Since becoming a beekeeper in Kosovo six years ago (you can read the story of my adventures in my book, Travels in Blood and Honey; becoming a beekeeper in Kosovo, published by Signal Books in 2011) I've become aware of the ways that landscapes produce distinctive honeys; that to lick at a honey is like sipping at a wine and tasting the land which gave it birth, the climate which nurtured it, the people and their technologies who produced it.
For two years I researched honeys from around the world for my second book, The Little Book of Honey (www.thelittlebookofhoney.co.
which includes tasting notes and the stories behind extraordinary
honeys (ivy honey, avocado honey, the honey fighting poverty in Nigeria,
the honey which helps excluded youth in inner-city London) as well as
my favourite honey recipes from every continent (Russian sbiten honey
drink, honey vinaigrette, Yemeni honey bread, honey ice-cream and more).
So when, like Split in Croatia on this spring weekend, I come to a
settlement that's new to me, I guide myself round the town on a hunt for
Here it takes me to some great places - through the fish market, gleaming and glistening with the slippery and the scaly, and through the fruit and vegetable market where women sit at stalls offering small green bundles of fresh herbs and kitchen garden produce including samphire which I buy for the first time - perfect to eat with the fish. I'm getting closer now, surely. I see the flower market and know that a country with such profusion in its meadows, such fragile wild cyclamens held up in the enormous fists of the traders, will have wonderful honey.
Then there it is in front of me - a profusion of stalls selling honeys I've never heard of, along with some familiar delicious tastes. I see acacia and chestnut and lime flower, woodland honey and meadow honey. I've never tried sage honey before so I buy a pot of that, as well as a small phial of propolis to keep in my handbag for cuts and ulcers; nature's antiseptic.
When I get home, winding through the limestone streets, the arches and alleyways, with washing blooming by every window box, I sit down to savour the sage honey. It's a clear liquid honey, the colour of the wooden shutters at the windows of the houses here. The aroma is malty and musky, with a faint tang of medicine reminding of its herbal origins. The taste is quite different - caramel and orange blossom with an aftertaste that's almost mocha. Today I drizzle it in yoghurt though I think it would also be an excellent honey to use in baking.
I've tried the delicious Croatian pepper cookies, paprenjaci, and the recipe I've found online tells me they are traditionally made with honey. So maybe my next exploration of Croatia is to recreate my springtime trip in my kitchen back home using some of this extraordinary local sage honey.