When the pandemic lockdowns began, people started buying a lot of things. For some folks, it was sourdough bread starters. For others (mostly sadists), it was exercise bikes. And for people in Oregon, it was–to put it bluntly–a metric shit-ton of weed. Oregonians broke their own record, buying more than a billion dollars’ worth of recreational cannabis in 2020, with Multnomah County stoners leading the way, according to data from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.
“For the first month, business was crazy. It was like people didn’t know how long it would last,” said Laurie Wolf, founder of cannabis edible company Laurie + MaryJane.
Through the long slog of 2020, Wolf watched as her canisters of cannabis-infused fudgy brownies, savory cheese crisps, and almond cakes flew off Oregon’s dispensary shelves. With the November 2020 release of her fifth cannabis cookbook, The Cannabis Apothecary, Wolf had a proposition for these snack-frenzied customers: try making them yourself.
“It is a process, and it takes several hours, but I like the process,” Wolf said. “It’s therapeutic.”
Wolf’s journey into cooking with cannabis started in New York City where she worked as a food stylist, food editor, and recipe developer. Wolf has epilepsy and would carry a post-it note with her everywhere that listed her home address in case an absence seizure struck, temporarily leaving her with no memory and no recollection of her own name or what year it was.
Pharmaceutical drugs helped reduce Wolf’s seizures but left her exhausted. It wasn’t until moving to Oregon in 2007 with her husband, Bruce, that Wolf (a former stoner during “the hippie days" of her youth) rediscovered cannabis. A man seated next to her at a dinner party described suffering from the same type of epilepsy as her, and explained how he had stopped having seizures after using medical marijuana. Intrigued, Wolf started using the plant to treat her own epilepsy and eventually weaned herself off medication entirely.
“After two and a half weeks I started not having any auras [a type of focal aware seizure]–anything. By five weeks I had absolutely no issue. And it’s been that way for over five years now,” she said.
Wolf’s success with cannabis also came with an unexpected side effect: treating her severe depression.
“It’s been a miracle, really. I can just be crying and crying and crying, and then I smoke and then I’m making jokes,” Wolf said. “It’s recreationally delightful, but I also think of it as a lifesaving medication, because it can be very dark in my head.” Wolf’s interest in cooking naturally drew her to the edibles section of Portland’s medical marijuana dispensaries, but she found the mostly homemade, unlabeled products sold in the aughts “dreadful.”
“I came home from a dispensary and said to my husband, ‘you know, I think I’m going to start an edibles business because these all suck,” she said.
Wolf started cooking and selling her own snacks, starting with sweet baked goods and then branching into more savory recipes. With the help of her daughter-in-law, co-founder, and sometimes co-author, Mary Wolf, her edible business was born. Since 2014, Wolf has hired 11 more people, published five cannabis cookbooks, and been dubbed “The Martha Stewart of Marijuana Edibles” by The New Yorker.
“I just can’t even believe it sometimes. I’m like ‘how did this happen?’ Because it never occurred to me that it would be a real business. My head never went there,” Wolf said.
In her latest book, Wolf continues extolling the virtues of from-scratch cooking with cannabis, taking time to work with the plant, savor the high dining experience, and reap its mental and physical health benefits—whether that’s treating an anxiety disorder or rheumatoid arthritis. Absent from the book’s glossy pages are the desiccated, skunky pot brownies of our past, replaced by dishes like pistachio and rose baklava and avocado-topped bruschetta.
According to Wolf, the tricks to cooking with cannabis are finding the right strains for you, not overdoing the potency in each dish, and learning how to make your own cannabis oils and butters from scratch. Most of all, it’s about using cannabis as a tool to take care of yourself.
“I get a lot of mail from people who are just like ‘you have no idea how this has helped me through this time.’ And I do have an idea,” Wolf said. “It’s been wonderful hearing from people who truly use cannabis as a medicine, and how it has changed their life.”
Getting Started: Cooking with Cannabis
Mercury: What’s your biggest tip for cooking with cannabis?
Wolf: One thing that is the enemy of canna-butter or canna-oil is high heat. We never bake anything over 340 degrees because cannabinoids and terpenes are degraded with heat. Before cooking with cannabis, you need to “decarb” the cannabis. That means heating the flower so that the THCA, which is in the plant when it grows, is converted to THC, which is the psychoactive. That conversion is critical.
What’s your favorite way to cook with cannabis?
I love infusing puff pastry. You can buy puff pastry at Grand Central Bakery or the supermarket. I just brush the pastry with the canna-butter, and then–depending on how strong I want it to be–sauté vegetables in canna-butter and lay them onto the puff pastry, then sprinkle it with cheese.
Laurie’s Infused Canna-Butter Recipe:
Yields: 18 ounces of infused cannabis butter (serving size: 1 teaspoon)
1 pound unsalted butter
Water (enough to fill a saucepan 1-2 inches)
19 grams of decarboxylated ground cannabis bud (instructions below)
1) Decarboxylate your flower: Cook your cannabis buds on a sheet tray at 240 degrees for 45 minutes (if you’re concerned about the smell, you can bake the cannabis in an oven bag).
2) In a large saucepan, bring butter and water to a simmer until the butter is melted.
3) Grind your decarboxylated flower and whisk it into the butter and water mixture. Reduce the heat to low and bring to a slow simmer, cooking for three hours and stirring every 30 minutes.
4) Line a strainer or a sieve with cheesecloth and place it over a large heat-safe bowl. Pour the liquid slowly through the cheesecloth, pressing the cannabis with a spatula to extract all the butter. Discard the cheesecloth.
5) Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, preferably overnight. The mixture will separate into a disk of solid butter on top and water below.
6) Take the bowl out of the fridge and slide a butter knife around the edges to remove the cannabis butter. Turn the disk of cannabis butter upside-down and scrape the bottom to remove any remaining cannabis flecks.
7) Transfer the butter to a glass jar with a lid and store in the refrigerator or freezer.