In Kentucky, the springtime rains have a way of working their magic on all of the wildflowers that flourish during that time of year, bespeckling the blue grasses with their brightly hued petals and unmistakeable fragrance. “There’s just something in the water,” my Grandmother would say. “It does something to those flowers …. makes the bees extra happy. Kentucky honey is the best for that very reason: happy bees. Yes, there’s just something in that rainwater that makes our bees happy as all get out.”
So far as Kentucky wildflowers are concerned, the tulip poplar and white dutch clover, in particular, have a way of subtly making their presence known in many forms. You can smell them on the wind, you spot them in the delicately woven flower crowns worn by many a young girl during the spring and summer months, you can see them stretching for miles and miles across the fields, backwoods and hollers that fill the state – the nooks and crannies. You can taste them in the honey. It is in one of those aforementioned nooks and/or crannies, near the mountains deep in the heart of the Daniel Boone National Forest, where the 2015 Kentucky State Fair blue ribbon honey was produced. This honey – this award-winning honey – took first prize in the Black Jar competition, which was purely based on taste, and nothing else.
“Preserving heritage local honey is a priority … because U.S. stores are flooded with honey from overseas. U.S. beekeepers produce 150 million pounds of honey annually, while consumers purchase some 400 million pounds, she added. It is not illegal to sell blended honey from overseas, but imports can be tainted with corn syrup or antibiotic residue … and consumers don’t even know.” – Tammy Horn, KY Dept. of Agriculture (source: Courier Journal)
Pure and clean. Fresh and untainted. The judges credited the deep, rich flavor of this spectacular honey to the wildflowers in the area. My grandmother would have credited the rain. Chicken or the egg, really.
Tugging on my shirt sleeve with a look of desperation in her big blue eyes, Elle’s plea for me to stay in the house, in avoidance of the buzzing, stinging dangers that lurked outside had become something of a daily ritual recently. She experienced her first bee sting this summer, and with it came the understandable hesitation to ever venture into the great outdoors again. I’ve never known anyone who enjoys being outside more than my daughter – it is truly her happy place – so the fact that she’d recently become content to stay put inside all day, quietly reading books and making things out of Play-Doh, was an indication of the true extent of her new fear of bees.
Prior to the fateful sting, she’d viewed bees as helpful little bugs who are responsible for providing the golden, deliciously sticky honey that drips from the peanut butter sandwich she eats almost everyday. The name of this blog wasn’t plucked out of thin air, after all. We eat honey on a daily basis in my house, in one way or another. It just always seems to make an appearance. In almost prayer-like fashion, Elle used to thank the bees for their hard work in making her beloved honey, saying with closed eyes and whispered words,”Thank you honeybees for this honey. It is my favorite.”
Her honeyed prayers came to a halt recently, however, and she made the switch to strawberry jam on her sandwiches. It’s like she was staging her own silent protest against the bees. No thank you, Mommy, she said to me recently as I placed her PB&H sandwich in front of her at lunchtime. I’ll have jelly please.
It was bound to happen eventually, I suppose. Not the honeybee protest but her fear of them; her fear of SOMETHING. It is inevitable that, at some point in our early childhood we all learn what it means to be scared – I mean really afraid of something. The feeling of utter trust that no one and no thing will ever hurt you because Mom and Dad are around begins to falter a bit at some point along the way, and you get just a little bit vulnerable to the world around you. This is a good thing, to be clear. Good, but a tough kind of good. It’s difficult as a parent to watch your little one work through the hard things, but I guess that was also bound to happen eventually. It’s part of the deal.
Watch your step! I warned, as Elle leapt from the old tractor. And be careful not to chase the peacocks too much … they really don’t like that.
Okay, Mom! Thanks for bringing me to the farm this morning.
Perched smack dab on the line between Fayette and Woodford Counties, in the heart of Kentucky’s bluegrass region, stands a small farm that I’d been meaning to visit for the better part of my life. Belonging to a family friend, this place is the stuff Elle’s dreams are made of, if I were to wager a guess as to the content of her dreams. With old tractors scattered throughout the property, peacocks sashaying regally around in the grass, and huge fields of dirt awaiting their chance to play host to next season’s crops, Elle was in hog heaven on the morning of our visit. Or peacock heaven, rather. We meandered our way around the farm, following curved dirt roads from one pastoral scene to the next, my heart fit to explode as I watched Elle trying her best to keep up with 5-year-old Cullen. She “drove” a tractor. She tasted fresh English peas. She made snow angels in the dirt. Oh, that dirt.
When I initially planned this trip to the farm with my cousin, I’d done it with the intention of checking out their bee hives and maybe watching a honey harvest, should we be so lucky. There is even a toddler-sized bee keeping suit! My cousin told me this as our plans began to take shape. The thought of my tiny child in an equally tiny bee keeping suit made me laugh out loud in genuine delight. The thought of ANY child in a bee keeping suit would, for that matter.
But alas, as fate would have it, the bee stinging incident fell right before our trip and I ended up visiting the bees without Elle, who was content to chase the farm cats around while she waited. With me chomping at the bit to check out some real-deal bee hives, Amelia was kind enough to trek with me through the tall grasses that led to the cozy, tree-lined corner of the farm where they keep their bee hives.
Can you hear the buzzing? Amelia asked, gesturing to the canopy of trees overhead. I could. I could just make out the faint hum of the bees that were hovering above us, hidden by the tree leaves. A little bit beautiful, a little bit scary. I thought of Elle.
I got to taste their sticky sweet honey that day, and it was my first time trying fresh honeycomb as well. The deep amber-colored nectar glistened in its requisite mason jars, catching the sun’s rays and looking a bit like the stratified bark covering the sweet gum trees that created a border for the property. Wow. You should really sell this. I’d said. Or, maybe enter it into the KY State Fair … or something.
Amelia smiled at this. Eh, I dunno. Wouldn’t want to create too much buzz or anything. Laughing, I popped one last piece of honeycomb into my mouth. I’d had my fill of the hives and their lovely honey, so I gathered my child and we made our way back into town. She fought sleep in the car, nibbling on some cheese and graham crackers in the back seat, and I began to daydream about ways I could use fresh honeycomb in a recipe. Honey … honeycomb … cheese … graham crackers … hmmm …
“I hadn’t been out to the hives before, so to start off she gave me a lesson in what she called ‘bee yard etiquette.’ She reminded me that the world was really one bee yard, and the same rules work fine in both places. Don’t be afraid, as no life-loving bee wants to sting you. Still, don’t be an idiot; wear long sleeves and pants. Don’t swat. Don’t even think about swatting. If you feel angry, whistle … act like you know what you’re doing, even if you don’t. Above all, send the bees love. Every little thing wants to be loved.” – Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees
Elle was right all along, though, about the bees. Upon our return home to Maryland, she continued to insist that there were bees “waiting” outside. They’re in the bike! They’re in Daddy’s bike! When she said this, Lucas ran outside without a word. He returned a few moments later and began putting on layers of extra clothing: pants and long-sleeved shirts to cover his skin, gloves to protect his hands … a hat.
She was right, he’d said. There are hundreds of hornets out there. Poor Elle knew she was right all along, but just hadn’t known how to fully communicate everything to us. With an old tennis racket in one hand, a hose in the other, and a large can of Raid tucked in the side of his pants, Elle and I watched through the windows as Lucas waged war on the hornets, making sure that there was no trace of the nest or its inhabitants, at least near our house. She didn’t really understand what was going on, just that her Dad was making the bees go away for her, making it safe to play.
It’s Super Daddy! she said. He’s saving us! I laughed and agreed that he did sort of look like a superhero, doing battle against the hundreds of buzzing invaders who’d been scaring Elle for weeks. Now, when we go outside, Elle still seems a little timid at first, remnants of her former fears still creeping in from time to time.
Mommy? Where did all of the honeybees go? she asked me the first time we ventured back out.
Well … I stalled for a second. Well Elle, they went to go make us some honey. She doesn’t need to know that they weren’t honeybees or that they are dead now, a concept which she does not yet fully understand.
You see, Elle, they knew we were running low on honey, so Daddy had to get them all up and moving to their bee hives far away. They feel pretty bad about your sting, so they’re going to make us some more honey – the BEST honey. We can probably go pick it up at the store soon.
Will they put it in a honey bear for me? I assured her that they would and, satisfied with this, she ventured further and further outside, her comfort level seeming to rise with each step. We did see a bee that first morning back outside, as was bound to happen, and I waited for Elle to run back in the house. But her response surprised me, as is so often the case. She didn’t run. She didn’t cry or cower away in fear. She looked right up at the small bee that was busy flying around in a hanging pot of flowers and said in her most authoritative voice, Go away bee! Go away and make me my honey! Your friends miss you and we need more honey. Go away bee!
I made her peanut butter and honey sandwich extra sticky that day.
Lemon & Chamomile Cheesecake with Honeycomb Two Ways RECIPE
This is my favorite lemon cheesecake recipe, and the addition of the chamomile glaze on top is so nice – subtle, but nice. I have also added a recipe for the blueberry compote that I always serve with my lemon cheesecake, because I can’t help it. Some things were just meant to be together. However I should note that the compote will dilute the flavor of the chamomile, so it’s totally optional. You can do either, or, neither, or both! Up to you.
As for the honeycomb, I have a recipe for crispy, crumbly candy honeycomb (called Hokey Pokey in England) that you can easily make right on your stovetop. I loved serving it piled on top of this cheesecake for a great crunchy element alongside some raw, fresh honeycomb. I ordered that online and there are plenty of places that sell it – so I highly recommend giving it a try.
For the cheesecake:
2 sleeves of honey graham crackers pulsed into fine crumbs (about 2 – 2 1/4 cups total)
8 tablespoons butter, melted
1/3 cup brown sugar
1.5 teaspoons cinnamon
3, 8-ounce packages of cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
The juice of two lemons (no seeds!)
2 tablespoons flour
3 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided
The zest of one lemon
1 pint sour cream
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup sugar
4 teaspoons cornstarch
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons lemon juice
5 chamomile teabags
DIRECTIONS: Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, combine all of the crust ingredients and stir to combine. You should end up with the consistency of wet sand.
Press this mixture into the bottom of an 11 or 12-inch spring form pan. Bake for 5 minutes. Let it cool and then keep it in the fridge until you need it.
Using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese on high until it is nice and smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until smooth after each. Beat at medium speed, gradually adding the sugar, then the flour, the lemon juice, two teaspoons of the vanilla, and the lemon zest. Mix until well blended and then pour the mixture into the crust.
Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.
Meanwhile, blend the sour cream with the remaining teaspoon of vanilla and three tablespoons of sugar. Set aside. After the 40-minutes baking time, remove the cheesecake from the oven and gently spread the sour cream mixture on top. Return to the oven and bake for an addition 15 – 20 minutes, or until set.
Cool for 30 minutes and then refrigerate until chilled. Meanwhile, combine the chamomile glaze ingredients in a small saucepan and stir until smooth. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly until the glaze has thickened (takes a couple of minutes). Remove the teabags and chill until cool. Spread the cooled glaze on top of the cheesecake. Crumble some homemade honeycomb (recipe below) on top of the cheesecake prior to serving, along with chunks of raw honeycomb. If desired, top with some of the blueberry compote (recipe below).
for the candy honeycomb (from Bon Appetit):
1.5 cups sugar
3 tablespoons corn syrup
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon baking soda
Line your baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Combine the sugar, corn syrup, honey, and 1/4 cup water in a heavy, deep saucepan. Stir over medium-low heat until the sugar dissolves. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Cook without stirring, occasionally swirling pan and brushing down sides with a wet pastry brush, until the sugar turns pale amber. Working quickly, add baking soda (mixture will foam up dramatically); whisk quickly just to combine. Immediately pour candy over prepared sheet (do not spread out). Let stand undisturbed until cool, about 20 minutes. Hit the honeycomb in several places with the handle of a knife to crack into pieces.
for the compote:
1/2 pint fresh blueberries
The juice of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons blueberry all fruit spread
1 tablespoon sugar
Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and reduce heat to med-low. Let the compote mixture simmer gently for about 15 – 20 minutes or until the berries have burst and released their juices. The mixture should be saucy and slightly thickened. Pour into a bowl and cool to room temperature. Store in the fridge until needed (the compote will thicken up substantially as it cools).