DECEMBER
2009

 

By
Tom Turpin
 
Professor of
Entomology
Purdue University

 

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12-10-09

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Have a Honey of a Holiday

One universal and timeless characteristic of holidays is feasting. In fact nothing shouts of holiday festivities like food. The Christmas celebration is no different. From "chestnuts roasting on an open fire" to the Grinch sitting down to a meal featuring "roast beast," food is part and parcel of the season.

Of course the type of food for any celebration is dictated by the time and place. And tradition. Yes, traditions including food are important in holiday revelry. I mean would any Christmas celebration be complete without Grandma's fruitcake or Uncle Joe's eggnog?

Special food for the holidays involves almost any type of ingredients that you can think of except for one thing. Insects seem to be shunned when it comes to food items for the holidays. At least that is generally the case in North America and Europe. In the rest of the world, an insect dish might be more likely to find a place at a celebration table.

But even in the United States an insect product is likely to be part of the holiday repast. Sweets, it seems, are an important part of holiday foods. Therefore, honey -- nature's finished sweet -- has a good probability of showing up when the food is on the table.

For eons humans have availed themselves of this insect product to sweeten their food. We don't know when humans first began to use honey to satisfy the demands of their sweet tooth, but it was long ago. Honey bees are present in Egyptian hieroglyphics dating back to 3500 B.C. And even before this, rock paintings on the walls of caves in Spain indicate that our stone-age ancestors were honey collectors.

So honey at a meal is nothing new for humans. At our modern holiday tables, honey might be there in a honey pitcher, honey pot or plastic honey bear. Such items are self-serve honey dispensers that allow diners the opportunity to adorn food items of their choice with a hearty dose of what some poets have called "the fruit of the hive."

Sally's buttermilk biscuits or Cousin Sue's cornbread are two great prospects for a lathering of honey.

Chances are good that a meat dish at the meal might have been prepared using honey. For instance, honey-cured ham or honey-smoked turkey. If you buy a ham that is labeled honey cured it must meet certain criteria. First, the honey must be U.S. grade C or better. In addition, the honey must be at least 50 percent of the sweetener used. Finally, the honey must have a discernible effect on the flavor and/or affect the appearance of the finished product.

I suppose similar rules apply if you buy a turkey labeled honey smoked. However, I found a recipe for honey-smoked turkey. Here's what you do. After cooking for an hour on a charcoal grill, drizzle one-half of an l2-ounce jar of honey over the bird. Then cook for another hour or so, turn the bird and baste with the remaining honey. Leave the turkey uncovered and cook for 15 minutes. Presto, honey-smoked turkey!

There are other meat dishes that use honey. Spare ribs that are honey glazed, balsamic-and-honey pork chops and Cornish game hens with honey. For starters, spoon a little honey mustard dressing on the salad. Honey wheat bread sounds like a nice idea. And don't forget about desert. Might I suggest figs with honey ice cream or honey apple pie?

If seasonal eggnog is a must at your holiday party, make it honey eggnog. But if eggnog is not your thing, you might try holiday honey punch. Speaking of liquid refreshments, how about a glass of mead? Mead is an alcoholic beverage made from honey and appropriately known as honey wine. Mead was said to be a favorite drink of the Medieval Knights of Olde. It is also the drink that is responsible for the term honeymoon, where a couple is supplied with enough mead to last for the first month of their married life.

With all of that food in your stomach, it is time for a cup of coffee or tea. If your choice is tea, it makes sense to grab the honey bear and sweeten the beverage with honey. That would be a sweet conclusion to one honey of a holiday meal!

 

 

Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Olivia Maddox