19 May 2007
Oh what a joy good friends can be! What better pleasure than Sara, who has a habit of asking if I would bake something for her, or Alex, who’s likely to stop by with an armload of basil and tomatoes and then put them to use. But the good thing about friends is also their ability to surprise you, to reveal a new dimension just when we thought we knew them. Take, for example, a family friend who came for dinner, and brought as a favor a jar of his very own honey. You keep bees, we exclaimed in surprise, and he proceeded to tell us all about his hives at their house in Vermont.
Naturally, we talked about the epidemic of disappearing bees, and I learned all about Russian queens. And the best part? In order to extract the honey, he takes the big hunk of comb and puts it in a machine which spins it, sort of like a washing machine, so all the honey is centripitally pulled out and then strained. How cool is that?
I remembered some fresh honey I had purchased in the souq in Aleppo just before returning to the U.S. The hunk of deep-amber honeycomb had been lingering in my fridge for nearly six months: "Surely I should throw it away," I asked as I sheepishly pulled it out. In fact, he assured us the honey was fine (honey doesn't need refrigeration and never spoils), and he enthusiastically opened up it's sticky bag to taste it. It was deemed delicious, and I gave to him to take home, not quite a fair trade, but a gesture nonethless. The next day, I received this as part of an email:
"I heated the hunk of honey and strained it through cheesecloth but, unfortunately, a good deal of wax melted and contaminated the honey... I'm pretty sure that there were bee abdomens in the darkest part of the comb or they were unhatched brood. Not sure, but I found it interesting."
Faced with a jar of honey from such a precious source, surely I had to put it to use. And with my recent ice cream success, I had my eye on some more recipes. However, while my first batch was good straight out of the machine, it froze too hard and got a bit icy on the second day. I turned to a custard-based recipe, and with a couple tweaks, came up with an ice cream that's truly delicious and worth the effort. The sweetness of the cream and honey is balanced by a touch of yogurt and the scent of cardamom. Cardamom works remarkably well in sweet applications, so I recommend you give it a try, though you could also substitute vanilla. I had read many recipes that specified the type of honey to be used; I don't know what my friend's bees were feeding on, but since he is a poet, I thought poet's honey was a fitting name.
To make a prarie it takes a clover and one bee,
One clover, and a bee, and revery.
The revery alone will do, if bees are few.
Poet’s Honey Ice Cream
This is a delicious, dare I say luxurious, ice cream. The sweetness of cream and honey play off the tang of yogurt and the scent of cardamom for a complex, rich, and smooth experience.
2 cups cream
1 cup milk
1/3 to 1/2 cup sugar
2/3 cup honey, preferably strongly flavored like heather or wildflower honey
4 cardamom pods, smashed, or 1 tsp cardamom
4 egg yolks
1/3 cup Greek-style yogurt
1. Place the cream, milk, 1/3 cup sugar, honey, and cardamom in a saucepan. Bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
2. Beat the egg yolks together in a small bowl. Add a small amount of the warm milk to the egg yolks, stirring to mix, then pour the eggs into the saucepan. Cook the mixture over low heat, stirring constantly, until it thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon (be careful not to curdle it).
3. Set aside the mixture to cool completely, then strain the mixture and discard the cardamom pods. Stir in the yogurt and taste for sweetness, depending on your honey and the tartness of the yogurt, you may want more sugar. Refrigerate until completely cold, at least 6 hours or overnight.
4. Churn in your ice cream maker, then pack into containers and freeze, let soften slightly before scooping.