Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Fall Pantry Challenge - Honey

If you keep honey around long enough, it may begin to crystallize and become nearly impossible to retrieve from the jar. According to the Honey Board fact sheet, what has happened is that the glucose in the honey has precipitated out of the otherwise supersaturated solution. The glucose loses water and takes the form of a crystal. If this happens on a broad enough scale, the crystals will form a lattice structure which immobilizes the other components in the honey. At this point the honey reaches a semi-solid state whereupon I reach a fit-to-be-tied state.

Trying to get semi-solid honey to flow is problem enough. Getting it out of the typically tiny spout on a honey jar is nearly impossible. What to do? Rather than throwing that honey out, there were classically a couple of easy ways suggested to return that honey back to a more liquid state.

Before microwaves and plastic honey jars become the norm it was suggested to place your glass honey jar into a small saucepan over low heat on your range top. The water protected the jar from the heating element, and the warmed honey returned to its more desireable liquid form.

Now those adorable plastic honey bears or less adorable yet very handy plastic squeeze bottles are everywhere. In the oblivious bad old days, if honey began to thicken in one of your plastic jars, you'd just pop it in the microwave for a few seconds at low heat and hope you melted the honey before you melted the plastic. With what we now know about plastics and what is released when heating plastics in microwaves, that just won't cut it any longer.

So what to do? Are we back to throwing the honey out? What about the dying off of all those bees due to Colony Collapse Disorder? Is it responsible to throw honey out because it is inconvenient to retrieve it when we know we may face a future where honey is a scarce and precious commodity?

Unless you are new here you know I am most certainly not throwing that honey out. These days, if I have at least two tablespoons of honey that has crystallized, even in a plastic jar, I simply heat some water in a small saucepan, remove the saucepan from the heat, and put the honey jar into the very warm water until I can pour or scrape most of the honey out.

Whatever honey I can retrieve I know I must use nearly immediately. Once honey begins to crystallize, it pretty much wants to stay that way. Additionally, heating degrades honey to some extent, so this is a last ditch - use it right now technique.

So there I was with my Fall Pantry Challenge and a jar with semi-solid honey. As I did manage to retrieve two tablespoons or so of honey from the jar, I decided since I was going to be heating the honey anyway, I would go ahead, infuse it with herbs and let that be the base for a dressing as called for in a Spanish style salad I wanted to have as part of a tapas dinner.

Herbed honey is so easy.You gently heat the honey (not a rolling boil like I show here - this was a consequence of my stopping to answer a telephone call- bad timing on my part!),add the herbs,let them sit for a few minutes off the heat, remove the herbs by straining, and use the more complexly flavored sweetener within a day or so.

I used thyme and rosemary from our garden. You can use whatever you'd like, but I'd suggest you either use something you have grown yourself, or herbs that are certified organic. Washing doesn't really do everything you need in this instance. You don't want to steep clean but yet pesticide laden herbs in warmed honey.Herbed honey is an amazing addition to cheese plates. The more aromatic and complicated flavor profile you create for the honey by infusing it with herbs really primes it to hold its own against a creamy cheese.

By the same token, herbed honey makes any salad dressing or sauce calling for honey as an ingredient, more wonderfully complex and flavorful. The salad I had planned features peppery greens, creamy cheese, tart fruit and salty nuts. I knew that herb note added to the honey dressing could take it all to a whole new level of delicious.Here is the salad I used as one of the small plates for our Spanish Tapas feast. I put together baby arugula that I thinned out of our lettuce beds out backand a few leaves of romaine for some extra crunch. I made a dressing out of the juice of one Meyer lemon, two tablespoons of herbed honey and into that I whisked olive oil until the consistency was just what I wanted. I rounded out the salad with chopped pear, manchego cheese cubes, and roasted salted marcona almonds. Due to the saltiness of the cheese and the almonds I only added a bit of freshly ground black pepper to season it prior to tossing.It was muy bueno, compadres. Herbed honey is one of those ultra easy yet impressive techniques to elevate a dish from good to great. I hope you won't wait for your honey to crystallize to try it out for yourself.

The finish line is in sight for the Fall Pantry Challenge. Both √Crystallized honey and the √Meyer Lemon are checked off our list.

Last up? Those sprouting carrots.


Tiffany said...

I've never thought to add herbs to honey- what a great idea! The salad sounds delicious, too.

TexasDeb said...

The salad is delicious. Every time I make it I slap my forehead that it took me so long to think about it.

Adding herbs to honey is a great trick. I hope you'll try it yourself. It adds new levels of flavor, is easy and fast and really makes a great impression.