Turtles Chocolates for Jazz — Milton “Mezz” Mezzrow, Louis Armstrong, and Billie Holiday
First of all, this wee article needs some background music. You just take a sec to yell at your Alexa, or Google, or to rewind and play a jazz tape on your boom box — do me a solid, and load up some Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, or Milton “Mezz” Mezzrow. There now, that’s better.
If you're old enough that "like" doesn't pepper your conversations unless you're partial to something, you might recall that Harry Anslinger was king douche for the Federal Bureau of Narcotics in the U.S. for far too long (for, like, 32 years. See my youthful glow in that sentence??). And guy had an extra-special hate-on for jazz musicians.
Anslinger kept a file called “marijuana and musicians,” in the late 30s and early 40s, and although it never came together for him, he fantasized about having a coordinated cross-country pot bust of many big-name jazz greats at once. Dream a little dream, I guess.
Jazz and pot did go hand-in-hand at the time, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Louis Armstrong, a known lover of “gage,” was quoted as saying, “It makes you feel good, man, makes you forget all the bad things that happen to a Negro. It makes you feel wanted, and when you’re with another tea smoker, it makes you feel a special kinship.” Armstrong was arrested early on, in 1930 when pot wasn’t even illegal federally yet (but it was in California, ironically). Armstrong and his drummer were sentenced to 6 months in jail and $1000 fines, but managed to have their sentences suspended. Louis’ arrest didn’t hurt his fame, though, and didn’t prevent him from continuing to enjoy his gage. He smoked for most of his life, only giving it up as he got older because the penalties were too high for him to take the risk.
The name, “Milton ‘Mezz’ Mezzrow” may be less familiar to you than Louis’, but he was also an important viper (as jazz tokers called themselves. Imagine they could have known that today it would be about vapers?). Mezz was a clarinet-playing dealer to the stars, sharing the love across Harlem, so much so that “Mezz” became a nickname for good weed, or really anything good, a bit like, “it was the shit,” or whatever the kids are saying these days. Mezz was born Jewish, but he considered himself an African-American convert. He married a black woman and called himself “a voluntary Negro.” When he finally got busted for carrying forty joints with intent to distribute in 1940, he was sent to Riker’s for 1–3, where he insisted on being housed with the black inmates. Ice, ice, baby. I like this paragraph from Mezz’s autobiography, Really the Blues, describing why pot was important to jazz musicians:
“Us vipers began to know that we had a gang of things in common … We were on another plane in another sphere compared to the musicians who were bottle babies, always hitting the jug and then coming up brawling after they got loaded. We like things to be easy and relaxed, mellow and mild, not loud or loutish, and the scowling chin-out tension of the lushhounds with their false courage didn’t appeal to us. Besides, the lushies didn’t even play good music—their tones came hard and evil, not natural, soft and soulful…We members of the viper school were for making music that was real foxy, all lit up with inspiration and her mammy.”
Makes sense to me, that pot was a drug of choice for these artists, bringing inspiration, style, and a chill vibe.
Gage also made sense for jazz musicians in terms of self-medication and post-traumatic stress. Life wasn’t easy, being a black American in those days, and for some, obviously, it was even worse than for others. Which brings us to Billie Holiday and pot.
Billie’s musical gift was about the only break she was given, as far as I can tell. Her mother had her as a teenager, and her father left them early on. She did a stint in a facility for troubled African-American girls when she was nine, and there are reports she was assaulted there at that time. Before Billie was even fourteen, she and her mother were living in a brothel in Harlem, where Billie was taking clients for $5 apiece. That year, the brothel was raided, and Billie and her mother were convicted and sent to a workhouse.
Happy little blog you found, eh? Cannasugar and spice and everything nice? Let’s be clearer about where I’m going with this sad tale. Billie turned to marijuana and many other drugs to cope with a life that didn’t get all that much better after those hard beginnings (string of abusive a-holes), and she became an addict to hard drugs. Let’s just say aloud what I hope y’all are thinking already — trauma is the true gateway drug, even though many like to blame our poor leafy green friend.
Enter our friend Harry Anslinger, who made it his personal vendetta to go after Billie, hounding her with his agents even until she was laying in hospital in her deathbed, at forty-four. Even in the very end, they fingerprinted Billie and took her mug shots in the hospital bed, where she detoxed and then died alone, her friends prevented from entry by the police. “The hounding and the pressure drove me,” she had written earlier, “to think of trying the final solution, death.” Ended up working out that way, non?
Why chase the jazz greats, Harry? Let’s let him answer by sharing a few of his thoughts found in memos:
“[Jazz] sounded like the jungles in the dead of night.”
“Unbelievably ancient indecent rites of the East Indies are resurrected,” in jazz. The lives of jazzmen, “reek of filth.”
Jazz is sensual, and free. Marijuana and jazz, both, offered harmless relief and solace to (often black) performers and audiences. The jazz greats were popular with new fans, beginning to break down racial barriers — these freedoms were obviously a danger to the establishment, and associated biases were about to affect drug policy for years to come, no matter what vindicating research or evidence about cannabis might have (and did) present itself. Those in power knew enough to reject the total package. Jazz, and the pot that came along with it, were signs of change. And threat.
Lonely grief is hounding me
Like the lonely shadow hounding me
It’s always there just out of sight
Like a frightening dream on a lightning night
Deep Song, Billie Holiday
CHOCOLATE TURTLES EDIBLES
Difficulty: Quick as a jazz riff, but getting the caramel right can be a bit bass
Bag of Tricks
Rounded silicone candy moulds (if you’re not as anal as I am, you can just pour the caramel into a lump over the nuts and beneath the chocolate). I bought my moulds on Amazon — they can also be used for cake pops
A candy thermometer
About 30 turtles with 6 tbsp cannacoconut oil yields approximately 3 mg THC per piece
How’s about some Berry White? Berry White is an indica-dominant hybrid that should give a relaxed vibe that encourages creativity.
Approximately 30 minutes for the caramel, 30 minutes to chill the caramel to shape, and another 10 minutes to assemble the turtles.
1 ½ cups (175 g) pecan halves, tossed with olive oil and a few tbsps kosher salt
½ cup (113 g) unsalted butter, melted
½ cup (100 g) brown sugar
½ cup (100 g) granulated (white) sugar
1 tsp vanilla
½ cup (125 mL) corn syrup
½ cup sweetened condensed milk
Pinch of salt
6 tbsp cannacoconut oil
2 cups (300 g) semi-sweet chocolate chips
Pinch of sea salt
Preheat oven to 350°F. Toss pecan halves in olive oil and kosher salt, and spread them on a baking sheet. Toast them for about 5 minutes (until just aromatic), stirring once. Don’t space out on this, little pot baker, as no one likes burnt nuts.
Now stop laughing about my dirty little pun and get to making your caramel. In a medium pot over medium heat, melt your butter and add the virgin sugars, vanilla, corn syrup, sweetened condensed milk, and salt. Whisk to combine, stirring regularly until the caramel begins to bubble a little. Clip your candy thermometer to the edge of the saucepan and immerse it in the liquid without letting it touch the bottom. Reduce heat to medium-low.
Use your whisk to stir the caramel regularly — trust me on this one, you don’t want your caramel to taste burnt and your saucepan to be ruined. Don’t ask me how I know. Watch the thermometer rise to about 235°F–240°F. This should take somewhere in the neighbourhood of 15 minutes. You’ll know it’s right if you drizzle some into a glass of ice water and it stays together, but comes apart when touched. If it stays in a sticky ball, you let it go a bit long and you made toffee that will stick to your teeth. If this happens, c’est la vie, people will still be getting their buzz on, so they won’t complain about brushing a little harder than usual.
Pour the caramel into the silicone moulds. Try to go for that turtle shape — if too round, only pour ¾ full. Freeze for about ½ hour (this will help with removal from the mould and will reduce spreading when you pour the chocolate over).
Melt the chocolates and cannacoconut oil in a double-boiler or metal bowl over boiling water, stirring a few times.
After the caramels are ready, prepare a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone baking mat.
Create each little turtle, starting with a dollop of chocolate on the parchment/baking mat. Dip about 3 pecans in the pot of chocolate so that when their “feet” stick out, they’re chocolate-covered. Place them into the dollop. Top with a rounded caramel, which you can flatten a bit, and then slowly pour chocolate over in a thin stream and spread it with the back of the spoon if necessary. Don’t pour too much chocolate or you’ll get a puddle. Sprinkle with a few grains of sea salt.
Repeat until you run out of caramels.
Refrigerate to solidify, and chase those blues away with a turtle.