Sugar is sweet, but honey is sweet magic.
Ask anyone who is a connoisseur of the product of the collaborative effort between honeybee and flower. Besides adding sweetness, honey adds that special something to dishes. Perhaps it is the essence of the thousands of flowers from which the worker bees have been gathering nectar. Perhaps it is because no batch of honey is ever exactly the same. Perhaps it is because of the mystical healing properties attributed to honey.
Whatever the reason, we in Georgia are lucky to have a strong beekeeping tradition. Our bees and beekeepers produce a wide variety of different honeys including thistle, cotton blossom, tupelo, sourwood, tulip poplar, gallberry, clover and wildflower. (Wildflower honey is the end product of the honeybees collecting nectar from a mix of flowers.) Visit a farmers market or a Georgia beekeeper and try some of the honey “varietals.” You can’t really know honey until you’ve tried at least several of its forms.
There are plenty of ways to use honey. Try honey on French toast. Use it on waffles and pancakes instead of one of those corn-based syrups. Drizzle a little on grilled figs or pears or over brie or a strong cheese. Mix honey with butter, cream cheese or peanut butter to make a spread for toast or a bagel. A cream cheese and honey mixture makes a good dip for fresh fruit. Mix a little into plain yogurt. Put some honey and a pat of fresh butter into a hot biscuit for a little bit of heaven.
The recipes for cooking with honey are numerous, including cookies, cakes, breads, tarts, pies, puddings and sauces. Honey is an important ingredient in salad dressings as well. It could be a simple mixture of honey, herb-flavored vinegar and olive oil mixed together and heated. Or it could be a more elaborate mixture of honey, chili sauce, vinegar, oil, grated onion and Worcestershire sauce. Salad dressings are a great way to experiment in the kitchen to come up with your own specific “house dressing.”
A spoonful of sugar may help “the medicine go down” as Mary Poppins sang, but those looking for relief from sore throat or a mild cough know that a spoonful of honey can act as a medicine. Mix a little with lemon juice or lemon juice and a little whiskey (adults only). Hot tea sweetened with honey is another soothing tonic for days when you are under the weather.
Georgia cooks should realize that honey is only a small part of the benefits of honeybees. The most important part they play is in pollinating peaches, cucumbers, squash, pumpkins, melons, apples, cherries, grapes, tomatoes, blueberries…all manner of fruits and vegetables. Without honeybees and other bee pollinators, our plates would be empty except for mushrooms and a few grains like wheat and rice!