Recently I have discovered mead, which is an almost forgotten alcoholic drink made from fermented honey and water. It can be a little sweet and too rich for me but actually I was lucky enough to try some dry mead recently, which was absolutely delicious.
I cooked for a ‘Bee Weekend’ hosted by the fantastic magazine The Idler last month where bee and honey enthusiasts spent the weekend learning about bee keeping and discussing all things honey. For dinner on Saturday night I made a honey banquette using delicious honey which came in a huge bucket!
It’s lovely that honey from different parts of England, and obviously the world, have completely different tastes. The honey I was using had come from the coast so the bees there had taken pollen from plants that are covered in salt and can survive the harsh winds. I also tried some urban honey that had been made in hives on the roof of a house in West London. They definitely had their own unique flavours.
Honey has been around for an very long time. According to the Honey Association “cave paintings in Spain from 7000BC show the earliest records of beekeeping, however, fossils of honey bees date back about 150 million years.” Furthermore “the earliest record of keeping bees in hives was found in the sun temple erected in 2400BC near Cairo. The bee featured frequently in Egyptian hieroglyphs and, being favoured by the pharaohs, often symbolised royalty.” The Romans and the Greeks were both fond of using honey in their cooking. They used it as a sweetener as well as using it to make cakes as an offering to the gods.
Mead can be traced back to nearly 40,000 years ago. Unfortunately it’s not readily available these days. I had to go to Jerry’s Liquor Shop in Soho to buy a bottle. Other than that you can get it online. I was very proud of my bottle of mead and carried it in my hand on the train journey to Gloucestershire for the Bee Weekend. I needed it specifically for a pudding that I was planning to cook; Pears Poached in Mead.
Firstly, peel the pears (one per person), leaving the stalks on.
Put the pears in a large cooking pot, lay each one flat on one side and pour in your prize bottle of mead. You want the liquid to come half-way up the pears. If it needs topping up do so with water. Add a few bay leaves and a few tablespoons of honey and simmer on a low heat.
After 30/45 mins feel the side of the pear that has been submerged in the mead. When it is soft to the touch turn the pears over and cook them on the other side for the same amount of time. Once the pears are soft through remove them onto a dish and keep warm. Return the liquid to the heat and reduce until syrupy.
To serve: put one pear in a bowl with a few tablespoons of the mead syrup. I served it with some vanilla ice cream and an edible flower (after all there wouldn’t be any mead if it wasn’t for the pollen from the flower!).
Now I have been looking out for it I have noticed that a few pubs in the countryside are serving mead as a speciality drink. Hopefully we are experiencing a renaissance in mead, as it is both delicious and a great cooking ingredient.