Food and Drink: Beekeepers turn out local honey, keep it simple

Food and Drink: Beekeepers turn out local honey, keep it simple
Dave Faries

Honey has been a culinary staple since before recorded history, but not stored in containers shaped like teddy bears.

The first such jars were introduced in 1957 and became synonymous with grocery store honey – golden, syrupy and all rather uniform. Once in a while a label might be adorned with “clover,” as if to distinguish it from the other golden, syrupy nectars.

Otherwise, the labels read “honey.”

And that’s the way it went until America’s culinary renaissance. In the 1980s, people began to broaden their awareness of ingredients and artisanal products became more readily available. So there’s acacia, buckwheat, lavender, orange blossom and other nuanced honeys to choose from.

But beekeeper David Schmeling of Martinsburg scoffs at the upscale turn. Not that the type of flower bees pollinate doesn’t affect the flavor, he just knows that it is nearly impossible to isolate a single crop.

“It’s whatever is out there,” he said, noting that bees hit up any flowering plant.

Instead, Schmeling concerns himself with seasons. The honey his bees produce in the early spring is lighter in color and sweeter on the palate. Come fall it is deeper and more intense.

“Nature is always providing,” Schmeling observed. “Every year is going to taste different.”

Schmeling has two different honeys on the shelves at Hickory Ridge Orchard. One is under a “Pure Honey” label – bottled when he considered honey as mostly a hobby – the second bottled as “Simply Bee.”

“I guess that’s our name now,” he said with a laugh.

Simply Bee is vibrant and floral, like a meadow in bloom. There are hints of lavender and clover and a chorus of wildflowers. Yet it’s rich amber hue also carries an impression of toffee and a subtle minerality that moderates the sweetness.

The Pure Honey bottling is more rustic – earthy and herbal, like a morning walk through autumn timber, with notes of coffee wafting from nearby hearths. It’s a dense, almost savory honey.

Some beekeepers move their hives around to take advantage of the flavors imparted by different flowers. Although as Schmeling says it’s difficult to ensure that bees will only hover over orange blossom, say, they can get a predominant plant.

But Schmeling’s hives sit behind his Martinsburg home. So he simply claims to produce honey.


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