Whisper it, but I’ve never, up until now that is, been a great fan of honey. It just tastes, well, sweet. At my advanced age it is just wonderful to be able to stumble on new, exciting food experiences. I wrote the other week about attending Sudi Pigott’s food writing course in Bermondsey. That took place in the home, literally, of Bermondsey Street Bees, a company run by the life force that is Sarah Wyndham Lewis and her other half, Dale Gibson.
We met in the unavoidably sticky floored HQ. Sarah and Dale live above that, and a large number of their bees live above them, on the roof. At a time when many traditional bee habitats are under threat, London is better than ever for honey bees. Who knew? They will travel up to 2½ miles to collect their nectar. What happens next? The reason most of our supermarket honey is uninspiring is that it is effectively pasteurised, micro-filtered and processed for consistent colour and viscosity – and therefore tastes consistently dull.
At lunchtime on the course, Sarah, who trained as a honey sommelier in Italy, treated us to a tasting of some of her ”library” of world honeys. Some, like the Sidr from Yemen’s Wadi Dho’an, are unlikely to be available ever again. The crème de la crème are the single flora examples, honey produced by bees which feed only on one source. In the UK, heather honey from the high moors of Scotland and Yorkshire is one of just a handful of monoflorals we can produce.
Tasting these specimens was an eye opener. The subtlety of flavours was quite remarkable, varying hugely from one to another. An example from Nepal even had a delicate taste of blue cheese. We tried one of Sarah’s own, containing a fabulous hint of cool menthol. There are a lot of people around here who grow mint in window boxes, she explains. It is little wonder that some of London’s top chefs come here for their honey. Customers include José Pizarro, Tom Kerridge and Michel Roux, junior. Sarah doesn’t sell directly to the public, but you can get hold of her wares at the nearby Giddy Grocer in Bermondsey and from Selfridges. More details on the website – see below.
Boys and girls, go and source the good raw stuff. Honey will never be the same again. Thanks to Sarah for the experience and for this great recipe.
George’s Honey Loaf
(George is one of Sarah and Dale’s apprentice beekeepers. He provided the recipe and eats most of the cake when they make it.) It can be served as a cake or toasted and buttered. You will need a 13 x 23 loaf tin.
300g plain flour; 2 tsp baking powder; ½ tsp salt; 100g softened butter; 175g raw honey, plus 1 tbsp for brushing; 2 eggs, beaten; 75ml milk.
Preheat your oven to 170°C/Mark 3. Oil the loaf tin and line with greaseproof paper. In one bowl, sift the flour, salt and baking powder. In another bowl, cream the butter. Use an electric whisk unless you want a really good arm workout. Add the honey and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the eggs (gradually, otherwise the mixture may curdle), while continuing to beat. Fold in the flour (use a spatula or metal spoon for folding), then fold in the milk to form a soft dough.
Transfer the dough to the tin and bake. This will take between 45 and 55 minutes, depending on your oven. The loaf should be golden in colour. It is ready when you stick a skewer in the middle and it comes out clean. Leave in the tin for a few minutes then remove and put on a wire rack. While the loaf is still warm, brush generously with the extra honey. Allow to cool before attacking.
To find out more about Bermondsey Bees, go to their website at www.bermondseystreetbees.co.uk