Honeyed words

(Photo by Ed Osborn)

(Photo by Ed Osborn)

There are swarms of ways to enjoy the bounty of the bees
Honey comes out of the air… At early dawn the leaves of trees are found bedewed with honey … Whether this is the perspiration of the sky or a sort of saliva of the stars, or the moisture of the air purging itself, nevertheless it brings with it the great pleasure of its heavenly nature…
– Pliny (AD 23-79)

This sweetest of foodstuffs, a viscous amber/gold goo that pours as slowly as you move on a languid sultry summer day – it’s the only food that comes from insects (besides fried insects consumed in other lands).

Honey brings out the best in sweets – think gooey, nutty baklava – and enhances savory dishes like honeyed carrots or tiny lamb rib chops coated in honey and fresh thyme and gently charcoal-grilled. It’s perfect with fruit and yogurt, perhaps with a bit of granola or nuts for crunch. It’s in the honey mustard on your sandwich, and flavors the sweet treats halvah and nougat. In Provence, once, I had divine lavender honeyed duck. But these days my honey sees most action in my tea, where it sweetens any bitter edges and complements the tea’s intensity. But I use a lot with butter on multigrain toast, too.


In my larder currently there are three kinds. There’s a super-mild acacia that I picked up in the Pyrenees last summer, and a lovely raw blend from Connecticut that contains some of my sister’s husband’s home-harvested honey (he is allergic to bee stings, but is an avid home beekeeper anyway). My favorite is the one from closest to home: a jar of Ray Tousey’s honey from Clermont – mild without that cloying quality that some honeys can have, and delicately floral. It’s said that eating local honey is good for allergies, so that’s one of the reasons I eat it, although I have yet to do any scientific tests on that.

Honeys come in an astounding variety of flavors, which has nothing to do with the kinds of bees that made them and everything to do with what the bees fed on. In the Mediterranean, you’ll find cactus-flower honey in Sicily and thyme-flower honey at Mount Hymettus in Greece. Clover and wildflower blends are common around here, tupelo in other regions. You’ll find honeys made from sunflowers, the blossoms of buckwheat, linden, orange, thistle, dandelion, eucalyptus, sage and many more. Bees have been known to make honey out of poisonous plants, making honey that’s toxic but just as sweet.

Urban rooftop bees get whatever they find. The bees from the roof of the Tate Modern gallery in London make a honey that has been called “toffeelike,” while the nearby Tate Britain’s is “citrusy.” Closer to home, Keegan Ales in Kingston raise their own bees on the premises for their luscious Super Kitty. Generally, as with maple syrup, the lighter in color, the milder in taste and the darker, the stronger.