Photos by Erika Kent, courtesy of Feral House Press
Although Portlandia had a helluva time with the pickling gag, packing fresh produce with salt and vinegar can give a much-appreciated twang to certain foods. Christina Ward, scribe behind Preservation: The Art and Science of Canning, Fermentation and Dehydration (out now on Feral House Press, where Ward also works), knows this first hand and goes one step further: she adds weed, duh. With THC- and CBD-infused fine dining on the rise, anything seems fair game to make “special,” though pickles remain an idiosyncratic choice.
Curious as it may be, a marijuana pickle may be exactly the lift you need to push through some PMS cramps, a raincloud of anxiety, or better enjoy a horizontal afternoon on the couch. That’s where Ward can help. MERRY JANE got with this pickling maestro to talk about mid-’70s parenting styles, magic picklebacks, and how to properly mark which pickle jar is spiked.
Marinated Marijuana Pickle
Total preparation time: 2 hours
Headspace: 1/2 inch
Process time: 15 minutes
Note: It does contain olive oil, used in the roasting; take care not to exceed the total amount of oil used, as that would change the total acidity of the pickle.
1 ounce preferred marijuana (buds and/or stems)
1/2 cup olive oil
Pickling Solution Ingredients
1 cup water
2 cups white wine vinegar (5% acidity)
4 Tablespoons 100% pure pickling salt
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon fennel seed
Optional: 4 whole cloves garlic, peeled
Preheat oven to 250 degrees (or 270, which is the lowest temperature setting on many modern ovens). Line jelly roll pans with parchment paper.
Lay cannabis flat on the parchment-lined pan. Sprinkle cannabis with olive oil. Place in oven and roast for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.
Make pickling solution. In large non-reactive stockpot, add the white wine vinegar, water, and salt. Bring to boil while covered over medium heat. Remove from heat.
If using garlic, place the cloves into prepared jars. Add 1 teaspoon of dried flavoring herbs to jar.
Carefully place prepped cannabis into jar. Using a rubber spatula, scrape parchment paper completely clean of marijuana and olive oil into jar. Ladle pickling solution into in jar, making sure that all material is covered and within the required headroom. Put on lid and process for two weeks or place into refrigerator.
Variations: You can easily add heat to this pickle by adding in a few hot peppers into the jar. You can also change the flavor profile by using different herb and spice combinations. Try these: ginger, garlic, and five spice OR clove, allspice, juniper berry, and dill seed.
Step-by-Step Review of the Hot-Water Bath/Steam Canning Process
1. Clean and prep jars by washing with very hot soapy water, rinse thoroughly in hot water. Do not dry. Immediately use OR instead of hand-washing, run jars in a dishwasher on sanitize cycle.
2. Place lids into boiling hot water for thirty seconds. This softens or ‘activates’ the rubber edge on the lid.
3. Pour food into hot, drained jars. Leave correct headspace as directed in the recipe (half an inch). Headspace is the air left between the jelly and the rim of the jar, necessary to set the seal.
4. Carefully wipe rims of jars to remove drips. Place lids on jars.
5. Place bands on jars and “finger tighten.” As soon as you feel the natural resistance of the band on the jar when turning, stop.
6. Place jars into boiling water processor. Or Atmospheric / Steam Canner. Jars should be on the rack and not touching the bottom of the canning pot.
7. Process for exact time listed in the recipe. Timing begins when the water in the canner is at a full boil. Or when steam is venting from holes in the lid of Atmospheric / Steam Canner.
8. Remove jars from canner. Place jars on flat counter/table surface and let them cool 24 hours.
Author Christina Ward, photo by Erika Kent
MERRY JANE: Tell me about how you got into pickling. Why is fermentation such an exciting method of food prep?
Christina Ward: I grew up in, looking back, at a rare time in America. The mid-1970s and early ‘80s were the heyday of both of drug culture and the benign neglect-style of parenting. In the Midwest, you had a huge chasm between rural and urban areas. I, like most of my classmates, were just one or two generations away from a fairly primitive agrarian existence. I spent the school year in the city taking in all the wonderful terrible things big cities give you — rock-’n’-roll, subversive ideas, and of course, drugs. Then summers came and I went to my grandmother’s farm in rural northwest Wisconsin.
My grandma expected everyone to work; it was not summer camp. I loved learning her old ways — quilting, weaving, and of course, pickling and canning. I kept it up throughout my life and dove into the history and science of why and how we eat what we do.
What is it about pickling and fermentation that excites you?
The idea of eating whatever kind of food you want whenever you want is a wholly new and modern idea that is only about 100 years old. Sure, people have been fermenting foods since someone left a fish in the stone jug too long, but I’m talking about consciously understanding the science so you can safely alter foods to remain nutritious for months and sometimes years after harvesting.
Fermentation is one of the oldest methods of extending the life of a plant or animal food. When you understand what’s happening, it’s easy to do. I tell people that fermenting is a form of farming-bacterial farming. You’re essentially creating an environment that encourages symbiotic bacteria to grow. The waste product of bacteria is acetic acid and high acid environments prevent pathogens. If you’re fermenting a kombucha, wine, or beer, you’re inviting yeasts to grow. The same results: the waste of yeast is alcohol. The way I tell it to a kid is: The poop of “good” microbes is what kills germs.
Pickling is both the noun and verb that describes the action and the final product. A bit confusing at times. Adding to the confusion, a fermented food isn’t often called a “pickle” — just fermented cucumbers. Vinegars are fermented then distilled. When you make a pickling solution with vinegar you’re essentially creating an acid solution that both prevents any further microbe growth and extracts THC.
When most people think edibles of weed-infused foods, pickles and other fermented food doesn't usually come up first. How did you start to develop your method with that?
Back to that sweet-spot of teenage life in the early ‘80s! Marijuana was readily available yet not reliable in its dosage. You never really knew what you would get, and most of it was harsh. Smoking marijuana never felt good to me; sore throat, burning lungs, a little paranoid. Not pleasant at all.
My first experiment with edibles was in baking 30 years ago. It was quite primitive. Chocolate chip cookies with ground marijuana leaves and bud mixed into the flour. I made them for a long private bus trip to a political conference. Everyone onboard was happy to partake in the experiment. Suffice to say, it was a great ride!
Years later, as I continued my research in food chemistry and preservation it was obvious to me that the techniques used to preserve traditional foods can be used for marijuana. There’s so much info floating around the internet about working with marijuana. I think the first question to ask yourself before you begin making marijuana edibles is, “What do I want from the experience?” Some people are looking for the maximum high while others looking for pain or anxiety relief. What you want from the plant determines the best methods.
What type of cannabis experience do you typically look for?
Personally, I’m looking for pain relief properties and pickling, which is essentially using an acid to release the cannabinoids within the plant, works very well. I also hate wasting anything — pickling stems is a fantastic way to use up parts of the plant that may traditionally be discarded.
A pickle, like the one in the recipe, can be kept in the fridge for months and you could continue to add more stems to the jar. You could also hot-water bath process the jar which would make the pickle shelf-stable for a few years. The key with pickled anything is patience. Just as you need to let a cucumber sit in a jar for weeks to get to peak pickle, you’ll want to let your marijuana pickles stay in the jar for a few weeks.
Are people surprised when you tell them you make pickled edibles?
People have asked me: why? Isn’t making pickles wasting good cannabis? Again, this comes down to what your goals are. If you have a home-grown or lower-strength/quality plants, pickling gives you more choices. If you’re looking for the anti-inflammatory and pain relief benefits, then this is another tool in your toolbox. The plant retains its cannabinoid properties and the “pickle juice” is now infused with those qualities.
Let’s not forget about flavor. Marijuana has a distinct taste that is not always loved. A pickling solution is more than just an acid bath; you add other herbs and spices that enhances the overall product. The recipe I shared today has a Mediterranean blend of spices. You can change the flavor profile by adjusting the mix of other herbs, as long as the ratios stay the same.
Tell me some ways you recommend serving these magic pickles. What are some precautions people should consider?
Pickling is not just for the stems and extras. My favorite thing is to pickle home-grown buds. You can add them to a cheese and charcuterie tray, toss a few into a salad, and my absolute favorite thing to do is use them as Bloody Mary garnish. Because I hate wasting anything, try this: use a few of your pickled stems as skewers for cheese and charcuterie. Zero waste and interesting tastes! The pickling solution is also infused with THC. The juice can be mixed with a touch of oil and used as a vinaigrette for greens. Heck, you can even drink a shot of it as a pickleback.
You do want to be cautious in how many or much you eat at one setting as their will be some variables in potency. The more powerful of strain used, the more punch the pickles pack! I tend to recommend this method for lower-quality strains. As with any edible, you want to prevent kids from eating it. It goes without saying that consent among adults is always a must. You can add a few drops of food dye to the pickling solution if you want to absolutely make clear that the jar is "Special."
Just thinking aloud here, but an infused-Bloody Mary sounds like actual heaven on Earth. Any tips for that?
We think alike! I tell folks in class this all the time: if you think it will taste good in a Bloody Mary, then you can pickle it. Adding a shot or two of the pickle juice to your Bloody Mary mix will give it a delicious edge. Should we call it a Bloody Merry Jane?!
Now that Preservation is out in the world, what's your next project?
I love working with people, food, and stories. The how, why, and what [of] we eat is so interesting, especially how much it’s changed in the past 150 years. The 20th century saw so many scientific advances in food science but people tend to overlook that it was also the advent of food marketing. It’s fun to look at those crazy 1960s pictures of bananas wrapped in ham but how those foods came to be paired together and how it was sold to the American housewife is fascinating and slightly sinister. That should be done in about a year.
For more on "Preservation: The Art and Science of Canning, Fermentation, Dehydration," including links to order the book, visit Feral House's website
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