Using your honeybee haul

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It’s Honeybee Festival weekend and why wouldn’t we be talking about cooking with honey?

According to the National Honey Board, the story of honey is older than history itself. An 8,000-year-old cave painting in Spain depicts honey harvesting. Honey has been used for food, medicine and more by cultures all over the world since. But honey isn’t about humans. It’s the natural product made from bees—one of our planet’s most important animals. Honey bees visit millions of blossoms in their lifetimes, making pollination of plants possible and collecting nectar to bring back to the hive.

In Edgar County, we’ve been lucky enough to be educated about honey and its benefits by the late Carl Killion and now his son, Gene. The Killions operated a honey company Killions Honey with its headquarters right here in Paris, Edgar County and East Central Illinois.

In those days, Gene Killion said, there were thousands of hives around the area with bees providing honey for consumers throughout the Midwest and the U.S. Gene has retired from the business but the Killion hives are still in use by Jacob and Betsy Higginbotham, who are being mentored by him.

Keeping honey on hand is sure to be a good idea, no matter what type of cuisine you’re cooking. You know honey is great on cornbread or in your granola, but it can do so much more.

Honey adds a unique flavor buzz and delicate floral sweetness to everything from appetizers to baked goods to sauces and salad dressings. If you love this sweet syrup as much as I do and want to let it shine in your dishes in all it’s liquid gold glory, study up on the best practices for using it to sweeten your kitchen life.

To use honey in place of 1 cup of sugar, use 2 tablespoons less than 1 cup of honey, add 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda. Reduce another liquid in the recipe by 3 tablespoons. The flavor and texture will not be quite the same but if you’re like me, you’ll like the honey version better than the original recipe. Start with a mild flavored honey. Be aware because of its viscous nature, honey is apt to make your baked goods more moist and dense.

Here are some advantages honey brings to your dishes when using it in cooking. Honey:

Enhances browning and crisping and is great for glazing roasted and baked foods to promote surface browning.

Is a flavour enhancer, an always welcomed natural sweetener for hot teas and cold beverages, especially when there is a huge variety of flavors of honey.

Provides texture and feel, always an excellent addition in pastries and cakes making.

Retains moisture, an essential ingredient for providing the moisture in rich cakes and prolonging the moisture retention.

Adds color, contributing a delightful golden hue to sauces, dressings, jellies and frozen desserts.

Living in the South, honey was a go to condiment for biscuits. If you’ve never had Chick-fil-A minis for breakfast, you’re missing out.

Think mini-yeast rolls brushed with honey butter and filled with Chick-fil-A nuggets.

My favorite way to use honey is making a dressing for a salad — especially a summer salad filled with strawberries. I’m including my favorite recipe with this article that I’ve served at dinners at our Savannah home. It’s great for a light supper, especially if you add grilled shrimp — that can be drizzled with honey — or chicken.

When my nephew, Tim Curl and his wife, Abby, were married, my husband Don and his son, Tim, prepared the rehearsal dinner for 100 members of the wedding party and family. One of the important ingredients in the salad are the honey pecans. I’ve included that recipe here as well.