Mar 15, 2019 08:12PM
● By Nora Mounce
As a graduate student at Humboldt State, all I wanted to read and write about was food. After years of waiting tables and tending bar, I used anthropology the study of human culture to get off my feet and explore deeper meaning in what we feed our minds and bodies. I wanted to understand why the food-health connection is interpreted so differently across cultures and make sense of America’s insipid and bizarre culinary history (tuna Jello salad, anyone?).
Contextualizing such questions within the unique history of Humboldt County, my graduate thesis was ambitious, yet as my advisor often reminded me, too unfocused to employ traditional research methods. Psht psht, I thought to myself, and turned to Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons and M.F.K. Fisher’s The Art of Eating for inspiration. “First we eat, then we do everything else,” wrote Fisher. Agreeing entirely, I made myself a snack and pressed on.
Stein and her lover, Alice B. Toklas, both American writers, lived in Paris for 40 years, hosting at their salon a parade of famous expats, including Hemingway and Fitzgerald. Though Stein was the bigger name, Toklas made her literary mark when she published The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook in 1954, famously including her recipe for Hashish Fudge the original pot brownie.
Though mysteriously containing no chocolate, Toklas called the fudge “the food of paradise” and recommended serving it alongside hot mint tea as a refreshment for ladies’ bridge club. The recipe lists ingredients one might collect on a trip to the spice market: whole nutmeg, a cinnamon stick, peppercorns, and a handful of dried fruit and shelled nuts. Toklas then instructs adding “a bunch of Cannabis sativa, pulverized,” before rolling the fudge into balls and eating with care. “Two pieces are quite sufficient,” she writes.
Two pieces? Slow down there, Alice. If I popped two of every edible served at bridge club, I would have never finished grad school.
Since the time Bohemians fled the conservative culture of mid-century America to smoke hashish and discuss communism in Europe, the potency of US homegrown cannabis has skyrocketed. Today, farmers cultivate female plants separately from males, preventing the flowers from going to seed and concentrating THC levels. The science behind cannabis cuisine has grown more sophisticated as well, yet common knowledge remains murky thanks to a federal prohibition on cannabis that likens baking a batch of brownies to criminal activity.
Deep in the Emerald Triangle, cannabis is grown on backcountry roads and in your neighbor’s spare bedroom. Legality has never been a limiting factor. After Alice’s hashish fudge recipe caught my eye (I couldn’t help but notice it resembled a paleo-style protein bite), I told my friends my idea to reconstruct the pot brownie for modern palates. Within days, a girlfriend had stocked my pantry with a pound of trim (excess plant matter collected while manicuring cannabis flowers), and I was measuring pinches of weed into melted coconut oil in my trusted yellow soup pot.
After my recipe for Paleo Bites walnuts, eggs, dates, coconut flakes, sea salt, and cannabis-infused coconut oil was published in 2016, my editor wanted more. Alice couldn’t help me anymore. I needed to learn a bit more about cannabis and cooking quickly. I mentioned the new side gig to my father, whose college pics from the ‘70's show off his flowing red hair and short denim shorts. Dad reassured me: “You can put weed in anything.”
Well, yes and no. While you can literally stir cannabis into anything with no risk of toxicity the flavor, texture, and potency can turn unpleasant rather quickly. You might remember your college days, too? I certainly do. As an undergrad at Berkeley, getting stoned was always an option; freshman year in the dorms, my resident advisor made a standing offer to trade me bong rips for doing his laundry. By the time I graduated, I’d learned how to roll a decent spliff but accepted that getting high AF was not my thing. Still a girl from NorCal, I loved the grassy smell on my boyfriends (all of them) and firmly believe that cannabis is better for whatever ails you than anything Big Pharma has to offer.
Fast-forward 10-plus years, I surprised myself by falling in love with the stunning beauty and open-minded culture of Humboldt County and moved to the area. As I was settling in up north, I privately feared the tired clichés of a hippie monoculture the classic stoner stereotype but instead found a wonderfully diverse community of artists, hipsters, professionals, and even squares. Lots of my friends grew weed; others wouldn’t touch it with a 10-foot pole. Like many locals, I kept one foot in each world, paying for grad school with side work as a trimmer (sorry, Netflix, I’m not missing) and writing stories about food, culture, and cannabis. Still, it surprised me how weird people were about weed the Emerald Triangle is equally divisive and scenic but I took people’s opinions with a turkey bag of salt and kept cooking.
By exploring cannabis cuisine from my own kitchen, I’ve pinpointed my “nut” (the perfect amount of THC for me), sampled an array of craft edibles and tinctures, and interviewed kind and ambitious cannabis sommeliers, candy makers, farmers, lawyers, advocates, and patients. It’s been a journey filled with so much more than bong rips.
Since 2016, the line between worlds has grown fuzzier at the hands of legalization. Amid rapid cultural change, the public’s interest in edibles has escalated sharply. In a 2018 report from BDS Analytics, the US and Canadian market for edibles is projected to reach over $4.1 billion by 2022.
And why not? Ingesting cannabis offers a safe delivery system of beneficial cannabinoids without the risk of inhaling carcinogens or producing second-hand smoke. Edibles are approachable and inclusive for professionals, parents, and aging baby boomers with aches and pains. With the cultural stigma around cannabis lessening every day, every Californian over 21 wanting to reduce anxiety or add simple pleasures to their life can shop for infused marshmallows and chocolate-covered blueberries from licensed dispensaries.
An even better option: Make your own. Not everyone has weed growing through the floorboards like we do in Humboldt, but purchasing raw ingredients better suits the health-conscious and culinary-minded among us. In the past few years, I’ve made cannabis-infused dishes from a rosemary rack of lamb to Meyer lemon tarts to Bulletproof coffee and spicy watermelon margaritas. With a few simple guidelines, making your own edibles should be affordable, fun, and good for the mind, body, and soul. And whether the experience reminds you of college is entirely up to you.
In the small kitchen of my Victorian home, Mason jars of infused olive oil are nestled next to cans of diced tomatoes and jars of capers; I see no need to discriminate between food and medicine. As more and more Americans discover the holistic benefits of cannabis, stocking the pantry with herbal infusions offers endless variety in flavor and utility. In your 2019 culinary adventures, I hope your kitchen yields pleasant surprises that bring joy and wellness into your life every day.