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Seasonal Kitchen: Honey is the essence of the flower

The color of honey often hints at its flavor.

Pale honey, made from alfalfa or clover, tends to have clean, delicate, floral notes, while darker-hued varieties, those made from buckwheat or avocado blossoms, are rich, robust and sometimes pungent. In between are a wide array of ambers with flavors of citrus, wood, spice, grass, herbs, earth, fruit, caramel or nuts.

Honey is, essentially, a way to taste the essence of a flower.

While buzzing from blossom to blossom collecting nectar, bees transfer the pollen that collects on their wings and legs to other blossoms, pollinating them.

Bees carry nectar back to their hive and infuse it with their own enzymes, then store it in perfectly symmetrical, wax honeycomb they’ve created from a gland within their bodies. Once the nectar is stored, the heat that generates from the movement and energy of the bees warms up the nectar, evaporating most of the water and resulting in a thick sugary, syrup we call honey.

Beekeeper Lars Neises started his relationship with bees 17 years ago when a friend, without warning, gave him a beehive. When he told his friend he had no idea how to care for bees, and no equipment, the friend said, “Oh don’t worry about it, they will take care of themselves. They are really easy.”

But it’s not as easy as Neises’ friend made it sound.

“The first summer, the bees died,” he said. But instead of giving up, this motivated him. “It became a challenge. I thought, maybe I should try it again and see if I can learn something from this.”

It turns out beekeeping is a complicated endeavor. “There are so many factors to keeping bees. It’s not as simple as putting the bees out there and you’ll make honey. … There are a lot of the things to pay attentions to, both in the life cycle of the individual bee and in the hive itself.”

The following year, he got two hives. “Luckily, neither one died, and I was able to get some honey,” Neises said.

And, in the years that followed, he became more and more interested in it. “I learned more, got a little more daring by taking on more hives and, as I started understanding them better, I was able to more successfully harvest reliable crops of honey,” Neises said.

Today, he has five hives and sells his honey in Spokane at Rocket Market and Main Market Co-op as South Perry Honey.

Honey season here begins with the first spring blossoms in April and stretches into fall. Spring blossoms often produce a light clear honey. In summer, when the nut, fruit, locust and maple trees bloom, the nectar collected produces a darker, amber-hued honey.

Neises’ bees collect nectar within a 5-mile radius of his property in the South Perry neighborhood.

“Honeybees thrive through patient cooperation,” he said. “It takes about two dozen field bees working their entire lives to produce a half teaspoon of honey. The estimate is 2 million flower visits to produce a pound of honey. If a hive produces 120 pounds of honey, how many flowers were visited? Way more than are in our backyards.”

There is much wisdom to be learned from bees.

“They demonstrate that division of labor is highly efficient,” Neises said. “They move through a series of jobs in the hive before finally emerging as field bees gathering pollen, nectar, water and propolis.

“In an emergency, they will revert to a previous job to make up for workforce losses. Ego is not a feature of honeybees: their first duty is to the colony. They behave as though individuals matter. The common good is always their first priority. Honeybees share, care about each other and they live within their means.”

And at the same time, there are challenges.

“They are struggling now, and if they continue to struggle we’re in trouble,” Neises said. “The variety of food available will be limited because certain fruits, nuts and vegetables are only available because the bees pollinate the plant that produce those crops.”

According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, 75 percent of the world’s food crops depend at least in part on pollination by bees. Consider for a moment how their demise would impact our lives.

Raw, unfiltered honey contains antibacterial, antiseptic and antifungal properties. It’s also loaded with minerals, vitamins and antioxidants. It can sooth a sore throat and help us sleep, naturally increasing melatonin.

Drizzle honey over Greek yogurt with granola and fresh berries, spread it over your buttered toast or stir it into your morning coffee. One delicious spoonful directly from the a jar is quite nice, too.

Honey Miso Carrot Tofu Bowl

1 tablespoon honey

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon miso

2 tablespoon olive oil

4 large carrots, peeled or scrubbed

8 ounces tofu, extra firm

Salt and pepper, to taste

Chili flakes, to taste (optional)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a small pot over medium heat, whisk honey, vinegar, miso and oil until smooth. Set aside. Slice carrots at an angle into 1/3- to 1/2-inch disks.

Blot tofu with paper towels and slice into 3/4- to 1-inch slices, blot again. Line a sheet pan with parchment. Place carrots in single layer on the sheet pan, and beside them add the tofu. Season the tofu with salt and pepper and, if you like, chili flakes.

Spoon or brush the honey-miso marinade over the tofu and drizzle the remaining over the carrots. Give a quick toss and place in the oven for 30 minutes.

Divide carrots among two bowls, top with tofu. Garnish with orange zest, toasted sesame seeds, 1/2 cup cilantro and scallions.

Bee’s Knees

3/4 ounce honey

3/4ounce water

4 ounces gin

1 1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice

Lemon twist

Heat honey and water in a small pot on the stove and stir to combine. Set aside and cool slightly. Place gin and lemon juice in a shaker with ice. Add honey syrup. Shake well. Strain into two small cocktail glasses. Garnish with lemon zest. A sprig of fresh thyme is nice, too.

Honey Nut Bars

3/4 cup raw almonds, lightly toasted

3/4 cup raw cashews, lightly toasted

1 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes, lightly toasted

1/2 cup honey

3 tablespoons water

Generous pinch salt

1 teaspoon vanilla (optional)

Other ingredients to add: dried fruit, any other nut, seeds (chia, sesame, flax, poppy), vanilla, puffed rice or millet.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Heat honey, salt, water and vanilla in a small pot over medium heat until it starts bubbling. Stir occasionally. Lower to medium-low heat and continue simmering uncovered until honey reaches 270 degrees. You will need to use a candy thermometer to get this exact (available at most grocery stores in the baking section). This will take about 25 minutes on medium-low heat, and will happen rapidly once it reaches 250 degrees.

While honey mixture is heating, lightly toast nuts and coconut, in the oven, just until coconut is fragrant and lightly golden about 8-10 minutes.

When honey has reached 270 degrees, turn heat off and pour the nuts and coconuts into the pot, stirring well to coat. Mixture may seem dry, but just keep mixing, until evenly coated. Spread out on a parchment lined 8-by-8-inch pan, or baking sheet, to about 3/4 inch thick.

Using a greased spatula, spread out evenly and press down firmly, compressing it down as much as you can. Cover with parchment and use the bottom of a cup or pot or even your hands (if it’s not too hot) and press down really hard, compacting it as much as possible. This will help the bars stay together when you go to cut them. Let cool uncovered on the kitchen counter for 45 minutes (no longer).

Once it has cooled 45 minutes, place a cutting board over the mixture and gently flip it onto the cutting board (in one piece). With a big sharp knife, cut bars before they cool down completely (otherwise they will break when you try to cut them).

After you cut them, let them cool down completely on parchment (a couple hours) before storing. Store in an air tight container layered with parchment, or just leave them on the counter like I do and watch them disappear. Or wrap them individually with parchment and string.

The Seasonal Kitchen is a monthly feature. Local chef Sylvia Fountaine writes about seasonal foods, sharing recipes and a passion for local foods. Fountaine is a caterer and former co-owner of Mizuna restaurant. She writes about home cooking on her blog, Feasting at Home.


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