For years I thought I didn’t like honey—too sweet, cloying. But a couple of years ago, something changed. I had a case of the flu or that dreaded flu-that-is-not-the-flu, and coffee just tasted awful to me. So I began to drink tea, and then, because I heard it was better for you, I moved on to green tea. But it needed something, so I began to add a scant teaspoon of honey every morning. Voila! I had found my drink of choice. Now I start every day with a mug of green tea sweetened with honey.
We’ve all heard and seen the dire warnings about bees disappearing form our planet and subsequently taking with them many of the foods we love, foods that they pollinate. For some reason, coffee and avocados come to mind, but there are many others. So I’m a fervent opponent of toxic pesticides that kill bees and a proponent of planting bee-friendly gardens. Bee-friendly plants include daisies, marigolds, zinnias, crocus, hyacinth, foxglove, hosta, and many others. You can find lists and directions for a bee garden online.
But there’s another concern about honey. Most of what we buy in the grocery has been adulterated—mixed with other substances to change the color, flavor, thickness—and above all, the cost. So when you think you’re buying honey, you may be buying mostly corn syrup, a cheap imitation which has none of honey’s healthful or medicinal powers—or its pure taste.
You can buy pasteurized honey, filtered honey, raw honey. Filtered takes out the bits of pollen and beeswax that maybe found in raw honey; pasteurization sterilizes it but may well remove some of the natural benefits. I prefer the raw, mostly because I trust it to be purer and less adulterated. Best choice? Buy at a farmers’ market from a beekeeper.
They say it’s best to buy honey that is produced within 30 miles or something of your home, because it contains antidotes to local allergens. When I can’t get to a farmers’ market or when they don’t have honey, I try to buy Texas honey and avoid some that I suspect come from China. I looked on the label of the jar currently in my cupboard, and the only warning was that you should not give honey to infants under a year of age.
Raw honey sometimes crystallizes. Just remove the cap and set the jar in a pan of really hot water. It will go back to being liquid. If honey doesn’t crystallize, it’s probably been adulterated.
Did your grandmother ever put a teaspoon of honey in a cup of hot tea to soothe a cough or a sore throat (with maybe also a teaspoon of bourbon)? Honey has lots of medicinal uses as well as cooking uses. We find it frequently in marinades (often to balance soy sauce) and in salad dressings. Honey mustard is a classic dressing. But have you ever thought of using honey to create appetizers? It pairs well with cheese and fruit both.
A young friend who occasionally comes for happy hour taught me to put a drop of honey on a hunk of blue cheese served on a cracker or an apple slice or whatever. Here are some other ways to use honey for appetizers:
--bake pear slices with butter until just barely soft, top with goat cheese and drizzle with honey
--stuff figs with cream cheese softened with port, peppercorns, and honey, and bake briefly
--grill peach halves, top with a basil leaf and a drizzle of honey
--mix equal parts of a good blue cheese and cream cheese and serve with honey
--bake a block of good feta in a dish brushed with olive oil; top the cheese with more olive oil and a drizzle of honey; bake until top of cheese is caramelized; sprinkle with fresh thyme, and drizzle a bit more honey if you wish
--bake a wedge of brie; drizzle with honey, and use wedges of apples and pear to dip into the molten cheese
--fry thick slices of firm banana in olive oil until lightly browned on each side; remove from skillet and top each slice with a drop of honey and a sprinkle of cinnamon.
Of course, you need a good crisp white wine with these nibbles.