Honey is one of my guilty pleasures.
As a kid I loved squeezing amber syrup from the belly of the bear-shaped bottle all over my toast. Today I appreciate honey for more than just its sweetness. I've learned to appreciate the subtle, and sometimes not-too-subtle differences between clover honey, orange blossom honey and strappy buckwheat honey.
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And instead of running around to the back door when the bees swarm the mint patch that lines my front walk way, I quietly pass by happy that I'm providing them a feeding ground yet frustrated that I won't get to taste their minty nectar.
I'm excited that this week's Cook of the Week Challenge recipes feature honey from Bron's Bee Co. and their bees that live out at Heritage Prairie Farm near Elburn.
I'm also excited about a new book "The Fresh Honey Cookbook" written by beekeeper Laurey Masterton.
Masterton, who only took up beekeeping a few years ago, organizes the book monthly and by honey variety. Yet while February's Creamy Chicken and Coconut Curry calls for Tupelo honey and September's Butternut Squash Soup uses sage honey, she acknowledges regional availability and tells cooks not to be limited by the honey listed in a recipe. (She also includes a resources page.)
Not all of her recipes contain honey, but you'll note that all of the recipes (like New Potato Vichyssoise) contain ingredients that are dependent on honey bees.
A, Bee, Cs: Here are some fun facts about bees that I found in the pages of Masterton's book:
• Bee nectar is 80 percent water. As it evaporates in the warm hive, it reduces to 17 percent, the consistency we know as honey.
• The white beeswax the worker bees produce keeps honey safe from spoilage. Honey discovered in ancient Egyptian pyramids was edible thousands of years later.
• Bees eat their own honey to get the energy to make wax. It takes 6 to 8 pounds of honey to make 1 hour of wax.
• In its lifetime, one worker bee will make 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey.
Upper crust: Learn about Chicago's crusty history with Paula Haney, chef/owner at Hoosier Mama Pie Company, from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Sept. 28, at Kendall College's School of Culinary Arts.
Haney, who also wrote the just-released "Hoosier Mama Book of Pie," started out making apple pies for her father and later worked as a pastry chef, putting in time at the now-shuttered Trio in Evanston with Grant Achatz and Shaun McClain. After becoming concerned that Americans were not honoring our own pastry traditions she started Hoosier Mama Pie Company with the mission to promote pie consumption and reserve our pie-making heritage.
On Saturday she'll serve a slice of Chicago's sweet and savory pie history, delve into pies of ancient times, share her perspective on modern American versus British pie and talk about the decline of pie companies and the rise of her pie shop on West Chicago Avenue.
And for those who find pie-making intimidating, Paula will share her secrets and show how she makes her perfect pie dough. Oh, and pies from her book will be served afterward. If you want to make a pie to share, contact CulinaryHistorians@gmail.com. Catherine Lambrecht will provide a recipe and reimburse your ingredients.
The college is at 900 N. North Branch St., Chicago (just north of Chicago Avenue at Halsted Street). The program costs $5; $3 for students and free to members of the Culinary Historians of Chicago.
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