Elevating a Chicago standby Credit: Mark wieder / unsplash

Cracker Jack officially debuted at the World’s Columbian Exposition, but its founder (if not inventor) Frederick Rueckheim was hawking some form of the caramel corn-peanut snack mix on the streets of Chicago more than 20 years earlier, in 1871. Yes, Garrett Popcorn’s Garrett Mix—formerly known as the Chicago Mix—usually gets more credit, but debuting nearly a century and a half earlier makes Cracker Jack Chicago’s most enduring stoner snack; for stoners, sure, and now those about to be stoned.

Mike Bancroft, of Co-Op Sauce fame and Sauce and Bread Kitchen, is a Cracker Jack fan, though he was always disappointed with the prizes. For the past few years he and partner Anne Kostroski of Crumb Chicago have been conducting edibles R&D, scaling up and fine-tuning some of their recipes for the legal cannabis market, namely their Nutty Buddy Munchy Bar, and this more demographically representative caramel corn recipe update, with pepitas and hot-and-sour Tajin seasoning.

Co-Op is working with some aspiring equity cannabis licensees with the aim of, Bancroft says, “bringing back full circle some of the social justice aspects of what we like to do” (more about that in the future).

In the meantime, he offers this enhanced version for the home cook made with decarboxylated cannabis infused into butter or coconut oil. Decarboxylation is the process of gently heating cannabis flower to convert nonpsychoactive THCa into psychoactive THC. When you smoke a joint, your lighter does this. When you’re making edibles, the process is a bit more complicated.

In this recipe, given the use of plant material (as opposed to isolates), the end result will smell and taste unmistakably of weed. If this isn’t your bag, you can minimize it somewhat by not grinding your flower too finely before you infuse it into your chosen fat.

There are a number of fancy gadgets you can buy that make the decarbing and infusing process easier and faster, or you can use a slow cooker or sous vide for an odorless process. This stovetop method is as simple as it gets.

Determining dosage is much trickier and less reliable, but there are plenty of online guides to dosing your own edibles that can help you roughly determine the amount of THC and/or CBD in the mix. In this case, half a stick of butter infused with a strain with an average 17 percent THC is going to yield a batch with an estimated total of about 162 mg THC.

That’s just an estimate, but in any case it’s going to be a lot for an all-out binge session. Take it slow, big shooter. This recipe offers an exercise in moderation. Cracker Jack is a snack that’s inherently meant to be scarfed, but this one will fuck you up if you don’t practice restraint.

Lime Chili Munchy Jax
Mike Bancroft, Co-Op Sauce, Sauce and Bread Kitchen

Yield: Approximately 14 one-cup servings with about 12 mg THC each, based on a 17 percent strain.

1/8 ounce cannabis flower, or 1/4 ounce shake
1/2 cup (1 stick) salted butter, or coconut oil
12 cups popped popcorn (1 cup kernels)
1 cup light brown sugar (packed)
1/4 cup honey
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons Tajin, or similar lime chili salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon maple extract
1 cup pepitas, toasted

Step 1. Decarb flower
Heat the oven to 225 degrees Fahrenheit. Grind the cannabis with a coffee grinder, or by hand. Place the ground cannabis on a sheet tray lined with parchment. Cook for about 30 minutes. Remove the sheet tray from the oven and let it rest for at least 30 minutes.

Step 2. Extract cannabinoids
Melt the butter or coconut oil in a small saucepan and heat to around 200 degrees Fahrenheit (medium low heat), never boiling. Add the decarbed flower and stir until immersed. Gently simmer for at least two hours, and up to six hours, stirring regularly. Strain off the butter/coconut oil through cheesecloth, squeezing every last drop from the flower.

Step 3. Make that mix
Heat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Pop the popcorn. Using a stock pot large enough to hold all the ingredients, bring the strained butter/coconut oil, brown sugar, and honey to a simmer, stirring until golden brown, about six minutes.

Add the baking soda, half of the Tajin, and the maple extract and stir. Add the popcorn and pepitas to coat evenly. Spread the coated mixture on the same sheet tray and parchment, and place it in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes, mixing as needed to toast evenly.

Remove and add the remainder of the Tajin. Cool to room temperature. Break apart with your hands or keep the resulting clusters.

Store in an airtight container out of the light, away from kids and pets. The finished caramel corn will last at least a couple weeks.  v