A certain famous architect tells a story about his childhood in a traditional Jewish family, a story that sits so well with me I just might curl up with it, some hot biscuits and butter and a cup of tea, all unctuous with clear, golden, musky honey.
To learn the Hebrew letters, the teachers traced them on paper with honey and let us lick them, he says, so we could learn how sweet the word was.
Those of us who write for a living know, instinctively, what those teachers meant. But isn’t there always time for another reminder? Make a date with some local honey. In the Willamette Valley, we have extraordinary varieties of honey. Poison oak honey is said to be an inoculant for encounters with the rash. Blueberry honey is fruity and clean. We have fireweed honey, madrone honey, and raspberry honey. Blackberry honey is ubiquitous, but if you ask me, it doesn’t taste like anything special, unfortunately. Certainly not like the best local honey of all, a Willamette Valley specialty: meadowfoam honey.
I made my acquaintance with meadowfoam honey out at Detering Orchards, a local u-pick farm that has an astounding range of fresh produce. The jars of honey were marked M/F, and being in gender studies and all, I wondered if that meant it was ok to eat if you were male or female, or a combination of both, so I asked.
“Meadowfoam honey,” was the response. “It tastes like toasted marshmallows.”
Now, being no great fan of marshmallows, I hesitated. I wanted my honey to taste like honey. But the adventurer in me couldn’t resist.
Meadowfoam is a plant that was introduced in the Willamette Valley in 1984, one of those new get-rich-quick crops that anticipates consumer demand for a trendy ingredient. Meadowfoam bears a pretty white and yellow flower that issues an oil that has fatty acids found good for skin and hair, so it is used in beauty products. Importantly for us, it’s a marsh plant, so it grows well in poorly drained soil.
It also makes some darned good honey. I don’t think “toasted marshmallows” is the best term to describe it; it’s more like caramelized custard, with a hint of burnt sugar. It’s a soft and very sweet taste and unlike any honey I’ve had. I’d imagine a honey cake would be delicious with meadowfoam honey, but I just eat it straight out of the jar on plain yogurt. Or lick it in alphabetic curlicues off a plate. Because I swear that when it coats my tongue, I can taste our valley. I learn more each time about just how sweet it is.