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Culinary Discovery

Celebrating Honey

by Gabriella True

 

September is celebrated as Honey month.

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, House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne

Honey. It is sweet, timeless and every flower in the middle of summer. It is a timeline into history. It is the only food that will never spoil. It is comfort, a yummy topping on toast, pure and unprocessed and soothing in tea. It is Aristotle's nectar of the gods. It is our memory bringing us back in time to Winnie the Pooh's passion, liquid gold, great in cooking and the only human food produced by insects. It is primarily composed of glucose, fructose, water, enzymes, minerals, vitamins...delicious, a lover's calling with a simple, Honey, be mine.

There are many legends surrounding honey, including the origin of the word "honeymoon". In Eastern cultures as a means of celebrating their union, love and respect for one another, newlyweds would have a spoonful of honey poured into their coupled palms. The couple would then lick the honey off each other's hand. This ensured that the man would never raise a hand to his bride, and that she would forever speak loving words to him. Legend also says that Cupid dipped his arrows in honey prior to striking lovers and thus the bee became a symbol of Cupid. Peasants paid German feudal lords in honey during the 11th Century. Honey was also thought to possess the strength to mark a man a genius and forever happy. For this reason, certain cultures still practice the tradition of lightly gracing a newborn child's lips with the sweet nectar.

Egyptian hieroglyph's featuring bees were found in a temple built in Cairo in 24,000 B.C. The Egyptians not only used honey as a sweetener but also in embalming, for money, and as an offering to their gods. The bee continued to be important throughout Egyptian history: the pharaoh of Lower Egypt during the First Dynasty (3,200 B.C.) used the bee as his emblem. Honey has been written about since the 21st Century B.C. in Babylonian and Sumerian cuneiform writings as well as in India. The ancient Assyrians, Babylonians, and Sumerians poured honey on thresholds and some sacred objects for good luck. Bee keeping was depicted in wall paintings found in Spanish caves, dating back to 7,000 B.C. The Greeks and the Romans both offered honey to the gods and their ancestors. They also extensively used honey in their cooking.

The importance of honey is lauded in many of the classic Greek texts of Aristotle, Plato, Hippocrates and others. The Romans spread honey throughout their empire. Honey was quickly absorbed into the empire's culture, cooking and folklore. In the Old Testament of the bible, the region now known as Israel and Palestine was called "the land of milk and honey." Bee keeping became even more important once Christianity became a fully developed religion due to the need for beeswax church candles. The bee was used on Pope Urban VIII's insignia. Napoleon believed that bee was a sign of power, emblazoning the bee on his robs and flags.

The beehive runs like an well-organized manufacturing plant. The bees have to take the nectar from about two million flowers just to make one pound of honey. A bee will visit between 50 and 100 flowers in one trip alone. In order to get from flower to flower, the bee flies roughly 15 miles per hour. Luckily each bee has four wings. After all this work, the average bee only produces 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in its entire lifetime. When the bee gets back to the hive there is still a lot for the bee to get done. Its home is a wax honeycomb and each cell has six sides. When they want to communicate with their fellow bees, they go dancing. They have numerous different dance moves, each one communicates a different signal to the other bees: when the nectar is out, how far it is to the nectar, and where the pollen is.

There is a social order in the hive in which a division of labor between the various bees is set. The colony has one queen bee, 500 to 1,000 drone bees, and between 30,000 to 60,000 worker bees. The queen bee is fed on royal jelly and is the only sexually active female bee in the hive. Drones are male bees without stingers and their only purpose is to mate with the queen. A few weeks after hatching the queen mates once, receiving millions of sperm cells from the drones, which will last for the entire two years of the queen's life. The queen can lay 3,000 eggs in one day. The worker bees are sexually undeveloped female bees. Their purpose is to collect nectar, cool the hive by fanning their wings, make the wax comb, clean the hive, feed the larvae, and guard the hive. The worker bees also pollinate flowers. This is actually maybe their most important purpose since bees pollinate about one-third of the vegetables we eat. Pollination is the process of fertilizing a flowering plant. Pollen is transferred by the bees from the anthers of one flower to ovules another flower or sometimes that same flower.

Honey comes in three delicious varieties. Comb honey comes in its natural form; honey in its wax comb. Both the honey and the wax are edible. Liquid honey is removed from the honeycomb by straining or centrifugal force and it is free from any discernible crystals. Whipped or creamed honey is liquid honey in its crystallized state. The crystallization process is controlled so that honey can be spread easily. The flavor of the honey is a result of the nectar of the flowers the bees collect. The flavors vary from fruity, woodsy, herbaceous, aromatic, mild, or spicy. The color also depends on the flower in which the bee collects the nectar. Typically, the darker colored honeys are full bodied, and the lighter colored honeys are mild.

You can replace honey for sugar in most recipes. Since honey is sweeter than sugar, you will need to reduce the amount called for in the recipe by about one-third. In addition, honey is part water so you will need to reduce the liquid called for in the recipe by one-fifth in baked goods. Honey browns quickly in the oven so reduce the oven's temperature by 25 degrees in baked good recipes. Honey helps to keep baked goods fresh longer because it retains moisture. Honey helps keep vinaigrettes stable because of its emulsifying qualities.

Babies under the age of one year should never be fed honey. Honey can contain trace amounts of botulism spores. Babies have a propensity to be at risk to these spores because their immune system is undeveloped.

Recipes>>>

Vinaigrettes, Honey Baked Apples, Honey Chicken Legs, Honey Yogurt with Berries, Lavender Honey Mousse

 

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