In the tombs of the Egyptian pharaohs were found pots with wine, olive oil and honey dating back over 3000 years! The olive oil and the wine had gone bad but the honey, turns out, was still perfectly good to be consumed. Even if – in practice – honey could last forever, its taste qualities change and deteriorate with time, hence, do not keep jars of it for your grand-daughter’s wedding. Eat honey! It is good for your health.
As Albert Einstein warned us “If the bee disappears off the face of the Earth, man would only have four years left to live.” It might seem like an overstatement, but in reality 99% of all food, which humans consume, starts with pollination done by bees. Even if there are 20 000 kinds of bees, only 5% of those produce edible honey. And that – with a huge effort! You may have heard of the term “busy like a bee”, when referring to diligence. A worker bee produces 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in its entire life. If you feel like it, you can do the math how many bees’ lives the jar in your cupboard contains. It is a good thing that the mother bee lives longer and is extremely fertile – she lays about 2000 eggs per day. There are several hundred drones that live in the hive whose one task is to mate with the mother in the mating period, after which they are driven out. At least they do not get their heads eaten afterwards, like the praying mantis. The worker bees’ brains have the thickest of all living creatures neurological tissue, which combined with the very complicated faceted eyes and the magnetic strip around their brains helps them to navigate perfectly and in the waggle dance (the movements with which they communicate). Bees also have the most precise built-in “clock” that prompts them every 24 hours to go back to the exact same location where they feed on nectar. Pavlov’s dog can learn a thing or two from these miniature laborers as they do not need any sound or light indicators in order to know that it is feeding time as they just fly to the exact place in the exact minute! It is another unique trait of bees the gathering of pollen from just one kind of a plant – the similar exterior of flowers can not confuse the bees and they never pollinate the wrong one. And how about the distances these incredible insects travel to and from in order to gather pollen? With medium velocity of 30 km/h (which might reach up to 65 km/h when not carrying pollen) one bee reaches up to 1000 flowers daily. And that they do every day, all day, and in the whole of their short lives. This is what I call “to work till you die”.
The oldest bee, preserved in amber, was found in a valley in Myanmar (Burma) and it was established that she lived some 100 million years ago. Would that not make them the most resilient species on Earth? They survived numerous cataclysms – floods, ice ages, collisions with meteorites. All we can do is bow to them and thank them for sweetening our lives since we came to exist. And even though, the population of these tireless workers is declining in recent decades, I believe they will survive beyond us as well.
Since ancient times the honey is considered a symbol of purity. In Sumer and Babylon the priests used it in exorcist rituals like the exorcising of evil spirits and demons. In Mesopotamia they mummified the dead with honey by dipping the body in it or covering it in beeswax in order to preserve it from deterioration. In Homer’s Odyssey, the great warrior Achilles was buried in honey. Alexander the Great wished to be buried in a golden coffin filled with honey. And the Burmese people’s belief in the purity of the honey was so strong that they considered it was safe to use it multiple times – even after using it to mummify a body the rest of the honey could still be sold at the market for people to eat! At least, if one day I get to Burma, I will know better and not buy honey. The magicians of Egypt, India and Babylon made beewax figures of real people believing that if the figure would get damaged, so would the person it was made after – they would get hurt or even die. The Romans used the same technique to depict their enemies, which resembles the well-known voodoo magic. There is an old legend that tells of a man who made a crocodile figure and released it in a pool where his wife’s lover was bathing. The figure came to life and solved the jealous’ man problem.
Of course, honey is not used solely to ward off evil. In the beginning of the Common Era, in China a mix of honey and opium was being used to treat different ailments. The Roman soldiers carried amounts of it to treat their wounds. The “Father of Medicine” Hippocrates recommended to all his patients a daily dose of honey for longevity. He also had a recipe for an aphrodisiac based on honey. And the Old Testament mentions 21 times that the Promised Land of the Israelites is a land flowing with milk and honey.
Most of us are well aware of the benefits of honey. It is rich in antioxidants, it diminishes the risk of a heart attack or a stroke, it is good for the eyes, improves the healing capacities of burns and wounds, helps with colds and coughs, etc. Besides, honey is heavenly delicious, which makes it an irreplaceable ingredient in the culinary arts.
And here is today’s recipe.
SUCCULENT HONEY & LEMON CHICKEN
– 3 juicy lemons
– 50g butter
– 3 tbsp clear honey
– leaves from 4 rosemary sprigs
– 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
– 8 chicken pieces, such as thighs and drumsticks, with skin
– 750g potatoes, peeled and cut into smallish chunks
– green salad, to serve
Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas 6/fan180C. Squeeze the juice from 2 lemons into a small pan and heat with the butter, honey, rosemary, garlic and salt and pepper, until the butter melts and it smells fragrant.
Lay the chicken in a roasting tin – don’t pile it up or it won’t cook so well. Add the potatoes and drizzle with lemon butter to coat evenly. Cut the third lemon into 8 wedges and tuck them in. Roast for 50 minutes – 1 hour until the chicken is cooked, and the potatoes are crisp and golden. Serve with a green salad.
I forgot to mention that in Sofia is located the unique of its kind Museum of the bee, where a special transaprent hive can be observed by all who are curious about the life of a bee family. Should be interesting!