Sweetness and Light

Honey is an elixir of sex. Flowers use bees in their surreptitious sex dance. They can’t get together and hold hands themselves and sometimes the wind doesn’t prove a very good carrier of pollen so bees do the job. Flowers produce nectar to attract the bees who, while diving into the flower to suck up the sugar, get pollen stuck on their hairy bodies and transfer it to the next flower, thus fertilising it to reproduce. The reason flowers are colourful and beautiful in shape and form is not for your dining-room table, it’s all for the bees – to attract them. Just as in a café, a woman will wear a pretty dress and lipstick to attract the male, flowers do the same thing. Conversely, bees need nectar to feed, provide fuel for flying and to preserve the hive. No matter how hard the flower makes it to get at the nectar sac, the bee can always get in because of her jointed body which will bend easily. As honey is a wild food, you have to respect the bees nature or they will attack you even to their detriment, for when a bee stings to get rid of intruders, it dies. We need bees for without them the earth couldn’t regenerate her trees, grasses, flowers and plants.

There is nothing like the sexy, smooth, ambrosial sunshine in a spoon that is honey and it is one of the most unadulterated foods you can eat in the whole world. From petal to palate, honey lovers can make you fall for the slightly salty, snow white, delicate flavour of the flame-flowered pohutukawa tree. Depending on the month in New Zealand we can also fall for manuka, rewa rewa, clover and bush honey. They say if you want longevity, you should moisten your insides with honey and your outsides with olive oil.

In cooking, honey can be used in both sweet and savoury dishes. It is delicious drizzled on blue cheeses and sheep’s milk yoghurt. Moroccans often take the sauce from a cooked tagine (stew) and reduce it right down to a thick jam with honey, then at the last minute add a little orange blossom water. Or make a sauce by gently heating honey then adding flavourings like lime or mandarine juice, geranium flower water, smashed cardamom pods, saffron and nutmeg. Reduce it till thick then pour over ice-cream, panna-cotta, poached fruits, bread and butter puddings etc. Roast a leg of mutton slowly for four hours in honey and preserved lemons. Honey is good with fennel, pork, dried beans and chicken. You can use it in most cake recipes as a substitute for sugar and a cup of tea laced with honey and whiskey is unsurpassable.

As Hattie Ellis says in her wonderful book about the mysterious history of bees ‘Sweetness and Light’, ‘honey is a sweet, fragrant river from a million tributaries, carried across the air and flowing gold into the pot through the transforming power of the bee.’