What is honey?
Honey bees collect nectar from flowers and plants and carry it back to their hive or nest. Once a foraging worker bee is back inside it passes the nectar to other, younger, workers who prepare it for storing in the comb, evaporate away excess moisture, and cap with a layer of wax. The wax stops honey absorbing atmospheric moisture.
The tens of thousands of honey bees in a healthy colony will, collectively, fly around 90,000 miles and gather nectar from about two million flowers to make one pound of honey, with each honey bee contributing about one twelfth of a teaspoon of honey in its lifetime.
Honey bees can fly at about 15 mph for five or six miles in one return trip, but usually travel a maximum of a mile and a half, to collect nectar from flowers in a vegetable or herb garden, a herbaceous border, bramble patch, roadside verges, meadows and farmer’s crops as well as from flowering trees and shrubs.
Most of the honey you’ll buy from a local beekeeper is multi-floral or poly-floral ‘blossom honey’ but beekeepers with a lot of hives, and those who take their bees to pollinate apple orchards or fields of borage etc., are able to separate the different honeys which is why you can see jars of very light honey, which will have a mild taste, alongside jars of darker and stronger-flavoured honey in some local shops or supermarkets.
Honey can be clear and runny, thick and set, in cells of a honeycomb, or as a chunk of cut comb in a jar of runny honey.
If the runny honey you’ve stored in your cupboard has started to crystallise it hasn’t ‘gone off’ it’s just started to set. Over time, all honey will set naturally. To make it runny again just put the jar into a water-bath and heat gently, taking care not to overheat, and the crystals will dissolve.
How to use honey
Honey was the only sweetener in our part of the world until we discovered sugar cane and sugar beet, and can be used instead of sugar in most recipes. It has a stronger flavour than refined sugar, so the finished dish will taste a little different from when you use sugar.
A spoonful of local honey in a cup of coffee makes a truly delicious drink.
In the mornings just add a large spoonful of honey to a glass and mix with some drinking yogurt for a healthy breakfast drink. Maybe add a generous helping of fresh fruit too.
For later, on cold days when you’re indoors after a long walk, make a Hot Toddy by putting a large spoonful of honey in a glass – leave the spoon in the glass to prevent it cracking from heat – top up with some freshly boiled water and a generous helping of whisky. (Don’t drive afterwards, of course.)
Mead was the preferred drink of the Greek gods, the Romans made it using rainwater and honey, and in Elizabethan England it was popular at Court. Metheglin has added herbs for flavour. Both are best made by using a light coloured, and light flavoured, local honey. Why not try making some mead or metheglin by using one of our basic recipes. Be patient, though, both take a long time to ferment and are best kept for four or five years before drinking.
Honey has mild antiseptic properties and can be used to soothe sore throats, and is used in some hospital wound dressings. Some customers report that local honey eases hay fever symptoms caused by pollen, but we can’t verify this.
To ease and help heal a sore throat, mix a couple of teaspoons of local honey with about a tablespoon of lemon juice and some hot water. Leave to cool slightly and then drink it slowly.
To eat and in cooking
Simply spread on buttered toast has to be the best way to enjoy a local honey, although toasted and honey-buttered crumpets come a close second. Try honey on warm scones, with a generous dollop of cream, for a treat.
If you’d like to experiment try using 50:50 sugar to honey, and reduce the liquid too – by the same volume as the amount of honey you use.
Why not check out the recipe section of our website.