BY JILL LIGHTNER
Welcome to the post-i502 world of legal marijuana, although for the moment we must assume that a bag of it falls out of the sky and lands gently at your feet. While the state Liquor Control Board is developing rules for non-prescription retail sales to those over the age of 21, along with regulations for growing it, they have several more months to finalize those plans. Once those rules are in place, we can expect all sorts of interesting new tourists in Washington, and if projections hold, an astonishing $400 million in new tax revenue annually. It wasn’t a universally popular change in our state law, and it remains to be seen how the federal government will behave, but it seems as worthy of note as the opening of a local distillery or brewery.
There are plenty of charged opinions around the legalization of cannabis as a 21-and-over substance available to casual users. My live-and-let-live ideas boil down to this: a relaxed and happy citizenry is generally a good thing, and if you find that relaxation is best provided via a pot brownie rather than a few sips of bourbon, I’m not going to fuss even for a minute. I hope that in return, aficionados willingly support the sure-to-be outrageously complicated buying restrictions and infuriating tax structure that will come along with this newly-legal substance. It’s not always easy being a law-abiding citizen, which I’ll be sure to remember the next time I contemplate jaywalking.
Well before modern bureaucracy—in fact, a generation before Columbus’s infamous trip to the Caribbean—cannabis appears in the first printed cookbook. It was a popular work during the Italian Renaissance titled De Honesta Voluptate et Valetudine, which translates to On Honorable Pleasure and Health. Bartolemeo Platina’s text isn’t precisely a recipe, but rather a set of vague suggestions about pounding up cannabis “clods” with a mortar, dissolving them in wine or warming them in oil, and ending with a reminder to his readers not to overindulge. A quick glance at a recent copy of High Times magazine shows that essentially nothing has changed in cannabis cookery since 1475. The current trend is for butter rather than oil, and hot water rather than warm wine, but those are nothing more than cultural differences.
In 1954, we come to the profoundly domestic Alice B. Toklas and her cookbook’s famous recipe for “fudge,” which became more commonly referred to as brownies during this country’s hippie era. The actual recipe bears no resemblance to either fudge or a brownie, but is a close cousin of the modern energy bar. Smashed figs, dates and nuts were combined with cinnamon, black pepper, nutmeg, butter, sugar and pulverized cannabis: this sticky mixture was rolled into balls and “eaten with care.”
It’s nice to see that in both the 15th and 20th centuries, providers of cannabis-laden sweets were cautious and considerate in regard to their companions’ use of the drug; neither of these recipes include cooking instructions or specific quantities for any of the ingredients, yet they both urge restraint regarding portion size. I can’t help but wonder about the Italian Renaissance equivalent phrase for “dude, I am so high right now,” or if perhaps an early Medici had to swear to his constituents that he didn’t inhale.
There are also cultures where cannabis leaves are used as a simple culinary herb rather than as an intoxicant, although this is a more difficult area to find specifics. In Indonesia, the stems and leaves are used much like cilantro and are routinely added, with legal protection, to any number of Sumatran curries, even though the country assigns the death penalty to drug traffickers. Until recent developments in modern cultivated strains, these cannabis leaves would have contained minimal THC. Today, the leaves available in Seattle have a moderately skunky odor, and fresh or dried it can be used much like any other culinary herb—the flavor is somewhere between thyme and spearmint, both sweet and pungent. For our gracious testers, the intoxicating effects of dried and crumbled were nonexistent, but we’ll follow Platina’s and Toklas’s pattern and suggest that you exercise restraint, serving our leaf-only recipes to those over 21.
The problem with the antiquated semi-recipes is this: they’re not usable as recipes, and there’s no consideration for the actual flavor of the treat. Imagine if every bar in town simply dumped a random assortment of alcohols into a glass—let’s say gin, Bailey’s Irish Cream, a nice local porter and a dollop of absinthe—and offered it to you with the advice “drink with care.” You would need to be very seriously committed to the resultant buzz in order to drink this mess.
I went searching for alternatives that would meet a few goals: the first priorities were flavor and usability. All of the following recipes can be made with old fashioned non-infused butter and you’ll have a tasty snack with no intoxication. For the recipes that only use leaves, they work just fine if you skip the cannabis entirely. I also wanted the same mix of dietary options used in all our recipes, so you’ll find vegetarian, omnivorous, gluten-free and gluten-full options. Normally, I’d also mention a seasonal tie, but the main ingredient is, for now, grown indoors and hydroponically, and is therefore exempt from seasonal usage. It may be that in the coming year, this will change and in future years the Cannabis Farm Festival will bring as many folks in as the Tulip Festival, but for the moment we’re betting that the plants will remain hidden from light of day until the moment when that magical little bag arrives in your kitchen.
If you find yourself interested in a cannabis-related business—farming or a retail shop—it’s not necessarily easy to sidestep the opinions concerning health, social welfare, or the government’s role in such matters. Trouble is, you need a firm grasp of the regulatory side of an industry that’s legal within the state but illegal according to the federal government. The Washington Cannabis Institute holds frequent seminars and provides consultation in numerous matters relating specifically to Washington’s medical marijuana laws and the evolving i-502 regulations.