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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

National Honey Month: A Beekeeper's Lunch

Here is amber honey sweet
In a crystal bowl
Sun kissed food the fairies eat
Nectar for the Soul
Ann Fairbairn

I know, beat me with a wet noodle. My posts have been a bit lacking the last couple of weeks. Well, I'm back! I'll spare you the details. Suffice to say, I've been as busy as a bee the last couple of weeks but I'm now back in the hive and just in the nick of time. September is... National Honey Month! Good thing it's a monthly celebration. I don't think I could have "beared" to wait until next year to celebrate.

Honey, You're Amazing

Centuries before man ground wheat into flour, refined cane sugar, or canned fruits and vegetables, man was a hunter of wild honey and a keeper of bees. Discovered by food-foraging prehistoric man some eight to ten thousand years ago, honey became the first sweet know to man. Ancient stories and legends speak of it as the nectar of the gods. A rock painting on the wall of a cave near Valencia, Spain, made many thousands of years ago, shows a Stone Age man hanging by grass ropes and surrounded by angry bees as he takes a honeycomb out of a hole in a cliff and puts it in a basket. Ancient carvings along the Nile include pictures of bees. Ruins in Turkey dating from 6500 B.C. contain the remains of hives made of clay and of coiled straw. Woven baskets, thought to have been used as hives, dating from 3000 to 2000 B.C. have been found in Egypt. Aristotle, the Greek philosopher referred to it as "dew distilled from the stars and the rainbow." The lore of the honeybee and the uses of its stored honey have been favorite topics since the beginnings of written mythology and history. Perhaps those mystified by its goodness and the lack of knowledge of its production raised honey's astounding level to that of sacred worship, source of medication, sign of purity and a symbol of strength and vitality. Honey bees, are perhaps the most intensely studied of all insects.

Unlike men, honeybees have never faltered in their design for organized living. shuffled about by men and their civilizations, bees live as they did thousands of years before Christ. They continue to build perfectly engineered six-sided cells with wax oozed from their own bodies; to convert larva from worker bee into queen if needed; to feed and caress and even die for their queen; to air-condition her nursery; to houseclean; guard her entry; and at last to graduate into nectar-gathering workers...Even as man robs her of her harvest, the bee continues to be the main source of pollination for over fifty of the vital agricultural crops without which his dinner table would indeed be poor. Even as man shifts her from field to meadow to orchard, she continues to provide him with a delectable, natural sweet that is second to none in flavor and in the variety of ways it may be used. Even as man kills her with deadly insecticides, surviving bees continue to provide a food gaining in ever-widening usage by a health-conscious nation. Cooking With Honey very informative down home recipe book by Hazel Berto (1972)
"The only reason for being a bee that I know of is making honey
and the only reason for making honey is so I can eat it."
"Winnie the Pooh in A.A. Milne's 'The House at Pooh Corner

Did you know, honey never spoils. The acidic pH level of honey prevents the growth of many bacteria. There are so many fascinating qualities of honey one doesn't know where to begin. Here are just a few I've gathered in my travels. I've left a few links for you to explore further below.
1. Honey was the most-used medicine in ancient Egypt.
2. Ancient Egyptian citizens paid taxes with honey.
3. Honey has been used since Egyptian times for cosmetic purposes.
4. Honey is full of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and enzymes.
5. Honey is the only food that includes all the substances necessary to sustain life, including water.
6. Honey is a natural “humectant” which means it attracts and retains moisture. (the reason why honey baked goods stay fresher longer)
7. Honey speeds the healing of open wounds and also combats infection.
8. Honey is a natural, unrefined food. It is the only un-manufactured sweet available in commercial quantities.
9. A honey bee must tap 2 million flowers to make 1 pound of honey.
10. The average worker honey bee makes 1 1/2 teaspoon of honey in her lifetime.
11. Babies under 12 months old should not consume honey.

On the average, Americans eat about one pound of honey each year. Most is extracted from the comb before it is sold, and the comb is re-used by the bees. In simplistic terms, the color of new honey is determined by the nectar obtained from the various flowers visited by the honey bees. The flavor of honey can be as complex as the hive that shelters it. Region, weather, season and the aromatic substances found in the sweet nectar's of herbs, fruit blossoms, garden flowers and wildflowers all contribute to the "bouquet" of the honey much like a bottle of fine wine. In recent years, honey tastings have emerged as a venue for experiencing the exciting options specialized honey offers. Some people are as particular about the color of their honey as they are regarding its flavor. Spring honey may tantalize your taste buds in a more subtle way then say perhaps, a fall nectar which may have a stronger flavor with a hint of spice. White clover honey is rather greenish yellow in color where honey made from buckwheat is almost a reddish brown. A favorite of mine is heather honey from Scotland which is most often a reddish light amber. Although, I do hold a place in my heart for the Thyme Honey my daughter, Michele brought back for me from Greece. Thyme honey has a creamy brown color and a robust flavor. I've found when it comes to honey, the darker the color, the stronger the taste. You can find an interesting encounter with thyme honey at Laurie's blog which also includes a Cinnamon Honey Tart recipe. Another blog you may want to visit is Culinary Types. T. W. shares a "glorious summer afternoon" on the North Fork of Long Island at the Jedediah Hawkins Inn. He's all "a-buzz" about his honey tasting experience.

Honey is the sweet, sticky fluid which bees make from the nectar of flowers. Honey is not the same as nectar because the double sugar in nectar is changed chemically while it is in the bee's honey sac. Each molecule is split into two molecules of simple sugar: one of dextrose and one of levulose. (Levulose has been called the queen of sugars. It is almost twice as sweet as cane sugar, and besides its sweetness, it enlivens the human senses to impart what almost can be called a flavor.) Then the bees put this freshly made honey into the cells of the comb where it is allowed to "ripen," and air is fanned over the open cells until about half of the water evaporates. Then each cell is sealed with a cap of beeswax. The beekeeper uncaps the filled honeycombs, usually with a steam or an electrically heated knife, places them in an extractor, and by centrifugal force has the honey removed from the cells.

"All candy calls for flavor sweet
And honey therein can't be beat."

Honey's petals of flavor have not always been as popular as we would imagine. There's a wonderful article by Kathy over at The Food Company Cookbooks blog which demonstrates the Corn Products industry's need to reinforce their place in the "sweet" market. Karo, a popular sweetener used by homemakers even today was highly touted by such leaders as Marion Harland who was respected for her work in the field of Domestic Science and Home Economics. Naturally, the American Bee Journal had something to say about her endorsement. Visit Kathy to see their response. 

Since honey comes in various forms, it is important to pick the appropriate form when you wish to combine honey with other ingredients. Most are familiar with liquid honey, which is extracted from the honey comb by straining or some other method. Honey in this form differs from comb honey only in the absence of the wax comb. Comb honey is sold with its edible comb intact just as the bees have stored it. It is said, the Egyptians offered honeycombs to the gods as a precious gift of loyalty and consoling. You can eat comb honey just like chewy candy it's a sort of "Nature's Bubblegum." Some people just chew it until the honey is gone and remove the wax, others just eat the entire comb, honey and all.

Comb honey: is raw pure honey sections taken straight from the hive – honey bees’ wax comb with no further handling at all. It is the most unprocessed form in which honey comes -- the bees fill the hexagon shaped wax cells of the comb with honey and cap it with beeswax. You can eat comb honey just like a chewy candy. Because the honey in the comb is untouched and is deemed to be pure, honey presented in this form comes with a a relatively higher price tag. Liquid honey: has been filtered to remove fine particles, pollen grains, and air bubbles, and heated to melt visible crystals after being extracted from the honey comb by centrifugal force or gravity. Because liquid honey mixes easily into a variety of foods, its uses are diverse. It is used as a syrup for pancakes and waffles and in a wide variety of recipes, and it's especially convenient for cooking and baking. Cream honey: which is also known as whipped honey, spun honey, granulated honey, or honey fondant, would be an excellent alternative to liquid honey. As the crystallisation process has been controlled very precisely, cream honey does not drip like liquid honey, has a smooth consistency and can be spread like butter. source

Honeycomb Tasting

Honey tasters are in every nectar producing area of the world. The best example of honey tasting is standing in the apiary (beeyard) eating comb honey right out of the hive! Most of us will not have that opportunity but we can enjoy the many different honeys that are available. There is more labor needed to keep the different kinds of honey separate, so expect the gourmet honey treat to be a little more expensive. There are many more varieties of honey that are wonderful and qualify as a gourmet honey. However there just is not enough production of the special nectar to export any of the delight past the community it was produced in. That does not mean that a honey taster can’t ferret out these elusive finds! Good hunting! excellent resource

Yes, dear visitors, honeycomb is edible. Some insist honeycomb is the best way to eat honey. Others use it as a folk remedy for allergies. Beekeepers are traditionally said to recommend it highly and as a result honeycomb is often referred to as "beekeepers lunch." You can eat it with a spoon (though it is a little waxy) or you can put it in tea. Honey comb is completely harmless to swallow although remember it does contain wax. Honeycomb is said to make your skin radiant which already offers more than swallowing chewing gum:) As a matter of fact, I have even found a few ideas using the honey comb in recipes where the honeycomb is used as an ingredient. Here's a simple one from the Food Network called Honey Pots de Creme. My Easy Cooking Blog has another dolloped honey comb dish called Honey and Pear Pudding. In some recipes, the beeswax in the comb replaces the butter or other fats normally used in the preparation of the recipe. Take a look at these Low Fat Comb Honey Muffins from abroad. Another intriguing recipe comes from Bill Granger a TV food personality from Sydney, Australia. His "something sweet" recipe for Ricotta Hotcakes with Honeycomb Butter is found across the web. I'm just not sure whether the honey comb in his recipe is for cut comb honey or honeycomb candy. Personally, I think either would be quite interesting. I have included a few more recipe links below which include comb honey as an ingredient. You can find fresh honeycomb at gourmet stores or online. One of the resources available online, is Marshall's Farm Natural Honey in California. Helen Marshall provides a most interesting "honey & cheese tasting" plate called Honeycomb & Blue Cheese Plate. The recipe also includes a list of other recommended cheeses. I have left a link for the farm and the recipe below. Another online resource for comb honey comes from Savannah Bee Honeycomb.

"When you want your honey just the way the bees made it, Savannah Bee Honeycomb is for you. Filled with honey equalling the life's work of two bees, each golden cell brims with the concentrated nectar of thousands of rare and remote Georgia flowers. When you eat Savannah Bee honeycomb with wine and cheese, you think dreams can come true. When you spread it on a hot piece of buttered toast, you think it's happening right now."

Through the years, I have managed to accumulate quite a collection of honey recipes books. Most of them were published by the American Honey Institute which I was surprised to discover doesn't have a website online. I did find The National Honey Board online which also has a wealth of information. I was especially interested in an article titled Honey as a cough suppressant for children over 12 months old published by researchers from Penn State College of Medicine. It should be noted, National Honey Month is sponsored by The National Honey Board. I sifted through some of the honey booklets that I have and was delighted to discover another recipe which uses comb honey as an ingredient. The title of the booklet is Honey Recipes for sweets, for energy, for conservation. The copyright date is 1942 and as mentioned, it was published by the American Honey Institute in Madison, Wisconsin. It's pictured to the left. The recipe I have chosen is Chocolate Covered Comb Honey. It's really quite simple.
Ingredients
comb honey
hot water
chocolate
Directions
Let comb honey remain in refrigerator 24 hours before using. Cut comb honey into pieces about 1/4 inch long and 1/8 inch wide with knife that is dipped in boiling water. Place pieces on trays covered with waxed paper; chill 30 minutes. Coat with dipping chocolate. Drop a nut on each piece. It is necessary to have dipping chocolate at proper temperature (about 70 to 75 degrees) when coating.

For those of you who are still skeptical about trying comb honey, I have also included scanned recipes for Honey Cocoa Syrup and Lemon Honey Jelly. Just click the image and enjoy!

FYI: The term "making a beeline for", describes the shortest and quickest route the nectar-gathering bee follows to return to the hive.

Resources
1. National Honey Month
2. Introduction to the Honey Bee
3. Dances with Bees (Bees can communicate to other bees the distance, direction, quality, and quantity of a food source with a unique dance.
At PBS, you can see the wondrous bee dances.

4. About Comb Honey (a bit nervous about eating the comb, check out these brave kids)
5. Why You Must Experience the Taste of Honeycomb
6. Honeycomb: Now What? (Chocolate & Zucchini blog)
7. Marshall's Farm Honeycomb
8. Ireland, the land of milk and honey
9. Why Honey is Not Vegan
Recipes
1. Ricotta Hotcakes with Bananas & Honeycomb Butter
2. Honeycomb and Cacao Nib Mignardise (scroll down)
3. Pyramid of honeycomb parfait with a passion fruit dressing (from caterersearch.com)
4. Pikelets, Honeycomb & Crème Fraîche Served with Fresh Figs, Honey and Mint
5. Blackberry Farm’s Honeycomb-Glazed Pork Loin with Kale & Onions
6. Honeycomb & Blue Cheese Plate
7. Baked Honey Custard for Rosh Hashanah @ Baking History

11 comments:

  1. I have only recently discovered all the types of honey. I havent nibbled on honey comb in a while so I need to remedy it. It amazes me all the benefits honey has.

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  2. I had no idea it was honey month! I always found it fascinating that vegans can't eat it (not that I am one -- oh, heavens now.)

    It seems to me that honeys WANT to share -- it frees them up to make MORE, which is pretty much their favorite activity on the planet.

    But who am I to speak for bees?

    ;)

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  3. That lemon honey jelly sounds amazing! When I have more than 2 minutes to throw something desperately into the oven I am going to try making that.

    I have an award for you over at Kitchen Retro (which is now over at BLogger, http://kitchenretro.blogspot.com)

    Cheerio! Lidian

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  4. Hi Courtney,
    I highly recommend revisiting a nib of a nibble. It's quite an experience both tastefully and mentally. A sort of back to nature spirituality.

    Hi Nora,
    Thanks for visiting. The language of the bees is as fascinating as their dances. Simply AMAZING!

    Hi Lidian,
    Congratulations on YOUR award and thank you ever so much for mine. It's my very first one and I'm blushing with appreciation. Thank you...

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  5. Another wonderfully informative article. I think it's funny that while you were busy writing about honey, I was busy looking at corn syrup. Interesting how competitive the two industries were (and still are).

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  6. Hi Kathy,
    That's so funny. I was thinking the same thing when I visited your blog which reminded me of the similarities and competition. Kudos to YOU!

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  7. Very informative article and I really enjoyed the quotations! I didn't know that the honeycomb was edible!

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  8. Dear Anon,
    Thank you so much for dropping by. Aren't bees simply amazing! I'm so glad you enjoyed the post. Visit anytime:)

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  9. Honeybees are the producers of the best food possible: honey

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  10. I totally agree, Mike. I hope you don't mind but I would like to include your resourceful link right here. Great Honeybee info!!!

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  11. So good topic really i like any post talking about Ancient Egypt but i want to say thing to u Ancient Egypt not that only ... you can see in Ancient Egypt Ancient Egypt Religion and more , you shall search in Google and Wikipedia about that .... thanks a gain ,,,

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Through this wide opened gate,
none came too early,
none returned too late.

Thanks for dropping in...Louise

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