(RNS) The theme of life and death is at the heart of Rosh Hashanah, celebrated with a drizzle of honey to signify hopes for sweet New Year.
You can watch this drama unfold in miniature in a beehive. A single honeybee makes 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in its lifetime; a pound of honey is the life’s work of 325 bees. As we celebrate the New Year, we celebrate a life’s work and focus on the sweet results.
“To see the bees work in the hive and then extract the honey and see it in a jar is like having your child bring home (his or her) first drawing from school and hang it on the fridge,” says Laurey Masterton, the author of “The Fresh Honey Cookbook: 84 Recipes from a Beekeeper’s Kitchen” (Storey, $14.95). “You are just so full of pride that your bees made that.”
Masterton grew up in Vermont at the Blueberry Hill Inn, the daughter of the Newark-raised chef Elsie Masterton née Lipstein.
Her mother’s influence guided her to become a chef and café owner in Asheville, N.C., and her interest in honey began with an event she catered for a local honeybee education organization. She only served foods pollinated by bees — nuts, avocados, strawberries, and apples, among them — to draw attention to how vital they are to our food supply. She took a beekeeping course and, after a few mishaps and quite a lot of dead bees, took more classes and became a certified beekeeper.
Though Masterton was not raised Jewish, her cookbook is full of ideas for incorporating honey into every course.
Her mother’s honey-stewed apples, cooked with a touch of white wine and fresh sage, would be a lovely compliment to brisket. The recipe for an apple-honey-nut “thing” was given to the family by a guest at Blueberry Hill. Not quite cake or pie, the mixture of apples, honey and pecans is baked in a pie tin and served with honey cream. Masterton’s easy tarte tatin promises exemplary results for even those who are not known as bakers.
Endive, another vegetable that requires honeybees for pollination, is sprinkled with shaved Parmesan and pomegranates — eating the fruit’s myriad seeds signifies the desire for a new year full of mitzvot, or good deeds — and drizzled with a vinaigrette made from cranberry honey, apple cider vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil.
“Adding an aged cheese like Parmesan will give your dish sweet, salty and bitter notes,” Masterton says. “Have all those three tastes in one bite and you are doing really well.”
And for the traditional apples-and-honey opener to the festive meal, Masteron suggests seeks out a darker, more bitter honey variety, such as buckwheat or chestnut.
Masterton is a proponent of buying local. If a recipe calls for a particular honey variety and it is not local, she encourages readers to forge relationships with a local beekeeper. Ask them to help you match the flavor you are looking for with the taste of local honey.
(Rachel Weston, the chef at A Better World Café in Highland Park, N.J., writes “The Gutsy Gourmet,” a monthly column in The Star-Ledger.)
YS END WESTON