The story of humans and honeybees has been intertwined since prehistory. Wherever people found honey, they recognized its value and took it.
Honeybees were not native to the Americas, but arrived soon after the first Europeans. Bees naturalized and spread until they were stopped by the Rockies. At one point there was a $500 reward offered for the first hive brought into the Willamette Valley.
For those with hunters in the family Constance Jesser recommends honey-glazed venison roast. It's equally good for lamb.
Take two garlic cloves, dice and crush.
Dice one large shallot.
Salt and pepper the roast, place on rack in open baking pan. Sprinkle with garlic and shallot.
Drizzle with truffle honey or truffle paste mixed with honey and bake at 375 degrees until internal temperature reaches 140 to 160 degrees, according to individual taste. Every 15 minutes spoon the juices back up over the roast and give the roast a 1/4-turn.
Now there is a resurgence of interest in honey. Over 300 types are produced in the U.S. alone, ranging in color from white to almost black, depending on the flowers used. People are rediscovering its healthful benefits as well as its use for flavoring. And beekeeping continues to be a fascinating hobby as well as a profitable business for some.
"It costs approximately $150 for one hive," says Rogue River's John Jacob, president of the Jackson County Beekeepers Association, "and average production in Jackson County is 40 pounds of honey per hive. With proper care, that hive can last a lifetime, but you have to stay on top of diseases."
Mike Curtis' Wilde Bee Honey Farm in Eagle Point has been supporting his family for two generations. They produce spring blossom honey, manzanita, madrone, orange, vetch, blackberry, wildflower and two types of clover honey.
Beekeepers move the heavy hives around to produce different flavors and to help farmers pollinate crops. Bees can range up to six miles searching for nectar but stay closer to the hive when there is an abundance of flowers nearby. Weather can affect production, however. "Honey flows have been down the last few years because of too much rain in May and June and colder temperatures," Curtis says.
Constance Jesser, co-owner of Jacksonville Mercantile, carries a wide variety of honeys, including French and Italian artisan honeys.
"Honey is like chocolate or fine wines," she says, "there are distinct flavors and some people like some better than others. I'd like to encourage people to go beyond putting it in tea and desserts."
For an appetizer, Jesser suggests drizzling chestnut honey over soft cream cheese topped with roasted whole almonds (Spanish marcona are best). Serve with crackers.
Honey doesn't work as a straight substitute for sugar in cooking because of the enzymes and moisture content, so check cookbooks for substitution rules. It does not spoil, but it will eventually crystallize. To re-liquefy, set the jar in a pan of 100-degree water. In the summer, you can put it on a warm windowsill for several hours.
Pat Morris of Rogue River Bees in Gold Hill has been keeping bees for 20 years. "The bees are so interesting — it's almost therapeutic watching them," he says. "Beekeeping has become more complex because of parasites and diseases. The trick is to keep your bees alive."
He admits it's a lot of hard work, like any agricultural job, but it gives him time to spend with his family.
"It's a sweet job," he jokes. And we get the sweet benefit.