Rich and golden, often herbal, sometimes fruity and always sweet, honey is probably the single most fabulous food humans eat. Why so fabulous? Well, for starters, the earliest depiction of honey harvesting is an 8000-year-old cave painting in Spain showing "hunters" gathering honey from wild bee colonies, but this sweet aficionado is willing to bet that we've been devouring that sticky-sweet stuff for as long as honey bees and humans have coexisted on this earth. Known as "the nectar of the gods," honey is drizzled throughout our history, found in numerous holy texts from ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics to the New Testament and Quran. Honey is also the only substance created by insects that humans eat, and boy do we eat it! Americans alone consume approximately 1.3 pounds of honey per person annually, totaling almost 450 million pounds.
One could write reams of information about honey and its significance in human culture and evolution; from extolling honey's medicinal benefits to the more recent anthropological theories citing honey as a critical, energy-rich food that helped hominid brains to expand. But when it comes right down to it, honey is, simply put, delicious. It sweetens our lives, warms the soul, and tickles our collective nostalgic funny bone.
When thinking back to our childhood, many may remember the bear-shaped squeeze bottle that came out during Sunday breakfasts or when mom was brewing tea to soothe a sore throat. But we've become more conscientious in the past decade or so, re-discovering the incredible flavors and benefits of raw, local honey. Our own local apiaries include Louisiana Gold in Denham Springs, Bee-Goods in Ida, Carmichael's in Youngsville, and Ponchatoula's Best, not to mention several smaller operations amidst the urban neighborhoods of New Orleans, like Jordan Shay's backyard apiary located Uptown, Burg's Bees in Algiers, and Jay Martin's on Short Street in the Riverbend.
Naturally, our local chefs are taking full advantage of the "bee-utiful" bounty to choose from. For example, Maggie Scales, the executive pastry chef for the Link Restaurant Group, has recently been sourcing Atchafalaya Honey from bayou beekeeper Avery Allen in Plaquemines Parish. Try her Blackberry Layer Cake at Pêche Seafood Grill with tangy lime cream cheese and fruity, blackberry jam, all topped with a generous hunk of honeycomb that sets your taste buds spinning. She also offers a Honey Walnut Pie made with the same heady honey and topped with blueberry ice cream.
Uptown, the "coastal American restaurant" Cavan features all kinds of sweet and savory treats, but one of the most popular seems to be their delectable corn fritters. Offered as a side (for only seven bucks!), diners are treated to a small cast-iron pan overflowing with large jalapeno fritters drizzled liberally with whipped lardo and honey from Armand Marlbrough, yet another independent, "urban" beekeeper plying the sweet stuff in New Orleans.
Over on Freret Street, Chef Ross Turnbull at Piccola Gelateria goes a bit farther out for his honey fix. Using Nature Nate's Raw & Unfiltered Honey from Texas (it's a Gulf state, so it's all good!), he whips up a dreamy Caramel Honey gelato that, while not always on the menu, is well-worth waiting for. You can also find Turnbull's honey gelato at James Beard Award-winning Chef Alon Shaya's eponymous restaurant on Magazine Street. Dubbed "Milk & Honey," the dessert features creamy cheesecake and mixed-nut granola topped with "burnt" honey gelato. If that doesn't draw the gods from the heavens above, what will?