The history of the cannabis cookbook started with a “bhang”—the heady cannabis-infused beverage which originated in 10th-century India. Made by grinding buds and leaves to a green paste, then adding milk, ghee (clarified butter), and spices, bhang was traditionally used as a sleep aid and distributed during the spring festival of Holi. Ever since this feel-good drink hit the scene, we’ve been looking for new and creative ways to infuse marijuana into our favorite foods. Enter: the cannabis cookbook.
Related Reading: The Best New Cookbooks for Fall 2019
Pope Pius II, Alice B. Toklas, and Brownie Mary
Known for her (ahem) buzz-worthy dinner parties, Toklas made her now-famous recipe for hash brownies with the likes of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Wilder, Matisse, Picasso. and her life partner Gertrude Stein. In 1954, she published “The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book,” which includes her recipe for “haschich fudge”—a raw granola bar made with black peppercorns, nutmeg, cinnamon, coriander, de-stoned dates, dried figs, shelled almonds, peanuts, and sativa cannabis, which is pulverized and combined with a cup of sugar dissolved in a large serving of butter.
The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book by Alice B. Toklas, $12.74 on Amazon
This is where things get confusing—and not because of the ingredients. Having achieved cult status amongst hippies, Toklas’ recipe was immortalized in the 1968 film “I Love You, Alice B. Toklas,” starring Peter Sellers. In the film, a 30-something “square” eats a bunch of pot brownies, falls in love with a hippie, and leaves his fiance at the altar—causing us to forever erroneously associate Toklas with the iconic pot brownie.
In fact, it’s a bad-ass middle aged woman who went by the moniker “Brownie Mary” who deserves the credit for popularizing the pot brownie. Born Mary Jane Rathbun, the 54-year old IHOP waitress made a name for herself peddling marijuana-laden baked goods from her home in San Francisco. A ganja saint of sorts, Brownie Mary became well-known for her activism, distributing her products free of charge at hospitals during the height of the AIDS crisis. But it wasn’t until 1996, when medical cannabis was approved in the state of California, that she published “Brownie Mary’s Marijuana Cookbook and Dennis Peron’s Recipe for Social Change” (which, ironically doesn’t include her recipe for brownies).
Brownie Mary's Marijuana Cookbook and Dennis Peron's Recipe for Social Change, $32.72 on Amazon
Going Mainstream: High Times
While you can now easily purchase both of these titles and various other cannabis cookbooks, for the most part, cannabis recipes —much like the substance itself—have remained underground; passed along through friends, purchased at alternative book shops, or found while scouring the pages of “High Times,” the magazine writing about marijuana culture since 1974. (The “High Times Classic Cannabis Brownies” recipe still stands up as a simple, easy-to-make, low-dosage edible that’s perfect for beginners, FYI.)
It wasn’t until the advent of recreational legalization that cannabis cookbooks emerged into the mainstream. In 2012, the editors of “High Times” published “The Official High Times Cannabis Cookbook: More Than 50 Irresistible Recipes That Will Get You High.” The collection includes recipes from a variety of legendary stoners, such as Cheech and Chong, Snoop Dogg, and “a dude from Texas.” Expect your typical array of sweet treats and late-night munchies (Pico de Ganja Nachos and Cheeto Fried Chicken, to name a few), alongside some more unexpected items (Sativa Shrimp Spring Rolls, anyone?). However, as the title suggests, the emphasis is on creating a buzz (one recipe simply says “stones 4,” under servings), not moving the culinary needle.
The Official High Times Cannabis Cookbook: More Than 50 Irresistible Recipes That Will Get You High by the Editors of High Times Magazine, $2.99 on Amazon
Other cannabis cookbooks which were published around the same time—like “Cannabis Cupcakes: 35 Mini Marijuana Cakes to Bake and Decorate” and “Stoners’ Delight: Space Cakes, Pot Brownies, and Other Tasty Cannabis Creations”—are also packed with wacky visuals and cheeky recipes (think: Magic Bus Cupcakes and pastel hued Space Muffins). Around 2010, cooking with cannabis was still more of a sugar laden punchline than anything else.
But ever since marijuana laws have changed and pot has been legalized in Colorado and Washington State as well as Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Massachusetts and Maine, health-conscious cannabis-infused foods have become a thing.
Modern Cannabis Cooking, from Holistic Health Food to Cheffy Cuisine
Charlotte Kjaer is the head chef at The Canna Kitchen—the UK’s first CBD-infused restaurant, in Brighton. As she explains, “the stigma of ‘space cakes’ and ‘munchies’ is slowly fading and people are becoming more aware of the therapeutic benefits of cannabinoids. Nutritionally, hemp is an amazing food source containing all essential amino acids making it a complete protein, a perfect balance of omega fatty acids and rich in essential minerals and fibre.”
The new wave of cannabis cookbooks reflect this shift. The publishing industry has kicked into high gear (no pun intended), churning out cannabis cookbooks that offer recipes ranging from updates of favorite munchies (i.e. French macarons) to haute cuisine (an entire octopus poached in cannabis-infused olive oil), all with gorgeous, modern visuals that have more in common with an issue of “Kinfolk” than the iconography of Cheech and Chong.
One of the first THC-infused cookbooks to serve up serious culinary chops with a side of style was “Herb: Mastering the Art of Cooking With Cannabis.” Published in 2015, this gorgeously photographed, drool-worthy cookbook was created by Melissa Parks and Laurie Wolf, a pair of professional chefs. If you’ve ever fantasized about infusing a Tomahawk ribeye with cannabis, now you can. “Herb” features 200 mouthwatering yet practical recipes for appetizers, desserts, and entrees, like spaghetti with arugula pesto and matcha sugar cookies.
Herb: Mastering the Art of Cooking With Cannabis by Melissa Parks and Laurie Wolf, $8.69 on Amazon
More recently, there’s “Bong Appétit: Mastering the Art of Cooking with Weed” based on the popular MUNCHIES and Viceland television series of the same name. Released in 2018, this ultra stylish cookbook is chock full of recipes from well-known chefs (think: Korean fried chicken from Deuki Hong of San Francisco’s Sunday Bird and fried soft-shell crab with shishito pepper mole from Daniela Soto-Innes of New York’s Cosme). Beginners can start by making an apple bong filled with cannabis-infused mezcal.
Bong Appétit: Mastering the Art of Cooking with Weed by Editors of MUNCHIES, $27 on Amazon
While the above titles offer plenty of chef-driven tips, folks seeking a more holistic approach to edibles will love Cedella Marley’s “Cooking with Herb: 75 Recipes for the Marley Natural Lifestyle.” The wellness guru and daughter of famed reggae legend Bob Marley has put together a collection of over 75 Caribbean-inflected, canna-boosted recipes designed to help enhance your wellness routine (which includes tips on meditation and how to make cannabis-infused beauty products).
Cooking with Herb: 75 Recipes for the Marley Natural Lifestyle by Cedella Marley, $10.73 on Amazon
However, if it’s a sugar rush you’re craving, look no further than “Edibles: Small Bites for the Modern Cannabis Kitchen,” Stephanie Hua and Coreen Carroll’s beautifully photographed collection of 30 low-dose cannabis-infused treats. Recipes like strawberry jam pavlovas and blueberry lemon French macarons provide a sophisticated upgrade to the quintessential pot brownie.
Edibles: Small Bites for the Modern Cannabis Kitchen by Stephanie Hua and Coreen Caroll, $13.49 on Amazon
Whether you decide to stick to the classics (like Toklas’ famous fudge) or try your hand at confit octopus, the same rules apply when it comes to cooking with cannabis.
“My top tip would be not to overheat the cannabis to retain its delicate nature and beneficial properties,” says Kjaer.
Lastly, go slow. Your first impulse may be to dive face first into that plate of Pineapple Express Upside-Down Cake, but edible cannabis can take an hour to metabolize in your system before you feel the effects. Practice proper dosing techniques and start with a small serving. Afterall, as Platina notes in his inaugural cannabis cookbook, “carefully treat food and divide for the stomach and the head. Finally remember everything in excess may be harmful or criminal.”
Related Reading: How to Make Weed Wine
Disclaimer: This article is about cooking with cannabis, which may or may not be legal in your area. Neither Chowhound nor its parent company encourage or endorse any irresponsible behavior or illegal activity. If you choose to use cannabis, please do so responsibly and only where permitted by law.
Header image courtesy of Shutterstock.