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Saturday, August 13, 2011

Lemon Verbena Honey, The Herb Lyceum at Gilsons Kitchen, Groton, MA

I got this honey at a local farmer's market. The jar isn't anything to write home about. It is small and glass with a white plastic screw top, but the label is quite attractive. It reminds me of arty homemade labels made for homemade jam. It has a delicate border and within it is simply stated "The Herb Lyceum Kitchen, Lemon Verbena Honey" and in smaller font: "The Herb Lyceum at Gilsons, Main Street, Groton, MA."

The Herb Lyceum, according to their website ( is a renovated carriage house on the homestead of the Gilson family that lies within 4 acres of herbs, gardens and flowering trees. It was originally designed as an herbal school for the promotion of useful plants but they have since branched out and offer their beautiful setting and restaurant for retreats, weddings and other small gatherings. Although the gardens and the restaurant are the prime attractions, they also seem to make honey.

The Lemon Verbena honey is a clear golden color, and very thin and runny. No amount of twirling a toothpick in it will get you a twirl of honey. In the honey are nearly candied bits of green herbs, presumably lemon verbena. I was not aware that lemon verbena flowers were a flower source for honey bees and now I'm suspicious that this lemon verbena honey is actually wildflower honey with lemon verbena thrown in. This isn't a bad idea on the surface, given that the herb might diffuse a lemony tang to the honey, but as a purist, I'm somewhat put off. It feels like cheating. The honey, unfortunately, has no lemon verbena taste. Nada. Nil. None. It has, however, an honest, sweat, pure honey flavor. The candied green herbs floating around are difficult to avoid and interfere with the smooth texture. I think this honey would have been better off without the lemon verbena. I suppose that with all good ideas you don't know how good (or bad) they are until you try them. Note to self: next time check for floating herbs in honey before buying.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Creta Honey, Lassithi, Crete

Last summer we had a magical vacation on the island of Crete. Amazing archeological digs to explore, beautiful hidden valleys and plateaus to discover, and beaches, of every variety, to experience. You could spend two weeks just exploring all the beaches, and it would make for a great vacation. I kid you not. Here is a website describing all the beaches of Crete for your armchair traveling pleasure: Our favorite beach was Falsarna because of the never ending waves, perfect for body surfing, but I digress. Back to honey.

A Cretan treat is Greek yogurt with Greek honey, a combination of the slightly sour fresh, creamy yogurt and the sweet of the honey. Just thinking about it takes me back to the island. Driving around Crete you may notice alot of box bee hives, on hills of thyme mostly, but if you look for them you'll see them everyone. Honey is a local product, with a year round production (no real winter in Crete) and given the climate and terrain, most flower sources for Cretan honey come from aromatic herbs. They are famous for their thyme honey. A site dedicated to local Cretan products claims that "bees are fed from bushes that are only grown in Crete." I wish they would say what kind of bushes these were, but I suspect they are thyme.

The honey I have is from the Lassithi plateau, in the central bit of the eastern part of the island. The Lassithi plateau is an unexpected find and quite different from other areas in Crete. High in the mountains (840 meters above sea level) it can only be accessed from eight passes. Driving up through winding roads, ascending into tall, grey mountains and then coming through a pass to see the flat expanse of farmland is truly a wonderful sight. And did I mention the windmills? It took me a while to figure out that they use wind power to irrigate the land. While olive groves are found all over Crete and there are many orange orchards in the western areas of the island, the Lassithi plateau may be unique for having pear and apple orchards, almond trees and fields of other crops that you might not expect to be grown in Crete. The plateau has been inhabited since Minoan times and one of the main attractions is the Dikti cave, one (of three) legendary birthplaces of Zeus on the island.

Because the flower sources are so different, I suspected that Lassithi honey would be quite different from the other honeys of Crete, and I'm right. It is a mellow yellow-brown color with a very slightly cloudy look to it. It is runny but if you swirl a toothpick in it quickly you get a fine twirl of honey. It is a smooth honey that clings to itself. You have to roll it around a little in your mouth for it to dissolve. It has a mellow, soft, brown molasses flavor followed by a sharper sweet taste. There is a very subtle herb flavor but it is not very pronounced, not at all like thyme honey. Would it be too obvious to say that it would be perfect in yogurt? Because, it would be perfect in honey.

Macadamia Blossom honey (Maui, Hawaii)

A friend of mine, Stephanie, visited Hawaii and brought me back this honey a few years back. It comes in a nondescript plastic jar and a square paper label rubber banded around the lid. On the back of the label is a recipe* for honey mustard that seems straight forward enough. I've included the recipe at the end of the blog.

The front of the label says the honey is 100% Maui Macadamia Blossom produced by Tropical Apiary Prods of Maui. I googled them but did not come up with much. They have the beginnings of a website and all I could gather is that they produce macadamia blossom honey, Christmas berry honey and pollen:

The Hawaiian islands are a treasure trove of honey given their exotic flora and tropical weather, and are also well known for their macadamia nut production. Wikipedia's entry on macadamia states that the macadamia nut tree originates in Australia but has since been cultivated in other parts of the world, but not always initially for its nuts (perhaps because only two of the macadamia tree species produce edible fruit- the others produce poisonous nuts). In 1881 William Purvis introduced macadamia trees to Hawaii as a windbreak for sugar cane crops. Gradually, over 40 years, people began to realize that macadamia nuts might be a crop of their own. Ernst Van Tassel founded the first commercial nut operation in Hawaii, Hawaiian Macadamia Nut Company, in 1922 with orchards on Nut Ridge in Honolulu and a processing plant on Puhukaina.

A little known fact is that macadamia nuts are toxic to dogs (so take note), and they are used by law enforcement in drug stings to simulate crack cocaine; macadamia nut powder looks like cocaine in texture and color (might want to take note of this too if knowing how to tell the difference between cocaine and macadamia nut powder might come in handy).

Macadamia blossom honey is runny, dark brown. It is clear, but so dark that if you lift the jar to the light you can't see through it. It doesn't have any fragrance but the first taste is of subtle molasses, rich and warm with a slightly stronger, robust molasses after taste combined with something a little herby. Not too sweet and very satisfying. Good for eating right out of the jar. Perfect for baking a hearty wheat bread or on hot, buttered toast. It is probably not a good choice for a delicate tea.

*Recipe for honey mustard: you microwave 2 tablespoons of honey with 1 tablespoon of mustard together and then use it as a dipping sauce. You can add sesame seeds and sesame oil for a dressing or ketchup for a glaze.