Cooking with honey Honey re-creates the flavour of the pollen the bees gather. There are about 300 different varieties, from millefiori, gathered from wildflower meadows or gardens, to single-blossom honeys such as acacia, and piney Greek thyme, and such rarities as raspberry from polytunnels, where the bees pollinate and create honey from the same flowers. Rose Prince likes heather honey on toast with roast grouse, as the birds live on the plants from which the honey comes. Jim Chambers, whose carpenter father made him his first hive when he was five, has millions of bees all over southern England. ‘There are 50,000 bees in a hive. Female worker bees live only six weeks and queens only two to three years.
The male drones do nothing but fertilise the queen.’ A worker bee may only make a teaspoon of honey in her life-time, so we should treat each mouthful seriously. It’s a good idea to do a honey tasting. I tried delicate acacia (from Robinia pseudoacacia in Hungary), good in tea, coffee, infusions and dribbled on hot-cross buns with butter; strong heather, which is also thixotropic like unspillable gloss paint; eucalyptus with hints of balsam; and orange blossom—floral and citrussy.
Try the orange blossom dribbled over roast figs, serve holly-oak honey from Spain with manchego cheese (or English blossom honey with a soft English cheese such as Tunworth). Italian chestnut is caramelly and smoky and good with ice cream; pale and delicate lavender could be whipped into cream for a flummery with added lavender flowers. Hot, cooked sausages are delicious rolled in honey and sesame seeds; honey and cloves make a perfect addition to roast ham and cakes; and flapjacks and gingerbread are lovely when honey is substituted for sugar. Don’t cook with a single floral variety, as it destroys the delicate flavours.
Rowse, the UK’s biggest honey importer, has a blended honey in a squeezy bottle for £1.79, 340g perfect for drizzling. Rowse also brings honey from Mexico, Australia, Chile and the Caribbean, as well as about half the crop of manuka honey from New Zealand. ‘Manuka is the fastest-growing honey in the UK,’ says chairman Stuart Bailey. ‘The wonder of honey is that it can rekindle memories of where you’ve been.’
To substitute honey for sugar: • use ¾ cup honey instead of a full cup sugar • reduce the water in the recipe by 25% • reduce the baking temperature by 25˚F