On a cold, gray January day, when the sky is the color of ash, and wind whips the camellias to rags, and winter seems like a life sentence, it’s good to look up from your desk and see that a friend has arrived bearing a jar of fresh honey.
Charlene’s family keeps bees, and she was delivering what I had ordered from the latest harvest.
I held the jar up to the light and peered into it as if examining a stained-glass window. The honey was golden brown, tinted by the sun and earth that had worked their way into its peculiar alchemy.
A quick glance at the waistline of Winne the Pooh tells us all we need to know about what happens when we eat too much honey. Charlene, trim and fit, rations her consumption these days, trying to indulge no more than a nightly wallop in her evening tea. I save it for Sunday biscuits, an extravagance my doctor wouldn’t like me to embrace more often.
I give honey as Christmas gifts. Long after the holidays, with their over-the-top assortments of cakes, cookies and candy, it’s nice to open the pantry door and find the simpler sweetness of honey waiting inside to bide you through the winter blahs.
And here’s the good news: In south Louisiana, at farmers markets, produce stands and most groceries, you can find local honey as varied as vintages of fine wine. The chief pleasure of honey, in fact, is that it doesn’t all taste the same. What you’re tasting is geography, each batch flavored by the flowers where the bees gathered their nectar.
I like Charlene’s honey because of the sharp clover note it strikes on my tongue. Sue Hubbell, who writes wisely and well about her days as a beekeeper, looked to each year’s blooming of wild blackberries around her Ozarks farm as a hopeful sign. Her bees would gather the blackberry nectar, then distill it into the honey that Hubbell harvested.
How wonderful that honey must have tasted.
“People have employed honey for purposes other than eating for centuries,” Hubbell notes. “It has been an ingredient in the centers of golf balls, in shaving creams, shampoos, gear lubricants, chewing tobaccos and gum. It was used to embalm the dead in the Egypt of the pharoahs.”
Perhaps the most unlikely use for honey is found in a 1924 edition of “Better Farming” that Hubbell dug up in her research. The magazine reported that agriculture specialists at Cornell were experimenting with a mixture of honey and water for antifreeze in car radiators.
“Low grade honey was found to be just as effective as high grade,” the magazine noted. “The honey mixture needs be put in the radiator only at the beginning of winter.”
All well and good, I suppose, yet I must wonder: If you’re lucky enough to get your hands on honey, why not just eat the stuff?
Danny Heitman is on Twitter, @Danny_Heitman.