Monica 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.”
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.
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.
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:
1 pound pitted dates
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.
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.
Why not put a local spin on Cleopatra’s recipe and make a Southwestern Dulcis Coccora with other variations such as:
barrel cactus seeds
chopped dried prickly pear fruit
wolfberries (related to gogi berries)
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!