My favourite honey ferment started as an attempt at making fennel candy. Simple: chop fennel into sticks and submerge in honey. Simple, but expensive unless you have much honey lying about or have generous beekeeper friends; or, like my dad, if you find buckets of honey by the side of the road and the owner says take them, they were for bees that have passed on.
I have been reading A Sting in the Tale, written by Dave Goulson, a professor of biology at the University of Sussex. The book includes many anecdotes of Goulson’s studies of moths, bees, and other small creatures, since about the age of seven. A memorable anecdote is the horrifying idea of attempting to dry a soggy bee on a hot plate and the increasingly predictable outcome of sizzling it to death. Through Goulson’s tales of studying bees, both in and out of university labs, I am learning more about bees, a “subject” of a lawsuit for which I have been helping research.
The basis of the suit is that there are many corporate entities conspiring to flood the U.S. market with adulterated honey (e.g., honey with added syrups, like corn). The lower price of the adulterated honey undercuts U.S. beekeepers, the plaintiffs. And, in my view, such honey adulteration undercuts the work of the bees and viability of growing food, as more than a third of our food relies on bee pollination. In short, to care about humans must require a caring for the bees.
My cupboards are filling with honey. Often I buy from farmers at markets, so it is less likely that my honey is adulterated. But I’ve started collecting jars with contents more likely adulterated. My local JONS grocery around the corner sells “honey” for $1.99 with the claim “no high fructose GMO syrup”. Right. The website on the jar brings me to an corporate importer website without any indication of the honey’s origin. It smells like molasses, and not honey-that-smells-like-molasses … but then, I am primed to be suspicious.
My favourite honey right now is from a little cooperative beekeeping community up the coast—Marshall’s Farm. It smells a little like cinnamon filtered through flower petals. Amusingly, UC Davis made a honey tasting wheel, which is great fun in mental exercises of sussing out whether a honey is akin to sweaty locker, but it’s easier to me to pick my own adjectives than to try to fit my experience into a wheel.
Ferments that go well with this fermented sap? Indeed … my favourite ferment right now is fermented or pickled meyer lemons. A bay leaf in with the lemons and salt, or maybe star anise, and a few months later the lemons have become a wonderfully sour addition to sweet or savoury dishes. Peel, pith, and juices.
I have mourned over a few small honeybees on the roof of my building, dying because they are too far from a flower—a bee with a stomach full of honey is always about 45 minutes from starvation. But I have also found places in Los Angeles where there are still so many bees pollinating flowers that I can meditate on the beautiful noise that so many bees, flapping their wings more than 200 times per second, make together.