Get Baked With Cannabis Cookbooks

Happy early 4/20 from your friendly neighborhood cookbook newsletter.

The Stained Page News Guide to Cannabis Cookbooks

By Jackie Bryant

Cannabis and cooking are old bedfellows. As long as there has been cannabis consumption, people have been cooking with it. The practice dates back centuries and spans cultures: historically, cannabis can be found in drinks in India, baked goods across the world for patients who need pain relief, and it even pops up in a Vatican cookbook from 1474 called On Honorable Pleasure and Health.

More recently, these cookbooks have been a way of documenting the subculture that surrounds cannabis consumption. Though legal in some form in at least 36 states and territories in the United States, cannabis is still federally illegal (to learn more, here’s a handy guide) and has a long history in the shadows. Over time, though, cannabis cookbooks have withstood the legislation and criminalization of cannabis itself, and therefore have a storied place in cannabis history as a tried-and-true method of documenting its culture and use.

As an accessible educational tool, cannabis cookbooks also play an important role in the future of cannabis culture. They provide actionable, immersive ways for people to interact with the plant and offer another ingestion methods aside from combustion, inarguably a less safe way to imbibe than eating or drinking. Plus, there’s the munchies—where there’s weed, food will not be far behind.

Author Elise McDonough is foundational to the modern cannabis cookbook space. A cannabis consumer since her teens, she eventually found herself working for the flagship subculture magazine High Times while taking classes at New York’s Natural Gourmet Institute. McDonough says that the magazine would field recipes from contributors, who often sent them in without photography, and they’d have to re-create the dish in order to print it. “That really got me into the idea of cooking with cannabis—learning a lot of techniques, an interest in food style and prop styling for photography, that got me started,” she said.

“In 2010, I pitched High Times on the idea of doing a cookbook that would be a compilation of the best recipes they published over the years,” McDonough says. That book, called The Official High Times Cannabis Cookbook, was published in 2012 by Chronicle Books. “That really launched this trend of modern cannabis cookbooks,” she says, adding, “There was a lot of good press around it and things picked up momentum from there.”

Saying she’s “far from the first person to have done this,” McDonough drew inspiration from “little self-published books like Brownie Mary’s Marijuana Cookbook.” McDonough’s copy was published in 1996 and came paired with famed cannabis activist Dennis Perron’s booklet “Recipe for Social Change.” McDonough also counts an earlier cookbook from 2005 called Marijuana Cooking: Good Medicine Made Easy by Bliss Cameron and Veronica Green and others in a longer-standing tradition of prohibition-era cookbooks published prior to 2010 that helped shape the cannabis cooking landscape many are enjoying today. McDonough designates 2012-2015 as the “first wave” of the types of polished cannabis cookbooks people could buy in mainstream bookstores, including The Cannabis Kitchen Cookbook by Robyn Griggs Lawrence, which was published in 2015.

Building on that early teens success, a number of excellent books have been published in recent years: A favorite of mine is Cooking With Herb: 75 Recipes For the Marley Natural Lifestyle by Cedella Marley and Raquel Pelzel, which was published in 2017 by Pam Krauss Books. Marley, who is the daughter of famed reggae singer, Rastafarian, and cannabis enthusiast Bob Marley, centered the book around the Marley Natural Brand’s holistic lifestyle, which harkens back to the spiritual and health benefits of using cannabis per Rastafarianism. In 2018, McDonough wrote the incredibly influential weed cookbook Bong Appetit along with the Vice food vertical Munchies, which became a big success. And in 2019, Simon & Schuster published Mennlay Golokeh Aggrey’s The Art of Weed Butter, required reading for anyone who wants to learn the process of making butter—one of the mainstay techniques in cannabis cooking. There’s even a cannabis cooking magazine now, called Kitchen Toke, which is entirely devoted to the practice of cooking with weed.

This spring, Tracey Medeiros published The Art of Cooking with Cannabis: CBD and THC-Infused Recipes from Across America. Speaking with her, I was not surprised she name-checked McDonough almost immediately, crediting her as an inspiration in the space: “Bong Appetitand Edibles by Stephanie Hua with Coreen Carroll, are two of my favorite cannabis cookbooks,” Medeiros says. “These cookbooks showed me that cannabis is something that people can use both as amateur and expert cooks,” she says. “They are geared to make the reader feel comfortable with the process of adding cannabis to recipes, no matter their level of expertise. A specific anecdote from Bong Appetit: ‘Start low and go slowly.’”

Medeiros makes a good point: cooking with cannabis can be extremely intimidating to newcomers. After all, just about everyone has a story or knows someone who knows someone who ate a squirrelly edible that made them freak out. Nowadays, though, dosing is more precise than ever. Thanks to better technology, consumer-friendly ready-to-use products like legally-available cooking oils, and available literature like these cookbooks, the margin for error is smaller than ever. One can be a first-time cannabis cook and be able to dial in a desired physiological result, which was much harder in the past.

Accordingly cannabis cookbook authors have to be mindful of special considerations that other cookbook authors don’t. As a seasoned cookbook author—The Art of Cooking with Cannabis is her 5th book—Medeiros says that “writing on this particular subject matter, it was important for me to include certain things, such as: be sure to consult with your health-care provider before trying CBD oil or any other cannabis products. The cannabis recipes in this book are only intended for those who have obtained cannabis legally under applicable federal and state law. It is important to note that CBD and THC are never a substitute for professional help.”

Disclaimers made, it is of course perfectly possible to make cannabutters, oils, and other infused products from cannabis that is not purchased legally. The risks remain the same that they always have, but people have been illegally using cannabis in the United States for as long as the plant and the country have existed.

Medeiros is uses two different cannabinoids, THC and CBD, in her recipes (quick reminder: THC is the stuff that gets you high, CBD does not). “Many folks do believe that [THC & CBD] play off of one another,” Medeiros says. “The ideal ratio of THC to CBD will vary from person to person—depending on the individual. Therefore, it was extremely important for me to stress to the readers that the cannabis dosage listed in the ingredient section of any recipe in the cookbook is only a suggestion that is to be used as an approximation,” she adds. Obviously, this is not really a consideration in your typical cookbooks that aren’t working with cannabinoids.

A newer cookbook segment is entirely devoted to cannabis drinks. Jamie Evans, also known as The Herb Somm, just released her latest book Cannabis Drinks: Secrets to Crafting CBD and THC Beverages at Home, published by Fair Winds Press/Quarto Publishing Group in April 2021. She says that while there are obvious similarities with food books, there are a whole host of other considerations that drinks book authors and imbibers need to keep in mind.

"The addition of alcohol is probably the biggest difference between writing a cannabis drinks book versus a food cookbook,” says Evans.

“When writing a cannabis drinks book, or just a drinks book in general, it's incredibly important to include many different styles of drink options, especially since not all consumers prefer drinking alcohol (or prefer combining it with cannabis),” she says. She adds that it’s vital to remember that some of the audience will be using recipes to help ease medical ailments, versus drinking cannabis cocktails strictly for recreational purposes, so there needs to be a wide variety of options for both, including variations in dosing.

“Education is also crucial if you're planning on mixing alcohol and cannabis together,” Evans says. “In my [Cannabis Drinks], I provide readers with all of the information that they'll need to do so safely. But if the reader would rather stick to spirit-free beverages, they'll be able to make a wide selection of smoothies, coffee drinks, shakes, fresh-pressed juices, zero-proof mixed drinks, and beyond. There's an option for every palate, which is important when it comes to cannabis drinks!" she says.

Looking at cannabis cookbooks over time, you can follow how this plant has moved from the shadows to some level of mainstream acceptance. The older cookbooks were published by authors frequently using pseudonyms and using coded language to avoid criminalization and other stigmas. Today, the authors of their cookbooks, as well as many of their readers, are out and proud with their cannabis use. In a way, cannabis cookbooks show a progression of cannabis culture over time as it continues to legalize and become normalized.

“I think it’s great,” says McDonough. “This is what we always wanted: for everyone to have access to cannabis. For there to be this renaissance of cannabis cookbooks and seeing it blossom in society? I think it’s beautiful.”

The SPN Guide to Cannabis Cookbooks

Jackie Bryant is a freelance journalist living in San Diego. These days she's mostly covering cannabis. You can find more of her work at Forbes (both Paula and the rich people publication), Uproxx, the San Diego Union-Tribune, SFGate, WeedWeek, San Diego Magazine, Sierra, Healthline, and many more. She also writes a newsletter about cannabis culture called Cannabitch and hosts a podcast by the same name. More of her work can be found on her website.

In case you missed Tuesday’s issue: Jamie Oliver is READY for this fall’s dinner party boom! The grainy sequel to Six Seasons! A cookbook that seeks kitchen equality by splitting itself in half! AND MUCH MORE!