Ahead of her honey-themed demo on 25th May, Angela Clutton looks at how a location and its flora can be reflected in the flavour of honey
There are two lavender bushes right outside the main door to the north London block of flats I live in. As summer proceeds, they threaten to take over the pathway completely, meaning that arriving or leaving involves running the gauntlet of bees revelling in the flowers. Sometimes I’ll get brave and try to sneak out from under their antenna a sprig or two for cooking with; otherwise I resign myself to wondering just what fabulous honey those busy bees are making from the lavender on my doorstep.
Not that it is at all hard these days for we city-dwellers to see and taste honeys made from the flowers and trees all around us. Urban bee-keeping is happily on the rise and I am so looking forward to being part of its celebration at Borough Market on 25th May as part of Chelsea Fringe. In among lots of bee-related fun that day, I shall be cooking-up a set of honey-themed dishes in the Demo Kitchen. From sweet to savoury, using honey deep in the heart of a dish or as its finishing hurrah.
Honey most usually appears in a list of recipe ingredients as simply as that: “honey”. This can be taken at perfectly delicious face value, of course. But for the curious cooks among us, it also opens up an opportunity to consider which honey in particular to choose. While every honey has an elemental honey-ness there can be quite large differences between different types. The flavour of the honey is affected by the season, when it was collected from the hive, and—most obviously—the flower from which it came.
There are light honeys (in colour and flavour) such as acacia or orange blossom. These are pale gold and perfect for serving at the table to drizzle over fruits, granola, crumpets or toast. At the other end of the scale are darkly intense honeys such as chestnut or heather, which will be most successfully used with other strong flavours. Think of these for gingerbread baking or meat marinades. In between are the wealth of medium honeys that are our safest bet to reach for when what we want is all-purpose honey.
Idea of terroir
Where a honey is made definitely has an influence on its flavour. It’s the same of idea of ‘terroir’ that is well understood when it comes to wines, and increasingly so with foods too. Italian honey for partnering with lardo or prosciutto? You bet. Similarly, Scottish heather honey with a bramble crumble, and any nation’s cheese with its own honey for a pairing that has been popular since biblical times. I wonder what London honey’s perfect match is? Or if it is a testament to our city’s fabulous diversity of food culture that it can go with all kinds of things.
Certainly on 25th May I’ll be looking forward to learning more about the modern, urban ways our nation’s most ancient sweetener is being made—and doing my own bit to spread the honey-love by getting us thinking about how we can all use honey more to cook with.
Join Angela for tips, tastings and recipes on Friday 25th May in the Market Hall, 1-2:30pm