Posts Tagged With: honey

Bees: Tears of the Sun God Re

honey 352205_1280.jpgMonica King here to kick off National Honey Month since I’m a beekeeper.  This awareness month was initiated by the National Honey Board in 1989 to promote American beekeepers and honey. But just how long have humans recognized the importance of honeybees? Archaeological evidence says 8,000 years. The bond between humans and bee is documented on cave paintings in Spain that depict a man harvesting honey from a wild colony.

Over 2000 years ago in Egypt, they not only worshiped cats, but also the honeybee. They believed bees were the tears of the Sun God Re. On a papyrus written around 300 BCE, it reads, “The God Re wept, and the tears from his eyes fell on the ground and turned into a bee. The bee made his honeycomb and busied himself the the flowers of plants and so wax was made and also honey out of the tears of Re.”

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Temples kept bees in order to satisfy the desire of the gods (and people) for honey. In medical papyri, 900 odd prescriptions were found and close to 500 of those listed honey as an ingredient. Not everyone in Ancient Egypt was allowed honey! Evidence suggests only those that worked with the Kings were allowed a ration of honey, while regular laborers were not privy to such a delicacy.

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Titles such as “Keeper of the Bees” and “Sealer of the Honey” are found on ancient hieroglyphics. Honey, stored in earthen clay jars was stamped with this important information, including location of where the honey was harvested. With such detailed records, the quality of the honey had accountability. No evidence has yet to be found suggesting what may have happened to the “Keeper” or the “Sealer” should something have gone wrong with the precious, sacred commodity. King Tut’s tomb included several containers of honey, thousands of years old, yet still preserved, a remarkable testament to the eternal shelf-life of honey.

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One pharoah, Cleopatra, used honey in her beauty regime. One of Cleopatra’s secrets, and her most famous, was her ritual bathing in milk and honey. Both of these ingredients naturally soften the skin, exfoliate, and leave a fresh, sweet scent. You can do this yourself by adding two cups milk and half cup honey to your bath water.

Personally, it is Cleopatra’s sweet tooth that I can relate to. Cleopatra’s favorite treat was a sweet honey ball called “Dulcis Coccora” also known as “Tiger Nut Sweets.” A recipe was reported to have been found on a broken piece of Egyptian pottery dating from 1600 BCE. This recipe was adapted from www.antiquitynow.org:

“Dulcis Coccora”
1 pound pitted dates
water
2 Tablespoons ground cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon fresh ground cardamon
4 tablespoons chopped walnuts
honey – to coat
ground almonds and/or pomegranate seeds

Mash dates with enough water to form a rough paste.
Add cinnamon, cardamon, and walnuts.
Blend well.
Roll into walnut sized balls.
Coat in honey.
Then roll in finely chopped almonds and/or pomegranate seeds.
Set on a parchment paper to air dry for several hours before sealing in a container.

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Why not put a local spin on Cleopatra’s recipe and make a Southwestern Dulcis Coccora with other variations such as:

saguaro seeds
barrel cactus seeds
chia seeds
chopped dried prickly pear fruit
wolfberries (related to gogi berries)
hackberries
or how about a hot kick with a touch of crushed chiltepin?

Don’t forget, using different honeys such as mesquite or a catclaw acacia will also give different flavor to the honey ball.

About the author: This is Monica King’s second blog on Savor the Southwest.  She introduced us to her bees in July (read more here), and we hope to hear more from her in the future!

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Monica King is a rancher near Tucson.

Categories: Beekeeping, Cooking | Tags: , , , | 7 Comments

Sweet Desert Nectars

We start July with guest blogger Monica King, a rancher near Tucson Arizona, here to tell us about the product of her littlest, and busiest, “livestock.”

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With help from our friend, the honeybee, we can explore the palate of desert flora riches in a different way. These pollinators are beneficial to agriculture and two out of three bites you take you owe to honeybees! There would be little to no melons, strawberries, almonds, coffee or chocolate, just to name a few, if it were not for these busy tiny creatures.

As a worker honeybee heads out foraging, at around twenty-one days of age, they are not only pollinating, but also gathering many different flowers nectars.  But not all at once!  A foraging bee will visit the same kind of flower repeatedly on each excursion. This behavior is called flower fidelity. This is how pure honey is produced. I will get back to this.

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A chunk of comb full of honey.

A worker bee’s tiny body can carry more than her own weight in nectar. As she is on her way home with her bounty the nectar is mixed inside her honey sac with an enzyme called invertase, which begins the nectar to honey transformation. Upon return to the hive she then transfers her load to her sisters which continue the process. These workers manipulate it in their mouthparts exposing it to try air and add even more enzymes. They then put it into a honey cell and the bees fan their wings producing a breeze, which mixed with the warm air of the hive, continues to reduce the water content. When it is dehydrated to 17-18% moisture it becomes pure honey. Our moisture content in Southern Arizona is more like 10% due to our arid environment. Once the bees fill a cell they cap it with wax for storage. It is at this time a beekeeper may harvest the excess.

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Honey bee on cat claw acacia.

 

When it comes to honey from Sonoran Desert plants – there are two, local, well known spring harvests – mesquite and cat claw acacia.  In general, most local beekeepers will wait until the honey box is full and extract all the honey from one bee yard in one trip.  This is the less labor intensive way, and thus more economical. This honey is correctly called a Sonoran Desert blend. With each season being slightly different, no two harvests will be the same.

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But sometimes, you can find a beekeeper that doesn’t do things the simple, economical way – and they may have a pure cat claw acacia honey.  Cat claw acacia honey has a very light to almost white color and exquisite sweetness. This honey also has a heavy, thick texture and it will naturally granulate quickly.  My favorite way to savor this honey is spread like butter on toast or slightly warmed served drizzled over vanilla ice cream with fresh chopped local pecans.  Honey that granulates has not gone bad, and is just fine to use.

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Honeybee on mesquite.

Another specialty honey is mesquite.   Honey from the light colored mesquite flowers is transformed into a dark rich honey, smooth on the tongue, and may remind you of brown sugar or maple syrup. This honey pairs nicely with cheeses, especially Gouda, and makes wonderful BBQ sauces. When drizzled on blue corn pancakes you will think you are in heaven.

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Many beekeepers have their bees near agricultural or residential neighborhoods where the bees just don’t forage on native plants. I like to call this honey a desert urban blend and again it is very unique. The taste varies as the honey from some locations may have more clover in the area and other locations may have more citrus, etc.. Honey contains over 600 volatile organic compounds or plant-based essential oils, and these make it possible to have honey tested for pureness and provide the botanical and geographical origin. But the best way to know if your honey is pure, is to buy it from a local, respected, beekeeper.  And then you can taste the sweet desert nectars.

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Monica King is a rancher near Tucson.

 

 

 

Categories: Beekeeping, Cooking, Sonoran Native | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments

Brick and Mortar Brownies

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Linda here. It’s  ranged from breezy to downright windy here in the Old Pueblo this spring, affecting the moods of humans and non humans alike.  Bees, for example,  do not “like” wind, and on windy days I do not check Apis hives.  Red eyed and sneezing humans and are affected by the dust and pollen. Like so much in life, winds have a  mixed effect on things, both negative and positive.

One of the positives of pollen on the wind is that it can reveal a lot about older ecosystems. I recently learned about this in an article I came across on the science of archeobotany – which is basically the archeology of Things Botanical.

On a windy spring day such as we have experienced here – but in the early 18th century in Colonial Williamsburg  – masons were at work laying brick.  A mason “slather(s) mortar as he buil(ds) row after row of the buildings foundation”. Unbeknownst to him, he is also building an archeological record of the trees and plants growing at that time.  As pollen rode the waves of the winds it came to rest on/in the the mortar and  became encapsulated in the building itself.

The mortar acts like a kind of time machine where the pollen of old is extracted and analyzed by archeologists, revealing what plants lived and thrived at the time, in that town: trees, for example, were abundant –  (pine oak maple and hornbeam) revealing a tree filled ecosystem in Williamsburg in the early 18th century. Contrasted to pollen from the same town in the later in the 18th century/early 19th where/when the mortar reveals that the trees had been cut down – and mostly ragweed and goosefoot pollen are found in that time-frames pollen-mortar revelations. Pretty interesting.

In a similar way  Zander (1941) describes honey comb from Apis mellifera (found in a tomb from the Nineteenth Dynasty in Egypt), that was dissolved in water and found to contain mostly pollen from Egyptian avocado and desert dates  “which indicate that the plants of Egypt have changes considerably since the time of the pharaohs.”

 

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RECIPE INGREDIETNS: (inspired and amended from  the cook book NOURISHING)

-2 medium sized sweet potatoes

– 11-12 fresh dates (pitted)

– ¾ cup cup ground almonds

– 2/3 cup buckweat flour

– 3 tablespoons cacao nibs

– ¼ cup raw cacao powder

– at least 3 tablespoons honey

– zest of one orange – plus the juice

– ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

– ¼ t salt

– 1 tablespoon oil of your choice (olive oil/coconut oil)

– 1 tablespoon almond milk/ or coconut milk if you feel it needs moisture

– Optional 1-2 teaspoons ground chiltepin – seeds and all

HOW TO:

Steam peeled sweet potatoes until soft (approximately 18 minutes) and blend in food processor with the dates and honey.

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Mix the dry ingredients together and fold in the sweet potato/date/honey mixture.

 

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Add the juice of the orange whose peel you just “zested”. If the batter is still a little dry you might add a little milk and/or oil.

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Add this super power batter to a parchment paper lined baking pan – and cook at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. Let cool. Sprinkle with cacao powder, or honey, or chiltepin. Refrigerate – the cold brownie has a wonderful taste (whereas the warm are not so flavorful. )

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Sonoran Native | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Within & Without: WILDFLOWER Honey Facial Mask (DIY)

Aunt Linda here, on this breezy Tucson morning. IMG_7283 As I write, the full moon shines powerfully in the west, as it sets. The bee yard is aglow. The beams of moonlight bounce off the hives;  alight upon the honey house roof;  shine through west facing doors and windows. The bees are hunkered down in their hives this morning. They will not launch into their foraging flights as early as they did in the summer. They are solar beings, and navigate with the sun. Being past the equinox , and with less sunlight available, their first flight begin later and their return home in the evening, earlier. They are also affected by cooler temperatures,  and are not partial to the winds we have been having. We are all, bee and human, between night and day; between summer and winter. As the cycles of flow and blossoming  constantly change, so do the stores of nectar, pollen and honey within the hive. The “inside” of a hive here in Tucson reflects the light yellow color/light aroma of Mesquite Flows from earlier in season, to the darker, stronger tasting and smelling honey of desert wildflowers of late summer and fall. The pollen comes in different colors as well. So it is that bees, in the process of their practicality, create mosaics of pollen and canvases of honey, depending on what is available to them regionally and seasonally. Below: you can see the variation of color and texture of pollen both on the bees’s “pollen baskets” on their hind legs, as well as in their “mosaic” of pollen stores within the hive. IMG_2744

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See how this desert wildflower yields a bight orange colored pollen (back legs of bee) as compared to the lighter yellow in the above photo.

By now you may be reveling in all the colors and tastes (and smells!)  of honey. Visit your local beekeeper at a farmers market  or health food store this weekend, and see how real and raw honey differs from the “honey bear honey” sold on many grocery store shelves. Bees have “honey stomachs” that they use to carry nectar back from the flowers, and into the hives to produce honey. The variation in plant nectars account for the variation on types of honey.

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Note the difference in color of the  very light Mesquite Honey (in the exquisite photo ABOVE – taken by Ben Johnson; you can learn more about this talented man at ben@benjohnsonart.com) as compared with the deeper colored Cactus Flower honey (photo below).

IMG_7793 True Fall Wildflower honey is usually an even deeper brown (bottom photo) and has higher antioxidant levels, which may be better for our skin! IMG_7218  Within and Without:  WILDFLOWER Honey Facial Mask (DIY)

Ingredients: raw honey and time How To:

This simple facial mask takes us from our own pores to the pores of plants.  As you can see in the photos,  the honey produced inside the hive literally reflects the environment around it. When we plant a garden or keep a hive, we move from being being a food consumer, to a participant in our food production. So, too, with our health products. It is wildly fun, and often more economical,  to use your own honey (or to purchase directly from a local beekeeper!!! That is a powerful act which moves you closer the “source”), than to purchase a  prepared product.

Honey has been used for skin repair and nourishment for thousands of years. Literally.  It is a humectant,  an anti-oxidant (darker, fall wildflower honey shows higher anti-oxidant levels than other types of honey,  in scientific studies),  and aroma “therapy” (is smells so, well, sweet!).

The idea here is as much about the Ritual as the Result.  Enjoy the smells and sensations WHILE applying the honey. Place the attention we so easily abdicate to the external world within once again. Our attention is rarely our own anymore, and a ritual as simple and everyday as washing our faces, can be a vehicle to practice enjoying the moment.

1) Exfoliate, however you like. This allows the properties of the honey to do their magic, without the barriers of dirt and oils.  Rinse. (Facials are not for everyday … at least not in my world.   I like to do the facial mask in the shower, on days when I wash my hair (which is not everyday) in order to utilize the humidity that the shower provides to open pores. (Water is a precious element in the desert, and I like to use Permaculture wisdom of “stacking functions” in order to lessen my water use.)    Truthfully, I do this facial mask less frequently than I should.

2) Right as you apply your conditioner, apply the honey to your face. Then wrap up your conditioning hair in a towel and step out of the shower  for about 20 minutes.  Who knows … during those magical twenty minutes you might even the feel the flights of the worker bees,  the “waggle dance” as specific foraging information is passed along,  the way the flowers tip and bend in the breeze, the smell of flower,  the sacred offering of pollen at dawn.  Once you have soaked up both the tangible and intangible properties of the fall facial mask, rinse (both face and hair, if you are doing a duo) and apply your favorite facial cream. Your skin will GLOW.

More Wild-Flower Foraging Fotos IMG_7193 The photo above shows how the hairs on a bees body gather pollen; note head on left bee. The photos  below show honey bees (and native bees) foraging in a variety of desert plants; and what “uncapped” honey looks like.   IMG_0748 IMG_1293 IMG_7804 IMG_1886 IMG_2173 IMG_7071

Categories: Beekeeping, Cooking, medicinal plant, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

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