Messing in the kitchen with honeycomb
I have a fascination with honeycomb. In fact, it was lack of a source that drove me into beekeeping in the first place. Where I grew up—not far from Lancaster, Pennsylvania—buckwheat honeycombs were everywhere, their dark amber innards oozing from sweet-smelling wooden boxes. You could buy them from stands along the side of Lancaster’s gently undulating back roads, where you dropped a few coins in a mason jar and selected your comb from a neat stack of boxes. The farmers were busy with chores and nowhere in sight while I spent long minutes choosing the perfect one.
We ate these honeycombs on crispy biscuits, cinnamon-y pancakes, or on top of sliced and fried cornmeal mush. Mush is a horrible-sounding concoction that today has much nicer names like polenta or grits. But back then it was mush. My grandfather—a product of the depression—had a saying: “Milk and mush for breakfast, mush and milk for lunch, and fried mush for dinner.” I never actually experienced that, but he said it often enough. In any case, laced with a gooey slice of buckwheat comb, it was heaven.
Now that I have a treasure-trove of honeycomb, I’m always searching for creative ways to serve it. I seldom eat honey that has been extracted because it loses texture, flavor, and aroma. And I never cook with honey.
There are several reasons for this. First off, I resist the American temptation to make food look like something it’s not. Overly processed, manipulated, and disguised food does not appeal to me. And besides the fact that honey-infused foods burn easily, honey produces hydroxymethylfurfural when heated.
Similar to high-fructose corn syrup, honey doesn’t have to be very hot before it produces this toxic substance. After all, honey is rich in fructose as well. Fructose occurs in various amounts in flower nectars, and it is the ratio of fructose to glucose that determines how fast honey will granulate—more fructose means less granulation. Some of the flavor components of honey break down with heat as well, so why bother?
It is for these reasons that I am constantly searching for ways to serve the sweet-crunchy-chewy-aromatic substance from my hives. So back to the kitchen.
Here are some of the ideas I’ve come across since the last time I wrote about this:
- Honeycomb ice cream
- Hot corn tortillas and honeycomb
- Honeycomb squares dipped in bittersweet chocolate
- Almond butter and honeycomb sandwiches
- Honeycomb chunks rolled in chopped pistachios
- Honeycomb s’mores: chocolate and honeycomb pressed between graham crackers
- Apple slices with blue cheese and honeycomb
I haven’t tried any of these, but I think I’ll start with the ice cream. I’m told you make vanilla ice cream and then, just after you stop churning, you stir in bits of honeycomb that you’ve frozen and chopped into small chunks. The cold temperature of the ice cream is supposed to make the comb so brittle that it shatters into crunchy little shards when you take a bite. I’ll have to let you know . . .