cannabis cookbooks — and they’ll continue to evolve. Some will become more health-oriented, as patients explore medicinal cannabis. Others might dip further into chemistry and botany — particularly terpenes, the naturally occurring chemical compounds that create cannabis’s distinctive taste and smell — for readers who really want to nerd out. And once more people grasp the basics, those lessons in the beginning of each book might become shorter.
“There’s a level of understanding. So you don’t have to go back to square one each time,” said Marc Gerald, a literary agent who represented the author of “Sweet Mary Jane” and the rapper/chef/author/stoner Action Bronson. “The books are probably [becoming] more specific.”
And more authors and personalities — not just Bronson, Martha and Snoop Dogg — will distinguish themselves. Bealum, who is pitching a cannabis food and travel show, hopes to be one of them.
“There’s approximately umpteen-kajillion people who want to be the Anthony Bourdain of weed,” Bealum said.
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