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by Joe George
The anthropological aspects of foods amaze me, and sometimes even seem incredible. Take something as commonplace as honey, for example. It’s sold in neat little containers with convenient pour spouts, but to think that it is the same stuff, virtually unchanged, that was harvested before modern civilization began seems inconceivable. The ancient Greeks coveted it, as did the early civilizations of the Mediterranean Levant, and there are rock drawings in India depicting honey gatherers that date back to the Neolithic period.
Boneless Pork Loin Braised with Onions and Honey
Yield: 4 servings
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 slices pork loin
2 medium onions, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup honey
1-1/2 tablespoons flour
1-1/2 cup chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Heat the oil over high heat in a heavy skillet. Pat the pork steaks dry and carefully add them to the hot pan. Brown the pork on both sides, then remove to a clean plate and set aside. In the same skillet, add the onions and sauté a few minutes, or until lightly browned. Drizzle the honey over the onions then add the flour and stir for a couple minutes. Add the broth, salt, pepper, and vinegar; bring it to a boil then lower to a low simmer. Add the pork back to the skillet, gently pushing them down into the liquid. Cover the pan and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the meat is tender. Stir often to alleviate scorching.
Curried Carrot Soup with Honey and Yogurt
Yield: 2 quarts
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 small onion, diced
2 teaspoons minced ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons curry powder
4 tablespoon honey
1-1/2 pounds peeled and diced carrots
4 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup plain yogurt
Heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat in a heavy soup pot. Add the onion, ginger, and garlic; sauté until the onions begin to brown slightly. Add the curry and honey; sauté two minutes. Add the carrots, broth, and salt. Bring the soup to a boil, then lower it to a simmer. Cook the soup for about 45 minutes, skimming the surface as necessary. Remove from the heat and stir in the yogurt. Transfer in batches to a blender and purée until smooth. Serve hot or chilled.
Honey-Oatmeal Muffins with Pecans and Dried Blueberries
Yield: 12 muffins
2/3 cup milk
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 large egg, beaten
1/4 cup honey
1-1/2 cups quick or old-fashioned oatmeal, uncooked
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup dried blueberries
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/3 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
Preheat an oven to 400 Fahrenheit. Combine the milk, vegetable oil, egg, and honey in a medium sized bowl and mix together. In another bowl, mix together the oatmeal, flour, dried blueberries, pecans, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Combine the contents of both bowls together and stir until the ingredients are just combined. Spoon the batter into 12 greased muffin tins; make sure to only fill the tins 2/3 full. Bake the muffins for 15-18 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick pulls out clean.
Honey has been considered good not just for one’s physical health but one’s spiritual well-being. The ancient Greeks wrote of honey as “the nectar of the gods,” and the Hebrew name for bee is devorah (from which we derive the female name, Deborah). Dbure, which stems from the word dbr or debar, means “sting,” “say,” “speak,” or simply “word”; on a stretch this can be interpreted as the divine word or truth. And in the book of Exodus, Moses is told to take his people to “the land flowing with milk and honey.”
With this knowledge, and honey’s natural sweetness, it’s no wonder that loved ones are often affectionately referred to as “honey” or “sweetie.”
It was sometime around 1000 BC that King Solomon of Israel wrote, “Eat honey, my son, for it is good,” and these words still ring true today. What the king probably knew, and was implying, was that honey was not only good but also good for you. The health benefits and medicinal properties of honey have been recognized for thousands of years.
One of the most well known aspects of honey’s medicinal qualities is its use as an antibiotic. Honey naturally contains an enzyme that produces hydrogen peroxide; thus it’s a natural treatment for minor cuts and scrapes. These same properties also help alleviate the discomfort of sore throat pain. And once ingested, the main sugars of honey, fructose and glucose, are absorbed directly into the bloodstream without needing to be digested, so honey provides a quick and natural energy boost. Parents, though, should take note: Honey should not be fed to infants under one year of age—minute botulism spores are present in many types of honey. While these are harmless to adults and older children, they can have an ill effect on infants.
Considering the history of honey, the prospect of its extinction is alarming. I refer of course to the phenomenon of the disappearing honey bee. The problem has become so prevalent that it even has a name: Colony Collapse Disorder. According to the Mid-Atlantic Apiculture Research and Extension Consortium (MAAREC), a beehive will look healthy a few weeks prior to its collapse, and then just like that the bees disappear. They simply leave—dead bees are not found near the hive. What’s left is a sort of honey bee ghost town.
Honey bees are said to pollinate up to one third of our crops. Groups such as MAAREC are studying and working tirelessly (like worker bees, I suppose) to find a solution.
Where honey truly excels, of course, is in its use as a food or ingredient, and its ability to be incorporated into a large variety of recipes. Honey can be substituted into any recipe where sugar is used, but because honey has a high concentration of fructose, it is sweeter than sugar, so you’ll need less honey than sugar in a recipe to do the same job. When substituting honey for sugar in baked goods, reduce the liquid in the recipe by a quarter cup for every cup of honey used, to compensate for the added liquid contained in the honey. And it’s also a good idea to reduce your oven temperature by 25 degrees Fahrenheit, because honey browns more quickly than sugar.
Honey may be purchased in four forms: liquid, cream (or spun), comb, and cut-comb. Liquid is the variety to which most of us are accustomed; it is, as the name suggests, liquid and free of any visible crystals or comb. Liquid honey is also very clear, albeit dark amber.
Cream or spun honey, on the other hand, is lighter in color and opaque. Cream honey is intentionally crystallized in a controlled environment, and is as spreadable as warm butter.
Comb honey is sold still in its natural comb, while cut-comb honey is honey with visible pieces of the comb suspended in it. The comb is entirely edible.
Liquid honey should be stored at room temperature in tightly sealed containers for up to one year; honey that contains a portion of the comb should be consumed within six months of purchase. When honey is refrigerated it often crystallizes, becoming opaque and grainy. If this occurs, it can be easily liquefied again by removing the lid and warming it in a microwave or a pan of warm water.
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