If autumn weather caught you by surprise in summer dress or t-shirt and threw freezing rain into your face and if you started to think whether you shouldn’t post yourself by Royal Mail to sunny Australia or New Zealand I tell you – we’re in the same boat. And there are a few things that keep me going through this time of the year. One of them is honey.
But before I share my favourite honey-based ‘dishes’ and drinks, let me tell you what brought it to my table two weeks ago. I was invited for a night viewing of the structure called The Hive designed by UK based artist Wolfgang Buttress (it can be viewed in Kew Gardens, West London). The installation is made of aluminium, LED lights and barely visible speakers. It all marks you feel as if were inside a true beehive, where gentle hums and buzzes, lights glowing and fading, resemble how honey bees move around their little kingdom. I won’t tell you more as I’d like to encourage you to experience it yourself. It was a great time (despite rainy evening) – fantastic place for meditation (provided there’s few visitors) and great reminder of how important these little creatures are to human-beings.
Here’s honey in 3 acts:
1st Act: Just picture that: Summer holiday years ago, a little foodie (= me at the age of 8) kept asking her dad, a hobbyist beekeeper, when honey bees would share some honey with her. My dad answered that they can share it even that day as long as I’m courageous enough to go with him and get some acacia honey from the hive myself. I was excited.
I used to watch my dad from distance when he worked with honey bees and extracted honey. It was a kind of theatrical experience that usually happened twice a year in front of little girls’ eyes in a small room at the back of our summer house, we were mesmerised with my younger sister. He had a certain routine. He would dress up in an oversized white jumpsuit, open the bellow smoker and put some dry wood and leaves on fire to produce some smoke (it was mine and my sister’s job to find right type and quality wood in the garden). While the room started to fill with smoke and nice autumnally scent, he would set the whole honey extracting equipment, that to me looked like a big manual washing machine, prepare his wooden box, in which he would later bring brook frames full of sweet golden honey and eventually, put his hat with veil on.
This time though, I was invited to join my dad. Although I thought I’ll be just his little helper ensuring smoke comes out of the smoker, I was put through a test. My desire to get some fresh honey was tested, actually my courage was tested as my father told me that he would help me and instruct me, but it was I who had to take the brook frame out of the hive. Only for a millisecond I imagined myself being chased by the angry bee family. The craving for honey was bigger than fear. I dressed up, put a veil on and went with my dad to get some golden nectar.
I passed my test ☺ I got the honey, put it in the box and probably ran at the speed of Ussain Bolt to our kitchen since the next thing I remember was eating my favourite sandwich: curd cheese topped with honey on a slice of wholemeal homemade bread. Yummy! Here’s the recipe (three first ingredients only apply when you have a beekeeper in the neighbourhood who will let you get some honey on your own):
A pinch of courage
Huge craving for honey
Lack of imagination 😉
Freshly (if possible) picked honey, otherwise natural good quality honey (not the one that’s artificial or a medley of different honeys. Best idea is to become friends of local beekeeper – they will always provide you with tastiest honey)
Curd cheese (like this one) or ricotta (if you don’t have a Polish shop in your neighbourhood)
Homemade wholemeal bread – the best and the healthiest is sourdough
Instructions are simple: get a slice of freshly baked bread, spread some butter, put a generous slice of curd cheese and some honey on the top of it. Actually, repeat the above twice, as you won’t be able to resist another slice or two 😉
2nd Act: Mead was something I discovered quite late (in my late 20’s) taking into account that I grew up with honey bees flying above my head every summer. I guess it’s just because I was more interested, at that time, in secret life of bees and their pure produce, rather than what you could make out of it.
Also known as honey wine, mead has a vast history from many lands and civilizations, since the honey bee can be found in China, Africa, Europe, or North America. Honey was a universal source of sugar for a long time and mead honey wine was drunk almost everywhere. You can find some more info about meads here. They come in different forms and have very interesting taste. Not all of you will fall in love with it, but give it a go and decide for yourselves.
The first time I had it, was at my friends’ place on the coldest winter evening in my life (it was -23 Celsius degrees but no polar bear 😉 ) – I was freezing and they offered me a glass of warm honey wine as an aperitif. Yes, warm glass of honey wine. It was just what I needed back then. The golden nectar that smelled heavenly and touched my taste buds with light sweetness. This little glass of mead not only helped me to warm up but also whetted my appetite for the delicious dinner that was about to start. They actually served chicken breast casserole with honey wine, some apples, onions, salt and pepper (I guess you could also experiment and add some cinnamon, clove and nutmeg). It was divine. Chicken breast was tender and juicy with some notes of fruits and honey – a mouth-watering dish.
If you’re not up for a cooking today and you’d rather have some Chinese food take away – you can still go for mead as it can be served as a dessert wine.
Also, what’s worth mentioning, mead has been used through centuries as a treatment for flu and cold – it’s been known for a long time as natural antibiotics. It’s also good for our arteries and digestion. Naturally, only when drunk reasonably.
3rd Act: Piernik, sometimes called Polish gingerbread, is the taste and the smell of Christmas kitchen. It’s a traditional hard cake made a few days (depending on recipe even a few weeks) before Christmas in nearly all Polish homes. You bake it in advance so that it can get the right texture and moist over a couple of days. Good natural honey and spices, such as: cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, cloves, nutmeg are key here. Piernik can also serve also building blocks for a hut. Yeah, your vision is ok: a hut. My generation was brought up with Baba Yaga story told by our grandparents. She was a supernatural being, living in the woods in a hut made of piernik (some versions suggest the hut stood on a single chicken leg) and all kids (me included) were afraid of her. Check her out. Today you might find it hilarious, but when we were 6 and our imagination ran wild, she was the first one to be afraid of. And although we would fear Baba Yaga, we all became master bricklayers (=piernik-layers) as we learnt how to build her piernik hut (obviously without the chicken leg). As you can imagine, it never lasted for long ☺
If you want to bake piernik, try the recipe from BBC Food website. Otherwise, please wait until the end of November when I dust off my Christmas recipes and bake piernik myself.
Bonus Act: if you try to boost your immune system before winter, make sure you drink a glass of water with a spoon of honey (on your empty stomach), that you prepared the night before by adding the honey to warm boiled water (never hot water as it ‘kills’ all goodness in honey).
And if you happen to have sore throat or first symptoms of cold: boil some water pour it into a cup. When it’s warm, add a lot of fresh ginger (cut into pieces), a few lemon slices or some lemon juice and add natural honey. It does wonders – trust me. We – Emilia, Adam our friend and I, tried it out in Nepal in the Himalayas and it was one of the best “whiskey” we’ve ever drunk.
Honey is the only food in nature that never spoils you. You can eat, drink and even use honey as medicine. Can’t wait for my next cup of honey-ginger-lemon water – not that I’m sick, just feel like it 😉
Hi, it’s me – Emilia. I just wanted to add a few words about the bees. I’m sure that most of us are aware of how important bees are and that without them we would be lost. Bee = food. Of course there’s a lot of artificial solutions that can fix the “no bees anymore” problem but what’s the reason to use chemistry when you can use nature? And it’s reasonable to remember that nature was before humans. World without bees is a real problem today. Here’s some links to the pages where you can read how you can help, if you want to, to save the bees:
1. British Beekeepers Association http://www.bbka.org.uk/about/adopt_a_beehive