The pretty town of Ashland in southern Oregon puffed its way into the news this week, when a restaurant opened there specialising in a particular kind of baking. The legal position of the cannabis cuisine which the restaurant serves is rather sketchy. Oregon, like 15 other states and Washington DC, permits marijuana use for medical purposes. (Similar legislation is pending in a dozen further states.) Local cops say that the totally unhippyish-sounding Earth Dragon Edibles is breaking the law, but news reports say the restaurant opened "without a hitch". Apparently sober customers – or "patients", as they must be known – all seemed keen. One of them, an ex-law enforcement official with a lovely white beard and a tie-dye T-shirt, said: "I've seen the bad sides and the good sides [to marijuana], and for 30 years I've been disabled and it saved my life so far." Which is heartening.
I should have predicted what a gargantuan quantity of lore and expertise surrounds cooking with marijuana. My own involvement is limited to a rainily predictable afternoon as a student, resulting in a tray of mulchy, green-flecked brownies. They tasted as if a rodent had died on a compost heap, but nonetheless exposed a previously unseen hilarity in Richard and Judy's You Say We Pay. (Adam Buxton recognised almost the same thing a couple of years later.)
Inevitably, it turns out we did it all wrong. The psychoactive components of cannabis are best released in warm fat or alcohol: connoisseurs apparently make a kind of butter using the leaves and stems of the plant, or steep them in rum or brandy to produce a liqueur bearing the neat if tautological name of crème de gras.
Cooking with weed has a long and not ignoble tradition. Mixed with ground almonds, milk and sugar into a drink happily called bhang, it's used in religious rites across much of northern India. Chinese cannabis recipes go back to the 7th century BC, and Bartolomeo Platina included a recipe for "a health drink of cannabis nectar" in the world's first printed cookbook, De Honesta Voluptate Et Valetudine ("On Honourable Pleasure and Health"), published in 1475.
The brownie is arguably the most famous recipe for weed thanks to Alice B Toklas, who published a 1954 cookbook full of anecdotes about the famous people she had known, particularly Gertrude Stein. (Stein in fact wrote Toklas's 1933 "autobiography", which in itself sounds like a fairly stoned thing to do.) The Alice B Toklas Cook Book included a recipe for "Haschisch Fudge": readers were assured this was "the food of Paradise ... it might provide an entertaining refreshment for a Ladies' Bridge Club or a chapter meeting of the DAR". Indeed it might.
In 1972, the Nixon government outlawed marijuana as a Schedule I Controlled Substance, Congress declaring that the plant had "no accepted medical use". Legislative opinion has changed convincingly since then, with the plant shown to offer confirmed or probable benefits in the treatment of a range of ailments including nausea, insomnia, alcoholism, glaucoma and multiple sclerosis. As the Netherlands moves to restrict cannabis use in its famous cafés to Dutch nationals, andas a Green councillor calls for the drug to be served in licensed premises across Brighton, it seems weed is having a moment in the kitchen spotlight. Expect a rise in Pink Floyd downloads.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2012