Honey – Once an Export, Still Popular Today

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Interestingly, the anniversary of the coronation of King Mindaugas on July 6 prompted an article on a popular Lithuanian website about honey. Apparently during the time of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, established by Mindaugas, honey was one of the country’s major exports, and thus an important element of its culinary heritage. To this day, there is probably no Lithuanian kitchen that does not stock this natural product, so precious to Lithuanians that the word for best friend is bičiulis, from the word bitė (bee).

Since ancient times, the beverage called mead has been made with honey, and Lithuanians were known to eat cucumbers (as well as cheese, bread and other ingredients) with honey. Honey has maintained an important and even sacred role in Lithuanian culture, through poetry, honey harvest festivals, mythology and folklore. It was called edible gold, because it was used in medicine, cooking and even as currency.

It is thought that until the 15th century, honey was the only sweetener used, because sugar was scarce. There is now a current trend to use honey rather than sugar as a healthier alternative in marinades, dressings and sauces. It is known to have anti-inflammatory properties as well as antioxidants, but it contains the same number of calories as sugar.

Some recipes using honey have apparently survived the centuries. For example, an excellent Honey Lemonade requires 200 ml of lemon or lime juice, 100 ml of honey, a handful of basil, 3 cups of water and icecubes. The juice, honey and basil are pureed together and strained into a pitcher and cooled, served garnished with lemon slices and basil leaves.

With Asian food being so popular today, here is a recipe for Asian Cucumber Salad. You will need 4 or 5 small cucumbers, coarse sea salt, 2 garlic cloves, 1 tablespoon of rice vinegar, 2 tablespoons of honey, 1 tablespoon of toasted sesame seed oil, hot paprika to taste and toasted sesame seeds. Thinly slice cucumbers, salt them and set aside to drain in a colander for 30 to 45 minutes. Chop garlic and mix with vinegar, honey, oil and paprika in a small bowl. Rinse cucumbers and pat dry on a paper towel, place in a serving bowl, and top with dressing, sprinkle with sesame seeds.

And here is a novel item for your repertoire: salad made with Honey-Baked Farmer’s Cheese. First of all, what is farmer’s cheese? It is readily available in Lithuania, and is sold in Canada in some specialty stores. It is a type of pressed cottage cheese, similar to feta, but not strongly flavoured. Goat cheese, or paneer can also be used. The amount of cheese is not specified in this typically Lithuanian recipe, which literally calls for “a farmer cheese, on the bigger side”. The best guess would be to use ½ pound of pressed cottage or similar cheese. Mix salt, pepper, 2 cloves chopped garlic, 5 tablespoons honey, and some herbs of choice (turmeric, cumin, caraway). Coat cheese generously with this mixture and bake at 350o F for 30 minutes. For the dressing, mix 2 tablespoons olive oil with salt, pepper, whole grain mustard and lemon juice to taste. Place chopped romaine lettuce, sliced avocado, and grape tomatoes in a bowl. Top with baked cheese, cubed or sliced, and dressing. Garnish with sliced leeks.

Enjoy!