Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Oh, Honey!

Yummy Honey Beehive cake
Did you know that September is National Honey Month?  I didn't either.

September was the month we typically made lots and lots of honey cakes at Afternoon Tea.  Honey Cake is eaten on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, to symbolize the hope for a sweet year ahead.  Rosh Hashanah usually falls in September.

Besides the traditional Honey Cake, we also offered Honey Pound Cake, Chocolate Honey Cake, Apple-Honey Pastries, Apple-Honey Cheesecake, Apple-Honey Bread Pudding, and Apple-Honey Upside Down Cake for the holiday.  (Apples are also traditional on Rosh Hashanah.)  We also made Teyglakh (or Teiglach) ... baked or fried dough balls stacked and drenched in golden honey.

The High Holy Days (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) were high honey holidays, indeed.

Back then, honey was a fairly simple ingredient.  There were a handful of varieties, and that was pretty much it.  Now, all kinds of honey have become available from both near and far.  Not only are more people taking up beekeeping, making lots of local honey available to all, but extensive distribution channels have brought honey from around the world to our fingertips.

Just a few of the varieties in my pantry at one point.
Are you as excited about all the new varieties of honey as I am?

I feel as if I have spent the last few years tasting and rediscovering honey, as if for the first time!  I used to think all honey tasted pretty much the same.

I loved the taste of it in my Mom's Milk and Honey Cake, which we sold at Afternoon Tea year 'round.  I enjoyed honey stirred into a glass of warm milk or as a sweetener in just about anything.  And I absolutely adored it glistening in the layers of nuts and pastry in a bite of rich, decadent baklava.

We were used to having Clover honey, Orange-Blossom honey, and Sunflower honey.  But now there are all kinds of honey available to us.

A thick, creamy honey.
One year my niece brought me back some lovely Lavender Honey from France that was as thick and creamy as caramel, totally spreadable, and fragrantly delicious.  A little bit of it melting on a hot piece of buttered toast was absolutely divine.  A spoonful slathered on a muffin or biscuit made breakfast something really special.  A dollop of the creamy, thick honey on a cheeseboard was irresistible.

Sourwood honey has been reputed to be the most delicious honey on earth.  It is certainly lightly flavorful, but taste is a very personal thing, so you'll have to decide for yourself!  I find it delightfully divine.

Manuka honey, from New Zealand, came along with its hefty price tag and reputed health benefits.  In fact, some of its medicinal uses are actually FDA-approved.  This creamy honey is described as having a strong, cool, earthy, mineral, and slightly bitter taste.

The latest newcomer I've seen is Avocado honey, with its high mineral content, which deepens its flavor to a rich molasses-like intensity.  There are lots of new kinds to try!

Despite these exotic newcomers, don't discount the benefits of local raw honey.  Not only are they just as sweet and tasty, local honey is thought to provide the benefit of making people less sensitive to the types of pollen in their area.  As a result, you may experience fewer seasonal allergy symptoms by consuming local honey.

If sticking with local honey and supporting your neighborhood beekeepers sounds like a better idea to you, there are ways to enhance your experience and provide more diversity to your spoonful.  Infused honeys are an incredibly easy way to add flavor, fragrance and variety to your honey.

To make infused honey, start with 1 cup of a light, mild-flavored honey and 1-2 tablespoons of dried herbs (always use dried herbs, as the moisture in fresh herbs could lead to the growth of mold and bacteria, and could even result in botulism) or spices.  You can steep the herbs or spices in the honey for a few days — the longer, the more intense the flavor — or heat the honey for a quicker infusion.

You can use a single herb, or your favorite combinations:  Basil, rosemary, thyme, sage, bay leaves, lemon balm, mint, lavender, chamomile, rose petals, or dried chiles are all good options.  Or you can use spices such as cinnamon sticks, star anise, cardamom pods, nutmeg pods, and vanilla bean.

For Vanilla Honey, for instance, split a vanilla bean pod and scrape the seeds, placing all into a mason jar.  Add one cup of light honey, and close the jar.  Let sit in a cool, dark place for 3-7 days, to your desired level of flavor intensity.  Strain the honey into a clean mason jar (the seeds will speckle the honey), and seal.

Alternately, you can place one cup of honey in a small saucepan over medium-low heat.  Scrape the seeds from the vanilla pod into the honey, and drop the pod in, as well.  Stir over the heat just until thin and runny, but do not allow the honey to boil.  Remove from heat and and let cool for 20 minutes before straining into a clean glass jar.

Follow these same methodologies to make Basil Honey (using 1-2 tablespoons of dried basil), or Bay Leaf Honey (using a few bay leaves ... try it on turkey), or Hot Chile Honey (use 2 or more dried chiles, to your taste and level of tolerance), etc.  There are many ideas for honey infusions on the web!

And don't forget to make your own honey mustards, honey dressings, and honey-spiked sauces with your fabulously infused honeys, too!

A random selection of bee-related
products in my home.
Another thing I just recently discovered is powdered honey.  I had become unhappy using refined sugar — or, often, a sugar substitute — in my coffee when at restaurants or traveling.  I have been wanting to use a natural sweetener instead, believing that natural is always the best choice, but I would never even think about putting a container of honey in my purse.

I had been carrying packets of stevia leaf, but detect an aftertaste I don't particularly like.  While many of the honey powders on the market are half sugar, you can find some that are not.  They're all going to have some kind of additive to keep the powder free flowing and non-clumping.  The one I chose is cut with maltodextrin, which is hopefully a better choice than half sugar.  I plan to place a baggie of it in my purse, and see how I like using this option over the usual sugar packets.  I will see how I feel, and if it works for me.

Plus, just imagine dusting a big pile of homemade doughnuts with powdered honey, instead of powdered sugar.  How about sifting some of the sweet honey dust on top of French Toast or pancakes?  Or rolling freshly baked cookies in the heavenly sweet powder?  Or using it in frosting instead of powdered sugar?  I have been dreaming of various other uses for this new sweet stuff ever since I discovered it!

A honey boutique!
Besides honey's inherent tastiness, it's also used in a myriad of health and beauty items, as well as baby products.  From lip balms and hand creams, to ointments and body butters, honey is a beloved ingredient.

The reason is that honey contains many medicinal properties.  It protects skin and wounds by forming a barrier, contains hydrogen peroxide and a low pH level, and antibacterial properties. All of these attributes make it very friendly to skin and hair.

So, enjoy National Honey Month by trying a new honey, buying honey from your local beekeepers, attempting a new recipe utilizing honey, or making your own honey infusion ... and have a very sweet month!

Enjoy previous seasonal blog posts:

Happy Labor Day!
Ana's prize-winning
1st Place French Apple Pie & her 2nd Place Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Pie!
National Coffee Day
September 29th is the day to perk up! Have a Mocha Milk Punch from us
Fall Has Arrived
And we've got apples!
October Planning
Time to make lists ... menus, recipes, family reunions, Christmas cards, Christmas gifts, parties, special events, carving time on the calendar.
Back to the Farm
Fall is the time to head to the farm to pick pumpkins, visit the animals, go on a hayride, and sip hot cocoa by a bonfire
Brandied Fruit 
Time to put up your Brandied Fruit to marinate and mellow in time for the Holidays
It's Baking Season!
On your marks,
get set ...
A Cabin in the Woods
Getting away from it all is a tradition worth keeping
Recipes for the Season
Update your repertoire with some new recipes for Fall!
Bucket List for Fall
Taking advantage of everything fall has to offer!
We're Jammin'
When the harvest is bountiful ...
A Rustic Tart for Fall
A free-form tart or galette with layered wine-poached pears is a perfect dessert for fall.
Wine Poached Pears
Perfect for fall, perfect for dessert, perfect on a cheese board, perfect in a gallette!
Pear Tart, Part Deux 
There's a time for rustic, and a time for elegant.
Food Porn
It has become a national obsession ... we're salivating over food and all the food shows on tv.
Heirloom tomatoes ... the ugly ducklings / beautiful swans of tomatoes
Spine-Chilling Reads
Some good, scary books to curl up with on fright-night! 
Tea Superstitions
Double, double, toil and trouble ... Fire burn, and cauldron bubble
Halloween Traditions
From pumpkin carving to hot apple cider, family traditions make holidays memorable!
Happy Halloween 
Making the holiday fun
A Difficult Anniversary
A few years ago we lost our Mom.  It feels like it was just yesterday.  The anniversary of a great loss is always hard
It's All About Family
Giving thanks and honoring those who came before
15 Minutes of Fame
Just a mention is thrilling, but being included in this company is the real cherry on the cake!
Family Heritage Tour
A trip back to the old country in search of the abuelos
My Boy
A tribute to Max
Bless the Beasts
Spreading goodwill upon the creatures we share this earth with ...
Slick Stuff
Using the right oil for your health.
Peas in a Pod
It's not easy loving peas!
Butter-Rich Baking
When flavor counts, there's no substitute for butter. Butter make everything taste better!
The Buzz About Bees
Bees are precious, industrious and endangered.  We can do our part to make sure we don't lose these amazing creatures.
Cooking with Herbs
Herbs are making a tasty appearance in some of your favorite desserts!
Top Chef - Colorado
A celebrity in the family!
Of Natural Disasters and Charity
A humbling reminder that nature is in charge, despite our best-laid plans
Congrats, HWP!
Healing Warriors Program received a huge honor, and we were invited to the Pentagon to see it!
Ana's non-profit, Healing Warriors Program, gives away a state-of-the-art electric wheelchair!
Donate if you can!
Healing Warriors Program,
my sister's nonprofit, does very important work for our service members' complete health and wellbeing.

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