Some of you have said that you love to read the stories that go along with many of our recipes, and that really makes our hearts sing; we love sharing them. What we love just as much are the stories that our parents share with us, particularly when we are having one of our Mia Kouppa cooking sessions. Many are tales we have already heard, but with every re-telling, there are more details which our parents remember to add to the story. An example of this came as we were putting the finishing touches on our melomakarona. We were licking spoons coated in delicious Greek honey as our mother watched on. She then recounted how, as a little girl, she once ate so much honey that she got horribly sick and could not stand the sight of it for several months. This was a problem, because honey was a mainstay of her diet.
On our mother’s side, beekeeping and honey-making were important sources of income for the family. Our maternal great-grandfather and then our grandfather and his brother (our great uncle) were beekeepers. Our mother describes how the bees were considered part of the family; valued for the honey, wax, and the subsequent income they produced, but also cared for, and tended, in a way which acknowledged and respected their role in the family’s livelihood. The bees were kept far from the family home, in a remote part of their village. Our family beekeepers would often spend days there, tending to the bees and harvesting their honey. At the same time, our family owned a mill which was nearby. Villagers would bring their grain to our great-grandfather and grandfather in order to have it ground. Both the bees and the mill sustained the family.
On that fateful morning of honey overload, our mother had gone to spend the day with her father. A lady from the village had brought some freshly baked bread as an appreciation for her grains which had passed through the mill, and our mother, finding herself without the competition of hungry siblings and cousins, devoured the entire loaf. As was typical in her mornings, she slathered thick slices of bread with a good amount of honey. When the bread was done, she continued to eat the honey with a spoon. Sweet, sweet bliss, until one too many spoonfuls and…well…you can imagine the rest.
For months our mother couldn’t eat honey, causing her own mother great distress. Not only was honey a readily available staple in their pantry (often when there was not much else), but our grandmother believed that honey was essential to her children’s well being; that it was packed with vitamins and minerals. Apitherapy is the use of honeybee produced substances for health and healing. Although we couldn’t find irrefutable scientific evidence that honey is healing, it has been used for centuries to do everything from curing burns to soothing sore throats. Our grandmother, and the generations before and after her, had very strong beliefs of honey’s benefits. Even we find ourselves automatically reaching for the honey when someone has a sore throat, well before considering any commercial cough syrup or medicine.
Along with making honey, our maternal forefathers also harvested beeswax with the help of their bees. Our mother remembers that her grandfather, father and uncle, would make thin tapered candles for the church, using this wax. They would pass wicks across the tongs of large fork-like instruments and slowly pour the melted beeswax over the wick. The wax would drip along the wick and harden; several repetitions of this, and a candle would be formed. During these years, economic hardships were such that many people would attend church, but be unable to purchase a candle, to light as they entered the narthex. Recognizing this, the candles made with the help of our family’s bees would be given freely, and with open hearts, to the church.
In the middle of sharing her story, our mother got up without saying a word and returned a few minutes later with a plastic bag. She told us that when she left for Canada, her father did not have much that he could give her. The Depression had hit everyone quite badly. What he did offer her however was a piece of beeswax from his beloved bees. He told her that it would bring her luck, and keep her close to the family she was leaving so far behind. She handed it to us, this 55 year old piece of our family’s history. Unbeknownst to anyone but our father, she had kept it all these years, tucked into her drawer, where she could take it out easily, to hold it and smell it. We too, held it gingerly and brought it immediately to our noses, and its still sweet, honey smell, filled our hearts.
Ways with honey
We enjoy honey just as our mother did when she was a girl; slathered on a piece of delicious fresh bread, it makes a divine breakfast. It is also amazing on some Greek yogourt, and in chamomile or mountain tea. You can use it to sweeten a smoothie, and to coat nuts that you then bake for a little while. A good quality honey is also incredibly delicious on a spoon, just like that.
When purchasing honey, you must be as careful as you are when purchasing olive oil. It is unfortunate, but much honey is mixed with sugars and other sweeteners, making it cheaper to produce, and much less delicious. There are some incredible Greek honeys which you may be able to find where you live. If not, try to find some of your local honey, made by your local beekeepers. This will help ensure that you are purchasing and consuming pure honey, and you will be supporting beekeepers in your community.
We couldn’t dare share a post about honey without bringing your attention to the fact that honeybees are endangered, which is bad news for the bees and us. There are things we can all do to help, however. For some easy tips on how you can help save the honeybees, read this. To learn more about bees in general, and how you can get involved, visit the Bumblebee Conservation Trust by clicking here.