Honey, I'm Home

I have a sinking feeling the world with end, not with a whimper, as T.S. Eliot says, but with a silence. Because all the bees will be gone, and we'll be desperately trying to hand-pollinate things or to train bats to do more of it. Or else we'll have to rely on killer bees to do it, which is a deal with the devil, for obvious reasons.

But for this season, at least, we still have bees. We still have easy pollination. We still have honey.

Yellow Belly Honey of Rainier, Washington!

Let's all of us keep those beekeepers happy and going strong. Because I tried to keep a batch of Mason bees going one winter and failed through utter laziness. So I'll have to do my part by eating and promoting honey.

Last Saturday I found Clover and Blackberry honey varieties, and though the plastic honey bears were adorable,

Look at this little army!

I opted for a 12-oz glass jar so I could microwave it when needed and recycle the jar. Yellow Belly Honey also sold lip balm and even big jars of bee pollen for the homeopathically-minded allergy sufferers.

Jars o' pollen

While honey in our house is usually reserved for tea and granola-making, I couldn't resist making this cake because of all the gorgeous apples in season.

Honey-Apple Cake

You start with premium Market ingredients:

Do a little slicing and simmering:

Mix up a quick batter and bake. Couldn't be easier. Or tastier. Warning: it's impossible to eat just one slice. Every last person in our house had two slices and still wished for another. Therefore, make this at your own risk.

Honeyed Apple Torte (adapted from Cooking Light)
1/3 cup honey*
2 Tbsp lemon juice
2-3 apples of your choice*, peeled, cut in thickish slices
2/3 cup granulated sugar
6 Tbsp butter, softened
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs*

1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

1 Tbsp granulated sugar or demerara sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350F. Combine honey and lemon juice in a large skillet. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Add apples and cook 14 minutes or until almost tender, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat.

Cream sugars, butter, and vanilla until smooth. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Mix dry ingredients in a separate bowl and add gradually to butter mixture on low speed.

Spread batter in a buttered 9-inch springform pan. Drain apples and arrange in a spoke batter atop the batter. Combine sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over.

Bake one hour and cool on rack.

Oh, Honey Honey

With the opening of the Saturday Market (forgot to buy snap peas on Thursday? Nooo problem!) there's plenty to write about, and I will get to all of it, but I've set aside this post to talk about my adventures with Cary Therriault of Cascade Natural Honey, who will put in his first appearance at this Thursday's Market, if all goes according to plan.

The eight-year-old and I caught up with Cary at the City of Bellevue's Larsen Lake Blueberry Farm, where Cary and friend Brandon's bees had been at work the previous four weeks pollinating this season's crop. This, after having returned from California where those--yes--busy bees tackled the almond blossoms. Next on the agenda? Fall City Farms' raspberries.

Bees and honey are Cary's heritage. His dad kept backyard bees in Monroe, and, because Cary's own son learned at his father's knee, Cary was able to outfit my daughter in this mini beekeeper outfit.

Q: Why are beekeeping outfits white?

A: So we aren't mistaken for bears. (Think Winnie-the-Pooh and Little House in the Big Woods)

While the child and I were hatted and gloved and taped (I was wearing impractical shoes), Cary slapped a hat on, filled his smoke can and called it good.

Cary, smoking 'em into mellowness

Q: Why do beekeepers puff smoke on the bees?

A: To keep them calm.

Cary could tell the different between relaxed, going-about-their-business bee buzzing and hey-what-are-you-doing-here-you-aren't-going-to-steal-our-honey-are-you buzzing.

We checked up on many of Cary's 180 boxes of bees(!), looking for bees getting too crowded, how the populations were doing, and how honey production was faring. When conditions get too cramped, bees naturally swarm and repopulate.

Opening one of the 180 boxes

Lotsa room here. The cells are manmade.

Filled and capped cells, each holding a future bee      

Q: How can you tell if a cell contains a future Queen Bee?

A: It bulges out in a peanut shape.
Cary broke one peanut shape off at one point, to transfer the queen to a future box.

The little white things in the cells are larvae. (Shudder)

I tried to get a picture of the bees when they return to the hive after a busy day of pollination because all the pollen sticks to their teeny legs (Cary said something about them storing it in "sacs"), and it makes them look like they're wearing cunning little yellow pants. So cute, as bees go. They take the pollen from their legs, mix it with honey, and feed it to their young.

But, you may be wondering, what about the honey?

It turns out, when Cary pulls out a tray where the bees have been making and storing honey, the difference is obvious. Check out the white beeswax:

A honey tray

 And look at the beautifully geometric cells made by the bees!

A bee-made comb full of blueberry honey

Cary pulled this one out for us to sample. All I can say is, after seeing how much work it is to tend bees, and how much work those little bees put in, in their turn, it seems a shame to steal their honey. But my qualms only lasted until I actually got to taste some of the blueberry honey, straight from the comb. Sweet, fragrant, rich, delicious. Like tasting a summer afternoon.

Why bears and people steal honey


My daughter spent the drive home licking honey off the cardboard box and making blissful sounds.

My other take-away was that producers cannot charge enough for real honey. Cary admits that there's more money in providing pollination services than in collecting and selling honey. The "honey" imported from China and other suspect places, the kind found in processed foods and plastic squeezeable bears, cannot possibly be as cheap as it is, if it's genuine. There's no way to automate the process, or make beekeeping less labor-intensive. If you're interested in my past research into fake honey, check this post.

Not to mention, once you've tasted real honey, there's no going back. Pick up a jar of local honey this week and thank your beekeeper!

Of Pink Slime and Pollen

Mm-mm good photo, courtesy of Uptown Magazine

I first heard of the pink slime controversy over a turkey sandwich lunch with a friend. When she described all the beef trimmings and by-products being ground up to--well--pink slime, my first reaction was, "how economical!" How almost Native American of us, using every last bit of the beef. Besides, despite the 85% grass-fed organic beef my family eats, there's still the 5% of God-knows-what-kind-of-beef-and-meat-products we consume in our beloved hot dogs and the 10% of close-your-eyes-and-hope-for-the-best beef we eat out in restaurants.

"But they soak it in ammonia or something, to clean off the e. Coli!" my friend added, since I didn't look properly grossed-out enough.

"They've been dipping chicken parts in chlorine baths forever, and we all keep eating chicken," I pointed out.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying I'm a fan of pink slime in kids' school cafeteria meals, but I figure anytime I let my kids buy lunch, they're eating Downed-Cow Stroganoff or Chlorine-Bathed-Overbred-Chicken Nuggets. I know it's crap, but I still let them buy once a week. And pink slime is edible, as much as hot dogs are, so I'm not gonna get too bent out of shape. Once in a while is fine. Not ideal, but fine. Check out this Food Safety News article for more information on pink slime's general okayness.

For those in the pink slime biz, however, I would recommend they hire a good PR agency. Look what wonders it did orange roughy, after it changed its name from Slimehead. "Slimeheads" didn't exactly fly off the menu, but we're all happy to eat orange roughy nearly to the collapse of its fishing industry. Would we be more willing to stomach pink slime, if we knew it as "Dairy Delight" or "Strawberry Soft Serve"?

If you're of the mind that pink slime by any name would still reek, it might be time to switch to organic, pastured beef. At our Bellevue Farmers Market, several of our farmers sell top-quality beef, chicken and pork. No slime, no where. When the Market opens May 10, get the farmers' opinions on the slime controversy. Ask about their processing practices. What happens to their by-products? I'm curious myself.

Speaking of the Market, another friend came for tea, and I offered her some local honey I'd bought at the Market last fall to sweeten it. Turns out she'd been at Pike Place Market recently, where one of the honey vendors advertised honey's effectiveness in combating hay fever(!). I hadn't heard this tidbit, but being a hay fever sufferer, I'm perfectly willing to dose myself, even just for a placebo effect. There are no published studies yet--just anecdotal evidence--but the recommendation is for local honey (i.e., local pollens), two teaspoons per day. Easy peasy. Can't hurt, might help.

Have a great week!

Honey, I Adulterated the Goods

Someday someone will make a thriller about the global honey market. It's got everything: a dying species (Apis mellifera), failing supply, growing demand scheduled to pass 1.9 million metric tons by 2015, and people eager to make a buck by stretching or adulterating the goods. Mwahahahahahaha!

I posted on the topic of honey here after I watched The Vanishing of the Bees, but after seeing some of the recent news I am compelled to write again. With the US honey harvest at a record low, the temptation is great for food manufacturers to get their honey somewhere--anywhere. Journalist Andrew Schneider, who regularly reports for Food Safety News, estimates 60% of honey imported to the United States originates in Asia, "traditional laundering points for Chinese honey." What's the big deal with Chinese honey? Well, not only may it be "stretched" with additives like sugar- or corn-derived syrups, but it may also be "tainted with illegal antibiotics and heavy metals." In order to hide its origin, the honey is "ultra-filtered" to remove telltale pollen. The European Union has banned imports of honey from India to stem this tide of bad goods, leaving the wave to wash over the laxer United States.

There's no dark, twisting, thriller trail to the 136 ozs of honey in my house (we like our honey). Every last ounce comes from Daniel's Honey or Cascade Natural Honey at the Bellevue Farmers Market. In both cases I spoke with my beekeeper. I learned something about the bees' travel and pollination schedules (hint--they get around more than I do, including trips to California to pollinate the almond crop), and what makes a honey a certain "variety" like Blackberry, Wild Flower, or Knotweed. Genuine, unadulterated, local honey.

Although we're in the Market off-season, local honeys by small producers can still be found at some grocery stores. PAY THE EXTRA MONEY. If the honey is cheap or comes in a squeezable plastic bear or as a flavoring in processed goods, chances are you're getting the fake, antibiotic-laden imported stuff. Real honey is not cheap. A bee, in its lifetime, makes about 1-2 teaspoons of honey. It takes 10,000 worker bees to gather one pound of honey, and they fly the equivalent (each) of twice around the world to gather that pound. But the result is pure goodness. Not only has honey been used as a sweetener worldwide for eons, it has also been a cornerstone of ancient medicines for its health properties. Stick that in your sugar cane and smoke it!

So, I've gotten the bad honey out of the house. The New Year's resolutions? Avoiding the processed foods that contain it and reading this book:

Hope you'll join me!