Monday next, May 20th, is World Bee Day, so a whole column this week on honey, nature’s most delicious, interesting and bio diverse sweetener.
Honey has long been prized for its medicinal properties, now backed up by modern medicine and a growing body of scientific research. I’m a big honey aficionado….
Ancient Ireland was known as the Land of Milk and Honey and coincidently the name Ballymaloe means the Townland of Sweet Honey. The anglicized version of the Irish Baile Meal Luadh – meal means honey and luadh means soft or sweet. These names entered into the language over 2,000 years ago and would always have reflected a particular attribute of that place. So Ballymaloe must have been well known for the quality of the honey from surrounding the area.
Here at Ballymaloe Cookery School we have some hives in the pear and apple orchard looked after by our local bee keeper… beautiful honey…
Both honey and bees are utterly intriguing, the colour, flavour and aroma of honey reflects the flora from which the bees collect the nectar. Heather honey tastes and smells quite different from mixed flower or apple blossom, ivy, rapeseed…..
Honeys from further afield have their own distinctive taste. Lavender honey captures the aromatic essence of the lavender plant as does chestnut, orange or acacia blossom. Honey from pine forests which I also love, tends to be more resinous and a deeper amber colour.
The New Zealanders did a brilliant marketing job on Manuka honey when they discovered that is was most effective in killing antibiotic resistant infections such as MRSA. But it’s not the only honey with these and many other healing attributes. Raw honey is increasingly being used to treat, difficult to heal, wounds and burns. Other studies have shown its efficacy as a cough soother.
Raw honey is the term used for honey that has not been heat treated to extract the honey from the combs. It still has its full complement of antioxidants, enzymes and antibacterial properties. It looks paler in colour, and sets almost solid in the jar. Here in Ireland we have an astonishingly wide range of honeys. Check out the local bee keeper/s in your parish. I seem to favour honey from small local producers. Talk to the beekeeper, hear the story, each honey will taste different and contain the antibodies and enzymes of the area, which help to counteract eczema and hay fever. Look out for city bee keepers too. The Dublin Honey Project is intriguing as is Belfast Bees; there are similar projects in London, Paris, New York, Sydney ….
How about keeping bees yourself? It’s really thrilling to have your own honey. It’ll be slightly different every year depending on what the bees are feeding on and the prevailing weather. If the idea of doing the bee keeping yourself doesn’t appeal, contact your local bee keeper, they are often delighted to have few more hives. Particularly in an organic garden or on a rooftop in an urban or rural area where there are little or no pesticides…. Scientists are now convinced that neonicotinoids have been damaging vital bee colonies and have a dramatic impact on eco systems that support food production and wild life.
The EU banned the use of neonicotinoids in 2018 after a major report from EFSA concluded that the widespread use of these chemicals is in part responsible for the plummeting number of pollinators, vital for global food production – they pollinate ¾ of all crops. Finally, governments appear to be listening to their citizens concerns, so hopefully the bee numbers will begin to recover. Nature given half a chance has an amazing ability to heal and regenerate.
Honey is not only brilliant lathered on toast, I regularly add a spoonful to savoury dishes, dressings and salads to balance acidity and add a sweet- sour element. Chefs are caramelizing honey to add a bitter note to some desserts….Have several types in your pantry, so you can experiment with different characteristics. We love to have a whole honey comb for our guests at breakfast and if you’re crafty you can make a candle from the left over wax….
Here are a few suggestions for some of my favourites…
A toasted grain cereal
12oz (350g) honey
8fl oz (225g) oil e.g. sunflower
1lb 1oz (470g) jumbo organic oat flakes
7oz (200g) organic barley flakes
7oz (200g) organic wheat flakes
3 1/2oz (100g) organic rye flakes
5oz (150g) seedless raisins or sultanas
5oz (150g) peanuts/hazelnuts, or cashew nuts split and roasted
2 3/4oz (70g) wheatgerm and /or millet flakes
2oz (50g) chopped apricots, (chopped dates are nice too)
toasted sunflower or pumpkin seeds are also delicious
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.
Mix oil and honey together in a saucepan, heat just enough to melt the honey. Mix well into the mixed flakes. Spread thinly on two baking sheets.
Bake in the preheated oven for 20-30 minutes, turning frequently, making sure the edges don’t burn. It should be just golden and toasted, not roasted!
Allow to get cold. Mix in the raisins or sultanas, roasted nuts, toasted seeds, chopped dates, apricots and wheatgerm. Store in a screw top jar or a plastic box, keeps for 1-2 weeks.
Serve with sliced banana, milk or yoghurt.
Salad of Ardsallagh Goats Cheese with Rocket Leaves and Local Honey
Such a simple combination but surprisingly delicious.
4 handfuls rocket leaves
2 soft Ardsallagh Goats cheeses
1 tablespoon best quality local honey
maldon sea salt
coarsely ground black pepper
Divide the rocket leaves between 4 large plates or 1 large flat serving plate. Slice or dice the goat’s cheese and sprinkle on rocket leaves. With a teaspoon, drizzle the honey over the rocket and cheese in a grid pattern. Drizzle the salads with olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice. Finally, season with sea salt and black pepper and serve.
Kinoith Garden Salad with Mustard and Honey Dressing
The herb and vegetable gardens beside the Ballymaloe Cookery School are bursting with a myriad of lettuce and salad leaves and edible flowers. The gardens are open to the public every day except Sundays.
A selection of fresh lettuces and salad leaves:
eg. Butterhead lettuce
Mesclum or Saladisi
Edible chrysanthemum leaves
Wild sorrel leaves or buckler leaf sorrel
Wild garlic leaves
Borage or Hyssop flowers
Young Nasturtium leaves and flowers
Chive or wild garlic flowers
Herb leaves eg. lemon balm, mint, flat parsley, golden marjoram, annual marjoram, tiny sprigs of dill, tarragon or mint.
Green Pea Shoots or Broad Bean tips
Tiny Chard & Beetroot leaves
Mustard and Honey Dressing
150ml extra virgin olive oil
50ml white wine vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 teaspoons honey
2 heaped teaspoons wholegrain honey mustard
2 cloves garlic crushed
First make the dressing: Mix all the ingredients together and whisk well before use.
Wash and dry the lettuce and salad leaves. If large, tear into bite sized bits. Put in a deep salad bowl, add the herb sprigs and edible flowers. Toss, cover and chill in a refrigerator until needed. Just before serving toss the salad in just enough dressing to make the leaves glisten, save the remainder of the dressing for another day.
Salad of Beetroot with Raspberries, Honey and Mint
2 cooked beetroot, peeled and very thinly sliced on a mandolin
16 small mint leaves
extra virgin olive oil
Maldon sea salt
cracked black pepper
Divide the sliced beetroot between 4 white plates.
Cut some of the raspberries in half lengthways and some in cross section slices, and scatter over the beets. Season with salt and freshly cracked black pepper.
Dress the salads evenly with a drizzle of honey, a squeeze of lemon juice and a drizzle of olive oil. Sprinkle on the tiny tender mint leaves and serve.
I sometimes place a few teaspoons of thick yoghurt or labne on the salad when assembling.
If the mint leaves are a bit coarse as they sometimes are in late Summer, remove the spine, roll and slice into a chiffonade instead.
Moroccan Chicken Tagine with Tomatoes and Honey
This wonderful Moroccan dish, which Claudia Roden gave us, derives its special flavour from the tomatoes in which it cooks ( there are mountains of them which reduce to a thick sauce ) and from the honey which comes in at the end.
1 free-range chicken
3 tablespoons butter or oil
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 onion, grated
1 clove garlic , crushed
1-2 teaspoons cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ginger
A pinch of saffron (optional )
1 ½ kg ( 3lb ) very ripe tomatoes , skinned and cut into pieces or 3 tins x 14ozs
2 tablespoons honey (with a good perfume like Hymettus )
For the garnish
50g ( 2oz ) blanched almonds ( optional)
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
It is considered more elegant to cook and serve the chicken whole but more sensible to cut it into pieces . Claudia prefers to cut it into quarters as this ensures that the flesh is impregnated with the sauce at all times .
Put the pieces in a large pot with the butter or oil, salt, pepper onion, garlic and spices , and the tomatoes Cook gently , covered, stirring and turning the chicken over frequently until it is so tender that it can be easily pulled off the bone.
Remove the chicken and reduce the tomato sauce further to a thick cream
which sizzles in the separated fat. Stir often and take care that the bottom does not stick or burn when the tomatoes begin to caramelize. Then stir in the honey and put the chicken back to heat it through.
Fry the almonds in oil or toast them and toast the sesame seeds in a dry frying pan or under the grill.
Serve the chicken hot covered with the sauce and garnish with almonds and sesame seeds.
Rachel’s Date and Almond Honey Cake
This fantastically dense, moist cake has echoes of sticky toffee pudding. It contains no refined sugar, all the sweetness coming from the honey and dates, while the wholemeal flour imparts its lovely nutty flavour.
100g (3oz) chopped dates
200g (7oz) butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
200g (7oz) honey, plus 2 tablespoons for drizzling
100g (3 1/2oz) ground almonds
125g (4 1/2oz/generous 1 cup) wholemeal flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
25g (1oz) flaked almonds
20cm (8 inch) diameter cake tin with 6cm (2 1/2 inch) sides
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4, then butter the sides of the cake tin and line the base with a disc of baking parchment.
Place the tin on a baking sheet, as some butter may seep out during cooking if you are using a spring-form cake tin.
Place the dates in a saucepan and pour in 50ml (2fl oz) of water. Set over a high heat and cook for 2–3 minutes or until soft, then remove from the heat and set aside.
Cream the butter and the 200g (7oz) of honey until soft in a large bowl or in an electric food mixer. Whisk the eggs together in a small bowl for a few seconds until just mixed, then gradually add them to the creamed butter and honey mixture, beating all the time.
Stir in the cooked dates, along with any remaining cooking liquid, followed by the ground almonds, then add the flour and baking powder and fold in gently to incorporate. Tip the mixture into the prepared tin, smoothing the surface gently with a palette knife, then scatter the flaked almonds evenly over the top.
Place in the oven and bake for 45–50 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. It will be quite dark-looking, but don’t worry – the cake will be perfectly moist inside.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes. Loosen the sides using a small, sharp knife and carefully remove the cake from the tin before transferring to a cake stand or plate.
Use a skewer to pierce a few holes in the top of the cake, then drizzle over the 2 tablespoons (2 1/2 American tablespoons) of honey and allow to cool before cutting into slices to serve.