Every morning I wake up and briefly enter the land of milk and honey. My breakfast, a milk-infused slice of brioche topped with a schmear of butter beaten into is the breakfast I have eaten since time immemorial; high days and holidays excepted—and it tastes like heaven. Such is my love of honey, my friends know to keep a jar of the golden stuff in their larders for when I come to stay. I write about food so you’d expect me to break my overnight fast with an ever-changing menu of gustatory delights, intended to super-charge my sleepy taste buds in preparation for a day of recipe-testing. How on earth can I possibly eat the same breakfast every day without chewing my arm off in boredom?
It’s simple really. Honey never tastes the same. Unlike conserves, marmite, and peanut butter, every jar of honey will have a different flavor. This can change over the course of the year, even whilst eating the same brand. And this is before I've even touched upon the thousands of single note honeys. My larder contains pots of delicate ivy honey and a sunflower variety from the Beehouse Honey Company that glows as if possessed of its own light source. There’s Miombo forest honey from Zambia with a powerful, malted flavor and an American white basswood variety with a real bite that belies its mellow name. The spicy lavender-tinged sourwood works well if you add a chili kick and slather it thickly on a slice of brioche for both cold days and days when I have a cold. For even more delicate mornings, good old clover with its soothing balm of pale creaminess steps in.
Honey connects me to landscape and seasons in a way no other breakfast food can, each pot the work of tens of thousands of bees, providing me with a symphony of flavor and apian industry in each spoonful. I can travel to places I have never been to, and taste them straight off the spoon. Hattie Ellis, British food writer and author of two books about bees and honey, including her newest, Spoonfuls of Honey, agrees. “Honey is one of the most infinitely variable foods. Every pot of good honey is unique to its time and place because it is made of nectar that has been gathered from within three miles of the hive and concentrated down by the bees.
“A tawny spoonful of gelatinous heather honey is completely different to a light acacia or orange blossom; or a bitter chestnut, or a minty lime-blossom honey,” she adds. “The multi-floral honeys are unique mixtures of plants—perhaps even from your own garden if you buy very local honey—that offer a special taste of place…they are all interchangeable and my choice just depends on my mood on the day and what I'm eating.”
My grandfather used honey as medicine, a treat (spread on fruit late at night in front of a “Charlie Harry”—his name for a western), and as a lesson for a child in how to take care of the world she was growing up in. We’d buy it from the local pick-your-own farm, where acres of fruit trees and bushes were home to hundreds of beehives, their white slatted roofs covered in black cloth during times of tragedy or whenever a local person died. And now the tragedy the bees face is their own potential demise. My grandfather predicted this threat over thirty years ago but although we all live in a world where nearly 80% of plants are pollinated by these industrious little fellows, the human race has been tardy in its response. Every time I open a new jar of honey, I wonder if we’re too late.