In case we ever call you "honey," we're not trying to be sassy. It means that you are very precious to us. Recently we learned that it takes 550 bees visiting 2 million flower blossoms to create 1 pound of honey. How's that for precious? Beekeeping 101 has been coming our way in doses thanks to our dear friend Ann, a recreational beekeeper who practices her craft on a rural property (and in her garage) in Wisconsin. Over the past several years, Ann has been exploring different ways to harvest comb honey. Not only that, but she's been generously sharing it with us too. Comb honey is something that we hadn't tried before, and now we seek out any opportunity to track it down. Walking past the stands at the farmers market, we've been scanning the honey lady's table just a little more closely these days. It's a special treat when she has comb honey available.
If bees didn't make honey, we wonder what they'd do instead. Architect, alchemist, and mathematician all seem like viable options to the current manual labor they perform so well. Did you know bees consume 6 pounds of honey to generate 1 pound of beeswax? Consider beeswax the bricks and mortar of their operation. Amazingly, it is entirely edible and contains a variety of healing and allergy-soothing properties. After building a honeycomb, off the bees go to gather flower nectar, which they deposit into each beeswax cell. Then they fan their wings over the cells to evaporate the water from the nectar, and that's how honey is made.
Ann has really intrigued us with these honeycombs. Why the hexagonal shape? Seems like a complicated construction for a group of workers that's already plenty busy. Concrete cinderblocks make us think that a rectangular shape might be simpler, but shame on us to think that we're smarter than bees. As it turns out, the hexagon is the most efficient of all shapes (for storage capacity) and hexagonal cells actually gain strength under compression. So, honeybees have determined how to store the greatest amount of honey using the least amount of beeswax. Once again, nature is smart as heck.
These photos (courtesy of our beekeeper) give a quick glimpse of Ann's elaborate hobby. Her bee yard is situated next to an apple orchard on a friend's farm property. During a bountiful summer, like this past one, Ann is able to harvest honey three times while leaving enough honey for the bees to make it through the winter. The upper right photo shows a frame pulled out of a "honey super" using a hive tool. The super contains all the extra honey that the bees can spare. When it's full, it yields about 30 pounds of extracted honey. The photo on the lower right shows Ann using a heated knife to uncap a frame of honey by cutting off the top layer of wax from the comb. She bottles up the liquid honey after she spins it out of the comb using another device called an extractor. She reserves some of the comb honey as a special treat.
Winnie the Pooh's preoccupation with honey suddenly made complete sense to us after Ann's packages started arriving. Let's just say that there's been some lip smacking going on here because we can't help ourselves from eating the stash. We could certainly eat all of the comb honey as is, but Ann has several suggestions for other ways to enjoy it. "My favorite is to serve comb honey on a cheese board. It pairs well with many cheeses and looks pretty too. I also like to stir a chunk into oatmeal in the morning, or melt it on a fresh biscuit or an english muffin." We took her up on the biscuit idea. These savory sweet potato and rosemary biscuits straight from the oven are the perfect spot to rest a little jewel of comb honey on top.
Sweet Potato and Rosemary Biscuits with Comb Honey
(Makes about 12 2-inch biscuits)
1 Tbsp finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
2 cups all purpose flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup cooked and mashed sweet potato
2/3 cup milk
4 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut in 1/2 inch pieces
honey for serving (comb honey if you have access to it)
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper or a silicone baking sheet.
Combine rosemary, flour, and baking powder in a large bowl. Whisk to blend thoroughly.
Combine sweet potato and milk in a small bowl. Stir to blend well.
Add butter to the bowl of dry ingredients. Using your fingers, rub butter with flour mixture until butter pieces are the size of small peas.
Add sweet potato mixture to flour/butter mixture. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the ingredients together until flour mixture is moistened and still looks messy. Don’t over-mix it. Turn the contents of the bowl out onto a floured counter and knead about 10 times, until it’s just combined. Pat the dough into a slab about 1/2 - 2/3 inches thick and 8 - 9 inches across. Cut with a 2-inch round biscuit cutter, or any size cutter you prefer.
Transfer the biscuits to baking sheet. Bake for 12-15 minutes until lightly browned on top. (Adjust baking time accordingly if making larger or smaller sized biscuit.) Serve warm with honey to drizzle on top or garnish with a piece of comb honey.