A Palate-Orienting Adjustment

beekeeper.gifOne thing that I like about getting older (how often do you hear that being said) is that I find my taste in food changing in surprising ways. Not changing in major ways (and not diminishing either!) but adjusting in ways that finds me being attracted to tastes and flavors I would have once overlooked as being too timid or too bland. These days I find that I am looking less for the smack-you-over-the head-food-taste-experiences and more for tastes that are subtle and full, or simple yet complex. I like flavors that contain a little dose of ‘culture’ and ‘authenticity’ as well.

One of the tastes that I have come to adore in the last year is honey. It sounds almost silly to confess this, but honey has just never spoken to me in the past. In our store we have always offered a great selection of various types of honey from producers all over the world, and we have many, many customers who are passionate about their favorite honeys. But for me, honey was at best, sticky and gooey, overly sweet and just not that interesting.

What do I attribute this ‘palate-orienting adjustment’ too ? I am not sure, but I do know that as I became aware of the plight of bee colonies in the USA I started to think about how crucial bees are to the pollination of crops everywhere. And what a sad fate that was for these harmless little critters. Later in the summer, when the news of the wildfires that were raging across Greece came into the news, I wept for this unfare fate that had befallen the ancient olive trees, the honeybees and in fact, all Greek farmers. Our wonderful olive oil comes from Crete, so I knew that our source of olive oil was safe. But we also sell a distinctive selection of honey from a Greek company called ApiPharm, so I called our honey contact to inquire about the bees and the beekeepers. I was told that everything and everyone was fine and that miraculously the bees were not threatened.

I was relieved, and in a show of solidarity with the bees and the beekeepers, I began to eat honey. I slathered various types of our Greek honey on my walnut and multi-grain breakfast breads, and discovered just how delicious and different each one of these honeys was.

I also started pulling out jars of this or that honey when we had chunks of hard cheese on hand. I recalled a time when we visited friends in Pisa, Italy, and were served a platter of local pecorino cheeses of varying ages with a little pot of grainy chestnut honey that was meant to be slathered on the cheese. It was delicious and different – the combination of flavors bespoke of the synergy of local products used together. (Our British friend James tells us that Brits sometimes accompany Stilton cheese with a bit of English honey.)

Now on occasion I just grab a spoon and dig in. I have already given Bob fair warning that someday I am going to buy a few beehives and set them up behind the barn – maybe even load them onto a truck and move them around the country from place to place over the course of a year as different fields and forests come into bloom. While he still rolls his eyes at the thought, he likes that idea better than my plan for raising exotic chickens.

For all of our honeys, see our HONEY selection in our PANTRY pages. Our selection of Greek honey includes:

Fir Honey ( Mt. Vytina, Arkadia, Peloponnesus)  This is a light color, creamy honey with a smooth delicate flavor. It is produced during the summer months in an area known for it’s thick pine forests. Fir honey has a high content of minerals and viamins.

hon-api_heather.gifHeather Honey( Sterea Hellas, central Greece )  This honey is collected in November as the winter closes in. It is renowned for it’s seductive sweetness and strong aroma. Heather honey is earthy and grainy, and excellent on toast, with hard cheeses and as a base for sauces and marinades.

hon-api_orng.gifOrange Blossom Honey(region of Epirus, on the Ionian Sea )  Bees feed on the blossoms of the orange trees in the early spring and produce this intensely floral honey. Orange blossom honey has a clear, transparent golden color and it’s flavor make it a very  versatile honey for spreading or cooking.

Pine Honey( the island of Evia, located off the easern coast of Central Greece )  Bees in this region make honey from the sap that ‘weeps’ from the local pine trees. This honey is spicy and woody, and has a faint aroma of stimulating pine. Excellent in tea or baked goods.

hon-api_wildthyme.gifWild Thyme Honey ( western Crete )  Greeks love this honey because it has a pungent aroma, a bright amber color and a lasting floral flavor. Wild Thyme honey is harvested in June and July and it is a rare treat even in Greece. Excellent with yogurt and cheese, or on breakfast muffins or scones.

Some years ago I discovered this recipe for Honey Mousse in Joyce Goldstein’s first cookbook, The Mediterranean Kitchen, which was published by William Morrow. Joyce is one of my all time food idols, and I turn to her cookbooks whenever I want mouth-watering food with heart and soul. Some years ago I made her honey mousse recipe for dessert to please a Greek friend who was coming to dinner, and I remember that it was stunning. We made it again recently to celebrate the New Year, and it is as creamy and fluffy and good as I remembered. It you love honey, please give it a try. Serve it plain or embellish with a warm fruit compote made with grapes or figs.

Honey Mousse by Joyce Goldstein

Serves 8-10

6 large egg yolks

1/2 to 3/4 cup dark honey

1 cup heavy cream

Beat the egg yolks and honey in a mixing bowl until very thick and pale, about 10 minutes. Beat the cream to soft peaks and fold into the honey mixture. Pour into 8 to 10 custard cups ( depending on size), cover and freeze for 3 hours. Let warm at room temperature for 15 to 20 minutes before serving to soften the texture.


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