Fruit & Honey | Honey
One of our most ancient foods, honey has been sought after since Stone Age hunters raided wild bee hives. It is a completely natural product made by bees collecting and concentrating down the nectar of flowers, crops and tree blossoms. Whereas ordinary honey can be a mixture of various honeys from different countries, specialist honeys come from bees gathering nectar from one specific area and source, such as heather moorland in Scotland. This gives the honey a distinctive taste of place as the pollen of each plant provides a different flavour.
Honey is a seasonal product ' in Scotland there are three flows ' spring, summer and autumn as during winter bees take a rest in a cluster to keep warm. As the days lengthen and the weather becomes milder, usually in April (but obviously not always guaranteed here!), it is time to move beehives nearer to the first available nectar sources of the year, such as oil-seed rape and raspberry flowers in the fertile farmland and fruit growing areas.
In June, there is honey to be harvested and beekeepers must also keep an eye out for the threat of bees swarming. To prevent the queen following her natural urge to leave the hive to look for a new home, taking with her thousands of workers each full of honey, hives are often divided in two.
Throughout July, the bees go on their 'summer holidays'. As the Bell heather begins to blossom purple on the mountains and glens, thousands of hives are transported through the night to get closer to the next important pollen source. When conditions are right, with long hours of sunshine, the bees will work hard at harvesting tiny beads of heather nectar and pollen. Bees can travel thousands and thousands of miles back and forth within a small radius to produce just one 500g jar of honey and the combs are collected around the end of the month.
By August, the Ling heather is beginning to bloom and this also produces a rich, distinctive honey, full of flavour. Scottish heather honey is in demand all over the world because of its unusual smoky or tangy taste and its dark amber colour.
Honey has long been recognised for its health properties and the darker the honey, the higher it is in antioxidants. Indeed, scientists have discovered that honey can help to lower cholesterol levels and surprisingly, perhaps, it can contain as many antioxidants as spinach, strawberries or apples. Special varieties, such as Manuka honey from New Zealand, can even fight infections and is sometimes used by the NHS for dressing wounds. In Scotland, a hot toddy (heather honey mixed with a dram and topped up with boiling water) is taken to combat the common cold. Even if it doesn't work, it usually makes you feel better!
Cooking with Honey:
Having such hot properties, many cooks may like to replace sugar in recipes with honey.
As honey is hygroscopic (ie it absorbs moisture), using it as a replacement for sugar in baking will help cakes to remain moist. Honey is sweeter than sugar, however, so therefore the standard recommendation is to use one part honey to replace one-and-a-quarter part sugar ' if you can work that out! Honey is also a popular ingredient for biscuits and liqueurs ' as well as to add to roasting carrots or parsnips ' or simply to spread on fresh bread.