Pantry Raid IV: Comb Alone

Mesopotamia - 6000 B.C.

    [voice over] Of all man's early culinary developments, none is more significant than the pantry.

Rome - 50 B.C.

    With it the appetite can roam free while the cook remains comfortably in domesticata.

London - 1901 A.D.

    Since its birth the pantry has seen foods come and go, yet one has endured the test of time remaining virtually unchanged.

Montgomery - 1971 A.D.

    Not only did this food serve as man's sole sweetener for thousands of years, it wove itself into the very fabric of his literature, religion and society.

The Kitchen

    Even if it wasn't the most mentioned food in literature, hadn't been pondered by the likes of Aristotle, didn't posses preternatural preservative powers and couldn't claim to be the only food manufactured by animals well, honey's culinary chameleonics would still assure it a spot here on the pantry shelf of fame. So, if you haven't given honey much of a thought you may want to stick around because this elixir celebrated by John the Baptist and Winnie the Pooh alike is definitely good eats.



GUEST: Marcus Scott, Botanist

    As the world of beer is divided into distinctive microbrews and less complex national brands, so too is the world of honey divided. You see, big honey companies collect their honey from dozens of sources which they then blend, filter and pasteurize. The result? A consistent, jewel-clear, squeaky-clean honey that resists crystallization. It also has about as much personality as a Dragnet rerun.
    That's why I stick with single-source, raw honey which has been filtered and bottled with no further processing. Of course to understand great honey you gotta go to the source, nectar. Now if there was only a botanist around here some place.

MARCUS SCOTT: I'm a, I'm a botanist.
AB: You're a botanist? Okay, what's nectar?
MS: A botanical bribe.
AB: A botanical bribe. Can you give me a little more than that?
MS: All flowering plants have glands called 'nectaries' which produces a sticky sweet liquid that's secreted through a tube on the flower. Besides helping to regulate the fluid content it also attracts hummingbirds and insects.
AB: Honey bees?
MS: Apis mellifera* is actually the proper term for that ...
AB: Yeah. It's Latin for, uh, pollen eating honey maker. Please continue.
MS: Well, see they're actually attracted to the nectar but they pick up a lot of pollen along the way.
AB: Ah. Which leads, of course, to cross-pollination not to be confused with cross-contamination. It's a little side joke. Now I've always wondered. Uh, what would happen if a honey bee took nectar from, say, this mum and carried it to, oh, I don't know, a cherry tree?
MS: They don't bloom at the same time.
AB: Well, let's say for a minute that they did.
MS: By and large, bees actually practice flower fidelity.
AB: So, they're faithful.
MS: No. They'll take their nectar where they can get it. But they'd rather collect from one particular flower as long as it blooms. And of course, they also gather honey dew.
AB: The melons? Heh, heh. I'm just joking.
MS: No. The liquidous remains of aphid drilling.
AB: Ahh. Okay. So would you say that eating honey is about as close as you can get to eating flowers?
MS: Well, I mean there are plenty of flowers that we can eat. Over here, for instance, this is actually one that I typically like to eat on the weekends ...

    Gee. Too bad we don't have time for that. Uh, gotta run and hive.

It takes approximately 2 million flowers worth
of nectar to produce a pound of honey.


    [voice over] A beehive is a highly efficient honey factory and its staff is called The Colony. Now all the work is done by worker bees which number from two to sixty thousand. Now these sexually, underdeveloped females don't sleep until they're 35 days old. After that they sleep forever. Workers can sting but only once. After that they sleep forever.
    Next come the drones. There are a couple a hundred of these big, fat male bees to each colony. Their job: eat, drink, mate with the queen then drop dead. Now since stingers are really just modified egg layers, drones don't have them but they do buzz really loud.
    Up at the top of the bee heap, the queen. One per hive. She's born a worker, but through a special diet of royal jelly, she grows very large and fertile. Now although she mates only once—albeit with several dozen drones—she gathers enough bee sperm to lay some 1200 eggs a day. She can live up to three years and sting as many times as she likes.

Diamond I Farms: Unadilla, GA - 11:40 am

GUEST: Jesse McCurdy
            Glenn Ivie, Apiarist

    So here we are with some of the Perry's bees and, uh, I see we've got Jesse and Glenn here are going to help me crack into my own honey and hopefully meet up with the queen.
    Like the hat?

    [voice over] Jessie, an old time bee keeper oddly immune to stingers, removed the top of a hive so that Glen could show me around the lower levels. Here workers store pollen, groom the queen and monitor the baby bees nestled in their waxy hexes. Then we came to the top section or 'super'. Each one of these trays is a solid honeycomb which, as Glen explained, can weigh several pounds towards the end of the season. Still, I wanted to know how that honey really got there.

    Believe it or not, up until about the fifteen hundreds this [swarm of bees] is what you had to face if you wanted to get honey. There weren't any hives built like this. You had to crack into the side of a tree or find a crag in between some rocks and literally dig in and get it out. Now chimpanzees, actually, in the wild are pretty smart. They cover their face with one hand and use long sticks to prod in to the combs and get out the honey. But believe it or not there used to be people in tribes whose job it was to go gather honey. And this is what they'd have to face. And by the way. They didn't have these [bee hats] or these [gloves ] or these [protective suits].

Inside A Beehive

GUEST: Bees #1, #2, #3, #4

    Now let's just see if we can find, ... ah, there, a forager who's just returned to the hive.

 AB: Uh, excuse me, Miss. I can't help but notice you've got some lovely pollen sacks on you.
BEE #1: I bet you say that to all the bees.
 AB: Well, no not really. Look, I understand that that's protein to feed the hive but tell me. Where's the nectar that you've been gathering on all your flights?
B#1: [spits out nectar through tube in mouth]
 AB: Eeh. I thought only supermodels did that kind of thing.
B#1: Well how else am I supposed to empty my nectar sack?
 AB: Nectar sack?
B#1: Yeah, the big bag of enzymes that breaks down the sugar and the nectar. There's only one way in and out of me, you know.
 AB: Oh. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Please excuse me. You go, go right back to your work, okay?
B#1: Thanks.

    Now a whole team of worker bees, all female, set to work repeatedly sucking up and expelling the nectar through their proboscises until their body chemistry breaks down the sucrose—the disaccharide or double sugar—into simple sugars or monosaccharides, fructose and glucose. Now, why bother with this? Because simple sugars are more soluble in water than double sugars which means a drop of water can hold more energy if the sugar is simple. And that means a more efficient food source.

Honey is 80% sugar and 20% water.

    Ah, now one of the house bees is depositing the young honey into the inner surface of a cell constructed from the secretions of young bees' wax glands. Now during the next three weeks additional deposits will be made and they'll be fanned continuously with wing action to speed evaporation. Now when the cell is finally full, the ripe honey will be capped with more wax. So on one hand honey is an amazingly sophisticated and efficient food source. On the other hand it's bee backwash.
    Now since it's low in moisture, slightly acidic and extremely hygroscopic honey is death valley for microbes. You can say it's mummified energy, in fact.

    Now, there are three common market varieties of honey. Now 'comb honey' is the original version and it's still the one preferred by most connoisseurs. Now the comb is edible but don't expect it to dissolve in your mouth, okay? ... unless you've got a heck of a fever. You see, it doesn't soften until it hits somewhere in the neighborhood of 140 degrees.

Comb Honey

    Now if you buy liquid honey that has a big hunk of this floating in the middle, it's called 'cut comb honey'.

Cut Comb Honey

    Now if you're after a liquid honey, well, you're going to have to take this [super] for a spin.

Bees must consume 8 pounds of honey to produce 1 pound of beeswax.

Diamond I FarMS: Extraction Room - 1:27 pm

    [voice over] Having been liberated from its makers, the honey must now be coaxed from its comby confines. To accomplish this, the cap wax must be removed from each side of the trays with a hot knife. Now this wax will be cleaned and made into candles. A nice little windfall for the bee keeper. The racks are then placed inside of a large centrifuge which literally flings the honey out of the comb. Thus freed it runs down and out into a holding tank. Delicious. But a little crunchy due to the fact that it's full of tiny bits and bee pieces which explains the sophisticated filtration system, panty hose.
    Cut Comb Honey is just cut right out of the trays and then jarred and topped off with the filtered honey.

Honey is a preservative - Alexander the Great was embalmed in it.

The Kitchen

    If 80 percent of a honey's nectar comes from one botanical source, then that honey can claim to be a 'varietal'. Now there're some 300 varietal honeys produced in the United States, um, including alfalfa, clover, basswood, eucalyptus, orange blossom, sourwood, fireweed, lavender, palmetto, gallberry, tupelo which is very rare and very expensive, uh, tulip popular and buckwheat.

Alfalfa, Clover, Basswood, Eucalyptus, Orange, Sourwood, Fireweed, Lavender, Palmetto, Gallberry, Tupelo, Sage, Chestnut, Tulip popular, Buckwheat

    Now, honeys that lack a predominant botanical pedigree but are still taken straight from the hive without any further blending can be called wildflower honeys. Now this is the one that we harvested earlier today. And even though it's a wildflower honey, its still has some specific flavors. This one for instance [takes a taste] mmm, those bees spent some time around a watermelon patch. You can tell. Honeys often taste like the fruits that the plants they were made from make, if that makes sense.

Eating locally made honey is said to ease hay fever and other allergies.

    As you might expect, darker honeys are more distinctive and stronger than lighter honeys. This pine honey, for instance, is much stronger than this wildflower honey which is a little bit stronger than this sourwood honey which is indeed a little bit darker and stronger than this orange blossom honey which is stronger than this alfalfa honey. Which is not to say that this alfalfa honey is a wallflower. In fact, it's my favorite honey when it comes to making dessert sauces.

    It all starts with a quarter of a cup of alfalfa honey and a stainless steel or other heat resistant bowl. Now the reason for this is that even though that honey is pretty light, it's still too viscous to play nicely with other ingredients unless it's coerced a little. So a little bit of heat here is going to help loosen that up. So in that goes.

1/4 Cup Honey

    Meanwhile you may contemplate an add on. In this case it's going to be sour cream. One cup of sour cream. You could also use light sour cream or even yogurt to the same effect. In that goes.

1 Cup Sour Cream

    Now all you have to do is whisk these two together. Remember to turn off the heat. What are the serving possibilities? Gosh, I don't know. Something like fresh fruit, strawberries perhaps. Uh, you could go with pound cake or other baked goods. Baked apples, it's great with that. Just about anything you can think of except your morning cereal.

    Hey, who likes honey mustard? Everybody does. The question is, why do we bother buying it when it is so easy to make and, of course, there's so much great honey to make it with. Now in my case, I like to start with about 5 tablespoons of sourwood honey. And to that I add, oh, say 3 tablespoons of Dijon mustard, the smooth kind not the lumpy, seed-ridden kind. Then after the mustard goes in, go with two tablespoons of rice wine vinegar.

5 Tbls Honey

3 Tbls Smooth Dijon Mustard

2 Tbls Rice Wine Vinegar

    Now vinegar is important because not only is it going to add snappy tang, but when it goes into the bowl, it is going to make everything more viscous. That's why we don't have to heat this one. So, whisk thoroughly. Now believe it or not, unlike most vinaigrettes all the mustard and honey in there is going to keep this, uh, dressing very stable. It's not going to separate in the refrigerator like so many other dressings do. There you go.
    Now, serving potential? Limitless. For instance say you had a bowl of peppery greens. A little drizzle will do you. Or say you needed a dipping sauce for those chicken fingers. Excellent. So it's a dressing. It's a dip. It's a dressing. It's a dip. No, it's both. But wait. Say you want an elegant dessert?
    Place a large sauté pan over medium heat and warm just enough honey to cover the pan with a solid pool. I like wildflower honey for this but you can use whatever you like. Now once it's good and warm time to consider fruit. Plums would be good as long as they're relatively firm. If they're too soft they're going to disengage. Into the pan and try to make sure everything is cut-side down. We're really interested in getting the honey pushed up into the fruit. Now you could also use figs for this. Uh, you could use chunks of papaya. Anything that's a little bit on the firm side. Now once you've got all the cut-sides down, let this cook over medium-low heat for about 5 to 6 minutes.
    Once the fruit is soft all around, go ahead and boost the heat to high just for about one minute tossing things continuously. That'll make sure that the fruit is completely coated, slightly caramelized and it'll also reduce the honey into a nice glaze. Now, what are the serving options? Well, got ice cream? Well, -heh, -heh, -ell. Now you've got something much, much more. Mmm.

The honeybee was brought to America from Europe around 1625.
Native Americans called it the "white man's fly".

The Kitchen

GUEST: Zoey Brown

    Since it is a supersaturated solution, honey will crystallize under the right conditions. Uh, some varieties like this orange blossom honey will actually begin to crystallize the minute that they're put inside a jar. Prevention? Well, a good tight lid and warm storage will help. The cure? Eh, it's almost as easy. See, hot liquids can hold more dissolved solids in solution than cold liquid can. So, a hot bath will reverse this condition probably in 10, 15 minutes. Just regular hot water out of the tap.
    Of course you could do this in the microwave oven. Of course you'd have to be really, really careful. You'd have to have the lid off, of course. You've got to watch it. You've got to turn it. Turn it on and off. I usually end up with a big sticky microwave instead of a clear jar of honey.
    Of course, you don't have to dissolve the crystals at all. They're not going to hurt anything. But, if they continue to grow unabated, well, the remaining liquid will eventually become so diluted that mold and yeast could move in and set up house. Ironically, spun or creamed honey uses crystallization to side step this problem. It's actually seeded with microscopic crystals which result in a creamy, spread-able honey which is definitely good eats. But unlike the crystals over there which are big and chunky, these are so small you can't even feel them on your tongue.
    [takes cleared honey out of hot water bath] There, no harm done. Now as far as using this in any other kind of recipe, it's ... what's this?

        "Recent university study reveals that honey contains several unique anti-
        oxidants including pinocembrin and chrysin, which explains why honey's
        been used to treat wounds as late as World War I."

    Honey is hygroscopic, you know, so it pulls moisture out of wounds. It contains hydrogen peroxide so it's an antiseptic and it's sticky so it stays put. So the next time your toddler takes a header, maybe you should slather on a little honey instead of that expensive cream. Of course what's good for out here is not necessarily good for in here. Babies under one year of age should never be fed honey because like most agricultural products that are raw, honey carries a small number of botulism spores.

Botulism (the sickness) is caused by spores
produced by Clostridium botulinum (the bacteria).

    This is no problem for adults or even toddlers. But an infant system is not acidic enough so the spores can grow and produce their paralyzing toxin. In other words, until this [baby] turns one, of this [honey] there will be none.
    We hope we've whet your appetite for a little bit of the ... oh, I almost forgot the cake. Um, honey can be substituted for sugar in almost any baked good.

    Take for instance my Aunt Verna's top secret, orange cake recipe. I managed to lift this off of her at our last family reunion. Now the old girl's recipe starts with a cup and a quarter of regular old sugar, sucrose, right? Now here's the neat thing. Since it is 20% sweeter than sucrose we can go with just a cup of honey. And since we're using the orange blossom honey this is going to add flavor and fewer calories. Sounds like a good combination. Right into a work bowl.

1 Cup Honey

    All right. What does she call for next? Four eggs. And what's nice about this is you can add them all at once unlike regular cakes that you need to cream. You don't have to do that here because the sugar is already a liquid. But you do have to work this until the eggs are thoroughly integrated. It'll take a couple of minutes.

4  Eggs

    Now once that starts to look on the foamy side, we're going to go with the next ingredient. Aunt Verna calls for three tablespoons of orange juice, but let's hold off on that a second. You see honey is about 20% water, right? And since we were working with a cup of honey, that means that about 3 tablespoons of it was indeed water. So we don't need that liquid. And since we're dealing with orange blossom honey, we're not going to miss the flavor. But just in case, we'll throw in a tablespoon of freshly grated orange zest.

1 Tbls Orange Zest

    And then there was the dry stuff. The dear old girl calls for a cup and a half of all purpose flour sifted together with about a teaspoon of baking powder. So we bring that ... hey, wait a minute. Now baking powder will only work if the alkaline and the acid in the recipe are balanced. Honey is a little bit more acidic than sucrose is so we're going to balance that with just a pinch of baking soda. I'd say that's a little less than an eighth of a teaspoon. Like any other cake batter on Earth, it's best to bring the dry to the wet nice and slow.

1 1/2 Cup AP Flour
1 tsp Baking Powder

Pinch Baking Soda

Drizzling honey on fresh fruit salad will prevent browning.

The Kitchen

    Now make sure you work down everything that's on the sides. You don't want any dry pockets. We need all the honey and the flour to be together. There. When it starts to kind of pull away from the sides like that you know you're ready to go. And go into a greased loaf pan. It's what she calls for and I have to agree with her here. Even if you have a loaf pan that claims to be non-stick, you're still going to need to add that lubrication because honey is nothing if not sticky. Get it all. There we go. Time to bake.

    Now my Aunt Verna calls for half an hour in a 375 degree oven. But since honey browns faster and deeper than regular sugar, we can cut the temperature down to 350 degrees. We'll stick with half an hour though.

350° for 30 mins.

    Of course that means in half an hour we're going to start to test it. You know the drill. In the middle with a skewer. If it comes out dry, you're good to go. If it comes out wet you've got a little bit more baking to do.
    Oh, and here's the neat thing. Since honey is more hygroscopic or water-loving than regular old sugar, it means that it will literally drag moisture out of the air. And that will keep either cakes or cookies baked with honey moist longer. This is something that is not lost on manufacturers of packaged foods.

"The only reason for being a bee is making honey ... and the only
reason for making honey is so I can eat it". -Winnie the Pooh

    We hope we've inspired you to look beyond the squeeze bear and invest yourself in the original processed food, honey. Whether you blend it into a sauce, bake it into a cake, marinate with it, poach in it or drink it straight. Honey is absolutely good eats.

 AB: Dig in, guys.
B#1: [tries to attack Alton] Hey, we're worker bees.
 AB: [whaps her]
B#1: Oww.
 AB: Sorry. Ladies.

    So sensitive. Oof. I'm gonna have one of these.

AB: Mm. You guys do good work ... girls do good work. Really you do.

Proof Reading help from John Burtner & Jon Loonin

Kingdom:  Animalia
Phylum:  Arthropoda
Class:  Insecta
Order:  Hymenoptera
Suborder:  Apocrita
Family:  Apidae
Genus:  Apis
Species:  Apis mellifera

Hit Counter

Last Edited on 08/27/2010