Mrs. Green is a 70-something Roseland grandma living with her weed-dealing nephew who keeps her well supplied with bud. Her children—a military vet with PTSD and a drinking problem, a pastor who has lost his spirit, and a lawyer with cancer—all disapprove of her habit. But that all changes after Christmas dinner when she accidentally spills cannabis oil into the collards and everybody’s problems drift away.
That’s the premise behind Cerrone Crowder’s first novel, Pass the Greens: An Urban Comedy, and its follow-up, Pass the Greens: A Cannabis Infused Soul Food Cookbook, a collection of 57 recipes inspired by his own mother’s and grandmother’s cooking.
Crowder, a 34-year-old former paramedic turned cannabis entrepreneur, says his grandmother Mildred was the exact opposite of Mrs. Green, but she was the inspiration behind the books. The Sunday school teacher and mother of five was suffering from advanced Alzheimer’s disease in 2014 just as Illinois’s Medical Cannabis Act was enacted.
“She was not verbal,” he says. “Either she would sleep all day and be up all night agitated. She was a small lady but would become physically frustrated. She reverted to a child. She was taking all kinds of antipsychotic medications, and the doctor said there was nothing they could do to help her.”
Crowder had come across a 2014 study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease that indicated small doses of THC could help promote the removal of the amyloid plaque deposits in the brain associated with the disease. But “all we knew about was smoking blunts and joints in our community,” he says. “You can’t get grandmother into that. Medical cannabis was very taboo. It was not talked about at all.”
Still, Crowder made a case to his grandmother’s doctors and they agreed to consider signing off on an application for a medical cannabis card. But by then it was too late. He was working a shift in the ER when they brought her in after suffering a cardiac arrest. A few days later she was gone.
Crowder, who grew up in Roseland and Calumet City, wasn’t into weed when he was young. “We didn’t have many doctors, nurses, no police officers. All we had was the dope man. They weren’t really pushing crack—weed became really popular in the 90s. These guys were businessmen. They were entrepreneurs. They all wound up being arrested or killed, which is why I stayed away from it until I saw a legal opportunity.”
Since his grandmother’s death, Crowder has started a nonprofit called the D.O.P.E. House (Delivering Opportunities for People Everywhere) that’s dedicated to providing equitable medical marijuana access, resources, education, and employment in lower-income and minority communities. And he won a state responsible trainer license that allowed him and his mother Demetria to start DLC Training LLC, which provides the required training for dispensary agents in Illinois (they’ll be starting free online training sessions during the COVID-19 shutdown).
At the cannabis-related meetings and classes he attended over the years he was often the only Brown face in the room, so he took community college publishing courses and got to work on a book to help African Americans access the Green Rush. But progress on that project came in fits and starts, and though he eventually published Budding Jim Crow: A New Strain of Prejudice last year, he first turned to comedy, which he reckoned would resonate more in the community.
After publishing Mrs. Green’s origin story, he and his mother began joking about medicating their own family recipes. And then they stopped joking. “I was trying to find something people in our culture could enjoy as well and give it a different twist, because everything online when I first started researching was really simple cookies and brownies. It wasn’t much.”
Crowder’s mother pulled out the scratch banana pudding recipe that only got dusted off for birthdays and other special occasions. Then there was Mildred’s seven-layer salad: “First time I knew salad could be good.” Deep-pot gumbo, jerk pork chops, mac and cheese, dirty rice, sweet potatoes, and cornbread were all updated with cannabis infusions—and of course his granny’s greens (get the recipe at ChicagoReader.com). “It was pretty emotional because I was able to relive my memories of my grandmother through my mother in the kitchen.”
There are a half dozen foundational cannabis infusion recipes in the book to medicate the dishes Mrs. Green style—cannaoil, cannabutter, cannamilk, cannahoney, cannamayo—along with instructions for decarboxylating, or heating your flower to activate the cannabinoids. Crowder says the book made Amazon’s condiment and ethnic cookbook best seller lists when it was first published in 2016, but since then it’s taken off organically without much marketing. “When I first put it out I was really trying to pass it out on the south side just for educating people. It really does great around Thanksgiving and Christmas—and always 4/20.”
Crowder is currently awaiting word on the cannabis transporter license he applied for, and he wants to go for a cannabis infuser license but the capital required for that is formidable. In the meantime he and Demetria are building another business to deliver jarred brownie and cookie mixes—just add your own cannabutter—and Crowder is working on another book he hopes will open a dialogue about cannabis in the Black church, because “that’s where a lot of sick people are.”
That one’s inspired by a passage from Genesis: And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. v
Cannabis Collard Greens
Time required: 3 hours
Yields: 6-8 servings
What you need:
- large stock pot
- 2 pounds smoked meat
- 2 bunches collard greens
- 6 tablespoons cannaoil, divided (recipe follows)
- 1½ white onions, sliced
- 2 white onions, diced
- 2 cloves garlic
- Lawry’s Seasoned Salt
- black pepper
- white pepper
- Cajun seasoning
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 3 cups chicken broth
- 3 tomatoes, sliced into halves (optional)
Rinse smoked meat and place in the large stock pot. Cover with water. Bring to a boil. Reduce boil and let cook for about one to two hours.
Clean and chop greens.
In a skillet, sauté three tablespoons of cannaoil, sliced onions, and garlic until tender. Add seasonings, chopped greens, sautéed onion mixture, apple cider vinegar, and chicken broth to smoked meat. Cover and cook for about two hours or until greens are nice and tender, stirring occasionally.
In a small bowl, add diced onions, tomatoes, and the remaining three tablespoons of cannaoil to greens for an extra kick (optional).
Time required: 2 hours
What you need:
- large saucepan
- 28 ounces extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 ounce ground cannabis, decarboxylated
- Tupperware container with lid
- rubber band (that will stretch around the rim of your Tupperware)
Pour the oil in the saucepan and set on medium heat. Let the oil warm up until it is hot but not boiling. Add your cannabis to the hot oil.
Stir the cannabis frequently as it soaks for at least two hours. Do not let it boil. Allow to cool. Prepare your Tupperware container by taking two sheets of the cheesecloth and securing it over the lid of the bowl using the rubber band.
Pour the cannaoil mix slowly over the top of the cheesecloth and into the container. Repeat this step as necessary to strain all of the plant from the oil.
Adapted from Pass the Greens: A Cannabis Infused Soul Food Cookbook by Cerrone Crowder