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.




Slowing it down: Super-Slow-Rosemary-Crusted-Steak

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It is early winter, and as the days become shorter, things slow down in the natural world.  Egg laying is noticeably slower. Honeybee brood cycles are are scaled way back; the drones having been cast out (weeks ago) to preserve the resources of the hive. Our cattle are moved to winter pasture; and while we could keep a few cows near the house for milk/cheese,  we prefer to let the girls rest after the rough (read: drought) summer here.  Not taking milk allows the cows a chance to rest and recondition. This slowing down is a part of regeneration.

Humans, often forgetting our animal nature, can be out of sync with the rythms of particular seasons –  especially the slower more inward season that we are in now.  We continue the ceaseless output of energy that culture demands, as if it were perpetual spring – energy bursting upward and outward, rather than inward and in to our metaphorical  roots. .  We are a part  of the animal, insects, and plant kingdoms with which we live.  And seasons, with their increase and decrease in light and energy, offer different things to us. The winter kitchen is one of the few places where we can enjoy the slowness of this season, because winter meals often take time to simmer or bake.  We are nearing the winter solstice, which occurs between December 20th and the 23rd , wrapping the animals, insects, and plants, living on this side of the planet,  in darkness.

This recipe for Super-Slow-Roasted Rosemary-Crusted Chuck Steak, from Shannon Hayes’s THE GRASSFED GOURMET COOKBOOK is a flavorful way to both practice and delight in the Slowness of the Season.  And precisely because it   T A K E S  T I M E, the flavors  have time to mingle sensuously, another perk of the cold season.  More oddly, I feel it gives kitchens – sometimes forgotten as the “heart” of the home –  a chance to embody their mission.  Cooking meals slowly allows the kitchen to warm the home from the kitchen outward; you may find that family and friends linger a little longer, basking in the aromas and warmth and heartbeat. Forgive me for saying it, but I think I hear the kitchen smiling.

Harvesting range/grass fed beef

RECIPE: Super-Slow-Roasted Rosemary-Crusted Chuck Steak

Preheat oven to 250 degrees F.

Rub Garlic Rosemary Rub into the chuck (see below***)

Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest for 30-60 minutes.   Roast the meat in a shallow pan for 30 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 170 degrees F. Continue to roast for 4-6 hours,  (depending on the weight the larger the cut the longer it takes to roast), or until an internal meat thermometer registers 120 F to 125 F. Hayes suggests that you do not cook it beyond 125F or you will loose tenderness.   And in keeping with the Spirit of Slow: allow the meat to rest (with loose foil tented) for 5- 10 minutes before slicing.

*** Garlic-Rosemary Rub: 2 Tablespoons of dried Rosemary, 1 clove garlic, minced, 1 ½ Tablespoons coarse salt, 2 Teaspoons freshly ground black pepper.

Note: I cannot recommend Shannon Hayes, The Grassfed Gourmet Cookbook enough. It will likely change the way you look at farming, flavors, and how they/we are connected.

* If you are a veggie/vegan try slow roasting  winter’s roots vegetables with the oil of your choice and the same spices in the rub, but do not cook them as long, just till as tender and as flavorful as you love.

Please note: The photos were taken by me to share with you; I would love it if you would please leave them here (and not abscond with them to other parts of the internet). Thank you so much.