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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Star Thistle (Centaurée) Honey, Maria, Gaspésie, Québec, Canada

This honey is from the Gaspésie, a peninsula running along the south shore of the Lawrence river at the Eastern most tip of Quebéc, Canada. The shore bordering the river is made up of sea cliffs, and the interior of the peninsula is rugged, mountain country containing the Chic-Chocks mountains (a northern continuation of the Appalachian mountains). The interior region, which is mostly covered by coniferous forests, offers some of the most rugged terrain in Quebéc with great hiking, dog-sledding, snowmobiling, downhill skiing, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. In fact, the January/February 2012 issue of National Geographic Traveler ranks the Gaspésie in the top 10 winter adventure destinations in North America. Most of the population, however, is spread along the coast in small villages of less than 5,000 and for generations have mostly relied on fishing, although agriculture, forestry and tourism also now figure in their economy. The largest city, Gaspé (population around 15,000) is found near the tip of the peninsula.

Maria, Gaspésie, where this honey is from, is on the south shore of the peninsula, along the coast of the Baie des Chaleurs. The area was originally inhabited by the Micmac indians, but around 1775 American Loyalists, and immigrants from Scotland and Ireland, settled there. In 1860 Acadians looking for farmland joined them. The area is mostly made up of farms (cattle and dairy) but also has a sizable honey production. The Rucher des Framboisiers (Raspberry beehives), owned by John Forest and family, has 900 hives and has been producing a variety of honeys in the area since 1977. You can visit "Le petit jardin de l'abeille" (the little bee garden) from June to September to get a tour of their not-so-little gardens, and also get information about honey production. They also have a souvenir shop where you can buy their honey [1059 Dimock Creek, Maria, Québec, Canada, G0C 1Y0].

The honey I have is Star Thistle. I had to google image it to see what kind of a plant it is. It looks like a rugged survivor. Apparently it is considered to be a noxious, invasive weed (part of the knapweed family). Nevertheless, beekeepers prize it for its ability to produce large amounts of quality honey.

Star Thistle honey is a light golden color with a medium body. It has a relatively simple clear taste, not too sweet, with a slightly spicy undertone that tastes a little like cinnamon or allspice. The spiciness is not overpowering so I don't think it would alter the flavor of tea or baked goods much, and might add a little zest. It would also be very nice on hearty buttered toast, or in hot cereal. If you are ever in the Gaspésie, you might consider taking a side trip to Maria to check out The Rucher des Framboisiers' gardens and visitor center. I know I will!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Nature's Finest Pure Atchafalaya Honey, Plaquemine, Louisianna

I got this honey recently at a new store devoted to all things honey in Cambridge, MA near Harvard Square, called "Follow the Honey." I dragged my friend Louise there to check it out. It is a small store but they have an impressive selection of honey (a very good selection of American honey in particular), and they also have beeswax candles, soaps, lotions and even jewelry inspired by honey and bees (called "bee bling" on their website). Apart from the beautiful displays, the variety of honey and the pleasant staff, they also allow you to taste any honey in the store at their honey bar (!) My kind of store! Paulline helped me and Louise with a few selections and recommended atchafalaya honey - one that I had never heard of. I was having trouble deciding what honey to buy up until then... Needless to say I ended up taking home a very large jar.

So what is atchfalaya honey? Well, to begin with atchafalaya (ah-CHA-fa-LIE-ah) is an American-Indian word meaning 'long river,' and according to the atchafalaya honey website (yes, there is one:, atchafalaya honey is harvested in North America's largest river swamp - The Atchafalaya Basin in south central Louisiana where the Atchafalaya river and the Gulf of Mexico converge. It is an unpopulated area (a National Heritage area since 1997) with abundant native flora contained within a unique eco-system made up of swamps, bayous, backwater lakes and bottomland hardwood forests covering almost a million acres. What is a bottomland hardwood forest? According to Wiki it is "a type of deciduous hardwood forest (e.g. Gum, Oak and Bald Cypress trees) found in broad lowland floodplains along large rivers and lakes." This river swamp basin is also home to more than 85 species of fish, 200 species of birds, alligators, and black bears, according to the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area website. But what about honey producing flowers? Unfortunately, they don't say.

From my quick look online it's obvious that Louisiana takes honey and honey production seriously. According to the Louisiana honey website, honey has been collected in Louisiana since before 1812 when it became a state, and has since produced thousands of pounds of honey each year. Today, they even breed queen bees that are then sent all over the United States to raise new bee colonies. In fact, the honeybee was made the Louisiana official insect in 1977.

But back to this terrific jar of atchafalaya honey. It is a slightly opaque honey with a warm, reddish-orange color. It is surprisingly thin and I have to quickly twirl it on a toothpick to get enough to taste. It has a very light initial sweetness (not too sweet) with a subtle spicy, earthy taste that remains throughout. It is uncomplicated in that no other flavors surface, and there is no after taste. I think it would be perfect in tea, on hot buttered toast or in hot cereal. It might also be a good choice to use in baking.

If you are in the Boston area, you can find it at Follow The Honey at 1132 Mass Ave in Cambridge. To locate other places where it is sold, you might try contacting the producers via their website:

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Egyptian Wildflower Honey Imported by Marina Import and Export Company

I can't remember where I got this wildflower Egyptian honey. I have a habit of ducking into small, local food shops and buying honey wherever I am, and my experience has been that some odd honeys show up in the oddest places (I've mentioned in the past that TJMaxx is, surprisingly, a good place to find unusual honey). I've never been to Egypt, so I know I didn't get it there. The grocer's price label on the jar says Supermarché Akhavan. The French 'supermarché' suggests I got it in Montreal, where I do go to Middle Eastern supermarkets (they have the best halva, chapati, and fresh feta cheese- as well as Middle Eastern honey).

This honey, apart from saying that it is from Egypt, that it is a wildflower honey, and that it is imported by Marina Import and Export company, doesn't say much else. I checked out whether Marina Import and Export has a website to see if I could find out more, and they do:

Their site states that they "specialize in importing ethnic and non-ethnic food products from Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Turkey." I notice they have a few things from Tunisia as well. Mostly they have food: sweets, beverages, nuts, and canned/jarred goods, but they also have water pipes and accessories as well as backgammon boards (the beautiful inlaid ones). They operate out of Scarborough, Ontario- which reinforces my thoughts that this honey was purchased in Canada. Unfortunately, they do not have any details about this honey. In fact, I can't find it on their list of products either, but the label is very much like the one on their molasses so I'm sure I have the right place.

So, I have no details about where in Egypt and what type of wildflowers. With no obvious source of information, I rely on Wiki. What I find is that most rain falls on a tiny strip of the northern coast of Egypt. Is it a fair guess that the flower source is there? According to Wiki, apart from this region, rainfall is scarce and limited to winter, with averages of less than 5mm per year. Add to this fairly intense heat with averages between 80-90°F (with some places getting over 100 °F) except along the coast. I wonder how flowers manage to flower, and if they do, how bees manage to find them without suffering heat exhaustion in any area except this coastal strip. How wrong I am! Another site ( states that most of Egyptian wildflowers flourish in the desert: "In the palm groves of the desert oases as in some of the narrow ravines in the eastern desert, ferns and flowers grow in a luxuriant abundance unknown to northern climes. Of these wild flowers the most common are the yellow daisy, the poppy, the iris, the asphodel and the ranunculus." Wouldn't it be great if this was desert wildflower honey? We will never know.

Now back to the honey. It is a nice golden, reddish color that is slightly opaque. It is surprisingly thick. I was expecting runny honey, given the color. Trying to twirl it on a toothpick, it has a feel of taffy. It twirls in a huge glob, and rolls around before it dissolves, like a hard candy. It has a very distinct first taste of tea, very faintly bitter or smoky tea. Very exotic. Tasting it again I think maybe it is faintly like an oak or bark flavor, slightly similar to an aromatic herb- but not so bitter as thyme honey. It is not too sweet and the after flavor is that of clear sweetness with undertones of the tea taste. I think for some this taste may take some getting used to. It is great right out of the jar, and would do well in dark teas, on whole grain breads and in hot cereal. I don't think it would be the best choice for baking or in herbal teas; it has too much of a distinct flavor.