How much honey is too much, asks Leslie Geddes-brown
IDID a count the other day and, in the larder and on the kitchen shelves, I have 38 jars of honey. Yes, 38. I have six bottles of Italian honey: lime flower, millefiori, chestnut, wild thyme,
del bosco (woodland) and orange blossom. I have strawberry-tree honey from Spain. There are jars from Yorkshire, Norfolk, Suffolk as well as ones from such grand floral places as Windsor Great Park, Richmond Park and Sandringham. There is a small pot of sea-lavender honey, which is extremely rare. The 38 don’t include a pot each of damsons and cherries in honey.
They take up quite a lot of space and date back a decade or two, but, as beekeepers tell me, 4,000-year-old honey from burials in the pyramids proved perfectly edible, so I’m not worried about their pointless ‘best before’ dates.
I am a honey hoarder. There are two explanations. The first is that, whenever I pass one of those seductive roadside stalls with their appealing honesty boxes, I have to buy something, hence I probably have as many jars of exotic marmalades, pickles and curds as I do honey. Is it a peculiarly British thing?
The second is that I was brought up with post-second World War rationing, when even onions were treasured and sold under the counter only to the favoured few. My automatic reaction when I see any food for sale is to squirrel away several—or half a dozen—in the unlikely event that I’ll never again be able to buy lemon curd or quince jelly.
I put this compulsion down to a deep-seated neurosis brought on by Sir Stafford Cripps (who enforced rationing). This rationale is supposed to make me, in my husband’s eyes, a poor neurotic obsessive and not an infantile shopper who can’t resist temptation. As you might guess, my protests don’t work entirely.
When he saw my honey jars arrayed in rows for sorting and wiping down, he looked dissatisfied—to put it mildly. ‘We’d better eat some of these,’ he says as the larder shelf creaks ominiously. And I agree. Luckily, I have a recipe book devoted entirely to honey along with helpful details about bees, how honey is made and what varieties there are.
You might like to try Australian Blackbutt, for example, or Catclaw from Arizona if you’re passing. Pohutukawa, from New Zealand, is a fine tongue-twister.
The book is called Honey and is by Hattie Ellis (a shame it’s not by Bee Wilson, another ace recipe writer, but that would be too neat). The trouble with Honey the book, however, is that it’s more interested in sweet dishes and I want savoury ones. There seems to be a limit on the number of meats, fish and vegetables you can souse with honey to good effect. Especially as I’m currently into using maple syrup as a meat accessory (don’t worry, I only have five bottles of this plus a rather fetching tin showing a little snow-covered log cabin in the Canadian woods with a horse and buggy and barking dog).
However, I do recommend her dish of Ambrosial Apricots with Thyme and also sticky sesame sausages. Roasting root vegetables such as parsnips, beetroots, squash and carrots with honey spooned over them is perfect in these glum grey days. Try the purple carrots just out.
That’s used up at least one jar of honey. I’m also thinking of hiding the marmalade jars (only eight at the present count) and offering honey on toast for breakfast. A honey aficionado adds that runny honey works better on crumpets in that it makes its way neatly into all those little depressions.
Even if I declare a moratorium on buying further jars, I fully expect my executors to have to deal with a score of varieties still lurking in the larder. However, even if it takes 4,000 years to use them, I’ll know they’re within their sell-by period.
‘When I see food for sale, I squirrel away a half dozen