It's great DYI canning and preserving is back in full force, but this year we've been more focused on the original preservers: honeybees. And so in honor of the humble bees and beekeepers who have served us so dutifully — in countless cups of tea, in baked goods, drizzled on just about everything — we offer our reflections on The Year in Honey.
Why honey? Much as we love the tart bite of just-made jam, we appreciate honey's maturity. And we're enamored by the thousands of bees, and thousands of hours, that go into making that jar. It's also been a roller-coaster year for honey. And besides, The Year in Honey sounds like something from Chinese astrology. In Zodiac terms, 2011 was technically the year of the rabbit.
First to hit shelves this year was The Beekeeper's Bible, one of the best historic surveys/beekeeping manuals/recipe book combos we've seen in years. Yes, there is an awful lot going on here for a single book. But there's a lot going on in good honey, too. That The Beekeeper's Bible avoids becoming a tragic 21st century manifesto on Colony Collapse Disorder (though it is and should be mentioned) is also worth noting. Instead, this hefty book serves more as a universal educating tool, elevating the status of bees and their honeys through history, lore, science and recipes. We hope you're adding it to your Amazon wish-list. Right now.
As for what “good” honey really means, that question ventured beyond taste this year with reports that the majority of honey sold in U.S. grocery stores is filtered to the point it likely contains no pollen. The FDA says that such products can no longer be called honey. And yet of course they still are — we live in a food world where “natural” means the ingredients came from a natural source but can be completely processed. Perhaps even over a glass of Jack Daniels Honey Liqueur, also released this year, should you like your drinks excessively (or perhaps exceptionally) sweet, depending on your taste buds.
The gold honey star this year goes to The Backwards Beekeepers, L.A.'s volunteer bee hive rescue squad, which announced their efforts to (hopefully) legalize backyard beekeeping in L.A. (find out how to join the cause here). We're rooting for them. And not just because we love the idea of saving wild bees (wild honey cultivating — foraging, really — is very different from honey farming). But because we really want an excuse to buy this cool “urban” beehive. You know, to make a hyper-local apartment balcony batch of our own honey (just don't tell our neighbors).
On second thought, perhaps in honor of English muffins everywhere we best stay away from homemade honeys with delicate notes of 405 Freeway and a definitive dog park finish. It was a very good thing indeed that this year we discovered beekeeper Brent Edelen, who recently began selling his honey online. He humbly shrugs and gives his bees all the credit, but we think these are some of the best honeys we've tasted. That Edelen flies his bees on a prop plane in the winter months from his Colorado home to warmer — and greener — pastures, including California, counts as locally made, right?
[More from Jenn Garbee @eathistory + eathistory.com]