Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes one ingredient at a time.
Well," said Pooh, "what I like best," and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn't know what it was called.
— A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
The Blissful Flavor of Honey
Aah, sweet anticipation. That is what dear Winnie the Pooh's fluffy little brain could not conjure. He knew the bliss of eating honey—sweet, sticky, rich, and floral, a flavor not replicated anywhere else in the "food kingdom." Honey is a unique and joyous experience. But, have you ever wondered "who was the first soul brave enough to extend a finger into that wild bee nest, extract a bit of amber gold, and taste it"?
When and Where Did Honey Originate?
The origin of honey? We can't pin a date or place because honey is older than written history. Sumerian and Babylonian cuneiform writings of 2,100 B.C. (the first written language) mention honey. But before these writings there were pictograms—drawings to record dreams, to record daily events, to record history. Cave dwellings in Spain carbon-dated to 7,000 B.C. show images not just of bees but of beekeeping.
The keeping of bees is like the direction of sunbeams.
— Henry David Thoreau
An Offering to the Gods
My image of Egypt is barren desert sand and relentless, burning sun, but centuries ago, under the direction of the Pharaoh, Lower Egypt was expertly and efficiently cultivated. An extensive irrigation system fed lush areas of flowering plants and trees. The honey bee would certainly have been an integral part of this industry, and that is not mere speculation on my part. There is proof. A record of organized beekeeping has been found in the 2,400 B.C. Sun Temple near Cairo.
So it follows that the bee was chosen as a symbol for the country of Egypt. In fact, one of the titles given to the Pharaoh was Bee King. Honey was revered by Egyptians, used not only to flavor and sweeten foods but as an offering to their gods and a component of their embalming fluid.
Nectar of the Gods
Mead. The Greeks called it "Ambrosia," an alcoholic beverage made from honey with a history as rich and enchanting as the beverage itself. Like manna, it was thought that honey was a gift from the realms of the sky, collected by honey bees. Because it was deemed heaven-sent, the Greeks believed it had magical properties that would improve health, prolong life, and even increase virility.
The southern regions of Europe favored grape wine, where the fruits were easy to grow and plentiful, but in northern Europe where grape plants cannot survive, mead was the magic elixir. Celtic cultures linked the drinking of mead with fertility; food historians say it was the beverage of choice at Irish weddings. (I'm not kidding; perhaps this is the origin of the term honeymoon?)
Not only was mead assumed to originate from Heaven—it was also believed to be a rite of Heavenward passage; according to Norse mythology warriors who reached Valhalla would be rewarded with mead delivered by divine maidens.
Mead is thought to be the oldest alcoholic beverages known to man, most likely discovered quite by accident, when some thirsty hunter-gathers discovered an upturned beehive filled with rainwater. They drank the sweet water completely unaware of what fermentation and alcohol were and experienced the first intoxication. Likely it was in a quest to replicate this experience the art of mead-making was begun.
— Sky River Brewing Company
Honey and Bees Wax as Currency
- When the Romans defeated the Corsicans, they imposed a tax of 100,000 pounds of beeswax.
- In the 1300s farmers in France paid an annual tax of 2 pounds of beeswax each.
- In the 11th century A.D., German peasants paid their feudal lords in honey and beeswax.
The Father of Beekeeping
On Christmas Day in 1810 a little boy was born to the Langstroth family of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Langstroths were a large household—this little Christmas gift was one of eight children. Biographers do not reveal his birth order within the family; was he the eldest and charged with caring for the younger siblings, was he the youngest and under the constant supervision of all those older than he, or was he somewhere in the middle and, thus, forgotten in the shuffle?
What is know is that even as a small child Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth was fascinated with insects. He was oft scolded by his parents for wearing out the knees on his trousers, for he spent countless hours studying the activities of ants. At some point in time his attention was averted from ants to honeybees. Perhaps this is not a great leap since both have organized colonies.
Lorenzo grew up and entered college in 1827 where bees were forgotten and the study of religion became his primary focus. At the age of 21 he graduated from Yale University Divinity College and remained in New Haven where he served as a tutor to supplement his income while training for service in the church. In 1836 he began his public ministry as the Pastor of South Congregational Church in Andover, Massachusetts. It was in this same year that he married Anne Tucker, a loving wife who would bear him three children, James (1837), Anna (1841) and Harriet A. (1847).
During this time Lorenzo visited a friend, a visit that would change not only Lorenzo’s life, but the entire concept of apiary science. On a table in the friends home sat a large glass globe, and in the globe rested a honeycomb. Boyhood curiosity was reignited and Lorenzo returned to his home that day with two colonies of bees.
After the birth of Harriet, the family relocated to Philadelphia, the place of Lorenzo’s birth, and there he took the position of principal of a school for young women. In the next 20 years he held my positions as principal, teacher, or pastor. Lorenzo was plagued by severe depression; the challenge and the science of beekeeping were his respite.
In 1851 he made a discovery; his dedication to the study of bees led him to discover something he termed “bee space,” an open area measuring 3/8 of an inch (or less) that bees did not fill to bond their combs to the hives. Armed with this knowledge Lorenzo designed a beehive with moveable frames. No longer would bee hives need to be destroyed to extract the honey.
List of Recipes in this Article
- Salted honey pie (V)
- Carb Diva's (that's me!) leftover cereal bread (V)
- How to make herb-infused honey (V)
- Sea-salt and honey ice cream (V)
- Honey-lime-garlic butter salmon
- Double-crunch honey garlic chicken breasts
- Honey-balsamic roasted Brussels sprouts (V)
(V) = vegetarian
1. Salted Honey Pie
Lindsay has a "serious sweets addiction" and happily shares her affliction with the rest of us. Her honey-flavored pie is sweet, salty, creamy, and absolutely delicious!
2. Carb Diva's Leftover Cereal Bread
I am of the 1st generation born after the Great Depression of 1929–30. My dad was one of the lucky ones—he was employed in the sawmills during that time. My mom stayed at home, taking care of her babies. She has told stories of men knocking on the back door, offering to chop firewood or do any type of chore she needed help with...just so that they could get a sandwich.
Can you put yourself in that place and time? I cannot. But there is one positive that I feel can be taken from that experience. This period in our history taught my first-generation American parents resourcefulness, and it instilled in them a never-waste credo. For them the words "Use it up, wear it out, make it do" was more than a catchy phrase or thoughtless mantra. It was a way of life that they carried with them each and every day until the end of their lives in the latter part of the 20th century.
In my growing up years, we were frugal long before living green was "in". We re-used aluminum foil. We saved the heals of loaves of bread to make our own bread crumbs. We didn't purchase oil for frying—mom had a little pot sitting on the back of the stove into which she poured the grease that remained from frying bacon. (By the way, I still hold onto two of those three habits—I'll let you guess which one I have abandoned).
And in keeping with that family tradition, I am loathed to toss out perfectly "good" dry cereal if:
- it is stale
- there are only 2 tablespoons left, or
- we're tired of it!
I am going to assume that you have the same cereal issues at your house. Here is one remedy that uses honey as the sweetener.
Yields: 2 loaves
- 2 cup boiling water
- 1 1/2 cups dry cereal, any kind*
- 1 cup whole rolled oats (not instant oatmeal)
- 1/3 cup cooking oil, (I use extra virgin olive oil for its health benefits)
- 1/4 cup molasses
- 1/4 cup honey, (Note: if using sweetened cereal, substitute 1/4 cup water for the 1/4 cup honey)
- 2 tsp. salt
- 2 envelopes of active dry yeast
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- Mix the water, cereal, oatmeal, oil, molasses, and honey in a large bowl. Cool to lukewarm.
- Stir in the yeast until dissolved; let stand 5 minutes. Beat in the eggs, then 3 cups flour or enough to make a stiff dough.
- Cover and let rest 30 minutes.
- Turn out on a lightly floured surface; knead 8 to 10 minutes or until smooth and elastic. Divide dough in half. Place each half in a greased 9x5x3-inch loaf pan.
- Cover and let in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in size (1 to 2 hours).
- Bake in preheated 350 degrees F oven 1 hour. Remove from pan; cool on racks.
3. Herb-Infused Honey
Three simple, ancient ingredients—honey, saffron, and vanilla—combine to create a never-to-be-forgotten flavor that is beyond words. This herb-infused honey would make a great gift.
4. Sea Salt and Honey Ice Cream
Kare is a vegetarian; her husband is an avowed carnivore, hence the name of her blog kitchentreaty. Her recipe for sea-salt honey ice cream requires only two ingredients, no custard, no eggs, and no ice-cream machine, and it's marvelous!
5. Honey-Lime-Garlic Butter Salmon
I live in the Pacific Northwest where fresh salmon is pretty easy to obtain, so I was instantly drawn to this recipe. Karina's recipe for honey-lime-garlic butter salmon is full of rich flavors; you should put this one in your summer barbecue rotation.
6. Double-Crunch Honey Garlic Chicken Breasts
Barry introduces himself by saying "I'm Dad to 2 amazing kids, author of 3 best-selling cookbooks, a freelance food writer & full time blogger. My lifetime love of cooking & baking has led me to share over 1600 recipes on this blog over the last 10 years." And this recipe, for double-crunch honey garlic chicken breasts is the #1 most-viewed recipe on his blog.
7. Honey Balsamic Roasted Brussels Sprouts
I already know what some of you are saying "I don't like Brussels sprouts" (or perhaps you're using even stronger language). But, roasted Brussels sprouts are not the bland, smelly, slimy, disgusting veggies you fondly remember from your childhood. Roasting caramelizes the natural sugars, making the sprouts sweet and crunchy; the balsamic adds an earthy richness, and then the honey ... well the honey just takes this to an entirely new level.
© 2017 Linda Lum