On September 19 and 20, the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden hosted a fantastic Harvest Weekend for a crowd of enthusiastic visitors eager to learn more about extending their harvest and preserving the fruits of their labor.
As an interpretive programs intern, I was lucky enough to run a honey-tasting demonstration that introduced many guests to the breadth of flavor, color, and aroma of a favorite sweetener. By extension, I was able to add yet another check mark to the long list of reasons we should actively participate in the protection and conservation of honeybees.
Getting the goods with a hand-cranked honey extractor
Harvest Weekend was favored with two beautiful fall days—breezy and clear, with plenty of sun—and I was stationed next to our wonderful beekeepers, who oversee the popular display and free-standing hives.
They brought along authentic beekeeping gear for curious individuals to try on and a hand-cranked honey extractor (generously loaned by Windy City Harvest), positioned near the tent. On Sunday, we featured a live honey extraction demonstration, much to the delight of the onlookers.
Once the visitors had chatted with our beekeepers, they could then engage their palates and senses by tasting three very distinct types of honey: basswood, wildflower, and buckwheat.
The Color of Honey
Basswood is made from the blossoms of the basswood, or linden tree (Tilia americana). It is especially light in color and very sweet, with a delicate floral aftertaste. Overall, it was the most popular flavor of the weekend.
Wildflower honey refers to any honey derived from a mix of flower blossoms, that is—distinct from a monofloral crop such as clover or orange-blossom honey. As such, the flavor is more complex and the color is darker than basswood honey, though not as dark as buckwheat.
Interestingly, the majority of our Sunday visitors found this flavor to be their favorite. Derived from the nectar of buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) blossoms, buckwheat honey is one of the darkest available, and perhaps the most polarizing—people either really liked it or they really didn’t. Our visitors described it as “molasses-y,” “malty,” “smoky,” “yeasty,” and according to one visitor, “like an animal”—gamey.
Want to make your own very local honey?
While lining up for samples, recipes were exchanged: honey mixed with sesame seeds for energy and promoting childrens’ growth, several tonics of honey and cinnamon to soothe sore throats and coughs, and a tangential recipe for cooking buckwheat grains with salt or mushrooms as a side dish. Visitors had questions too, like how to ensure a pure single-blossom crop (hive location and timing), or what makes honey “raw” (the minimal steps used during processing). I heard loads of stories illustrating how visitors have interacted with bees, from the fellow who grew up on a farm with hives to the guests who were just expanding their understanding of bees as hardworking, fastidious insects.
Discover liquid gold.
The Garden visitors also proved to be very adventurous tasters, with most of them sampling each variety of honey. Unsurprisingly, basswood and wildflower were the predominantly favored flavors, although buckwheat tended to be preferred by adults with a penchant for molasses and, surprisingly, by several children with impressively sophisticated palates. Happily, guests were also adventurous about the bees themselves—even the occasional wandering honeybee, drawn by the hopes of a quick meal, was greeted more with humor than apprehension and provided yet another learning experience in what has been a season full of education and outreach!
Things have quieted down for the bees over here at the Fruit & Vegetable Garden as the cooler weather sets in, but I hope that visitors to the Garden will have as much fun as I did, and will take the time to learn from our hardworking and tireless volunteers, and admire the occasional honeybee going about her day.
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