Even though there are only a few days left in the sweetest month of the year, there’s still plenty of time to enjoy recipes that call for honey.
September is National Honey Month and Cherokee Beekeepers Association members Peggy McKeehan and Lois Robinson are offering tips for cooking with honey, an often-overlooked, flavorful ingredient.
Lois and her husband, David, have been members of the beekeeping association for 40 years and Peggy and her husband, Charles, have been members for 10 or 12 years. Both women shared recipes that include honey in the ingredient list and also shared tips for cooking with the natural sugar substitute.
“I’ve got a whole folder of nothing but honey recipes,” Peggy said. “I got most of them from Lois.”
“These have all been tried and very successful,” Lois said.
Peggy said she makes recipes with honey often, but specifically for the Cherokee Beekeeper’s Association quarterly meetings. The association covers five counties with approximately 21 members in the organization.
The Robinsons keep bees as a family business, but Peggy said Charles keeps bees as a hobby. Each beekeeper keeps his or her own hives and Charles has three hives while the Robinsons have more. Peggy said she leaves the bees to Charles, preferring to cook using the resulting honey.
Lois shared recipes for Honey Banana Punch and Surprise Honey Muffins, while Peggy shared recipes for Honey Oatmeal Cake and Peanut Butter Cookies.
Lois said she has used the recipe for Honey Banana Punch as a wedding punch, adding it is a lovely shade of pale yellow.
“It’s really an outstanding drink, I think,” Lois said, adding the recipe came from the beekeeping association in Anderson County.
Lois said the recipe for Surprise Honey Muffins is from a state beekeeping association cookbook.
“It placed first in the Meigs County Fair this year,” she added.
Lois admitted she made the recipe for the fair but David’s name was mistakenly put on them at the competition.
“I made them and he got the prize, but it’s all in the family,” Lois said with a smile. Peggy said Honey Oatmeal Cake is one of Charles’ favorites and is reminiscent of a German Chocolate Cake.
“It has no chocolate at all, but it would kind of remind you of it,” Peggy said.
Another of Charles’ favorites is Peanut Butter Cookies. Peggy said she has seen plenty of peanut butter cookie recipes but this is one of the few she has seen with honey.
Peggy said most recipes call for both honey and sugar and Lois advises against replacing all the sugar with honey because the resulting dish will be too soggy.
“Use a recipe that’s already got honey in it,” Lois said.
Peggy said you can add honey to recipes or make up your own recipes, but it is better to use recipes that already have honey included.
“You just include it into your daily cooking,” Lois said. “A Tablespoonful or two will never hurt you.”
Lois added there are three kinds of honey on the market – extracted, comb and creamed – and the darker the honey, the more flavor it has.
“It gets its flavor from its floral source,” Lois added.
Peggy said the honey from hives at her house is usually a medium to a little darker shade.
“I would call it a light amber,” Lois said, adding, “We call ours The East Tennessee Blend.”
The color of the “special blend” is sometimes light and sometimes extra light, she said. Lois said honey doesn’t change the color or appearance of food and “anything with honey freezes good.”
Both Peggy and Lois suggest lowering the cooking temperature by about 25 degrees when cooking with honey.
“Honey is a tendency to get just a little hotter,” Lois said.
Besides in recipes, there is another time to heat up a jar of honey: When it crystallizes. “A lot of people still think it’s ruined if it crystallizes,” Lois said. “All natural honey crystallizes.”
Adventurous cooks can purchase Sue Bee honey in the plastic bear-shaped bottle or from local beekeepers including Dean Womac (745-2322), Steve Rzeplinski (336-2606), David Rutherford (745-6722), Vaughn Daniels (334-8916), Steve Postell (423-332-4266), David and Lois Robinson (334-3491) or Joe Simmons (263-2963).
Lois is originally from Fentress County and has lived in Meigs County 55 years with her husband, a Meigs County native. Although she is the one who initially wanted to get into beekeeping, “I don’t go to the hive as much as I used to,” Lois said. She first became interested in beekeeping because “a lot of sourwood grows on the Cumberland Plateau” and she knows a man whose bees produced very light-colored honey in sourwood frames. She and David got some bees from the man, but they produced no honey the first three years they had the hives.
“Finally somebody suggested we go into an association,” Lois said, adding that is where they got the much-needed help to succeed in beekeeping. “Cherokee has been going for about 25 years.”
Lois said she expects she and David will always have a beehive or two, but that number will be down significantly from the 18 they have now.
Unlike Lois, Peggy’s interest in beekeeping is limited to the honey the bees produce and that she uses in her cooking.
“Charles does all the beekeeping,” Peggy said. “He enjoys it.” Peggy is originally from this area, as is Charles, and lives in the wood, stone and glass house her father built high atop Spring Creek Ridge. Her spacious kitchen is perfect for cooking meals for family and friends and the large house is ideal for entertaining groups like the Cherokee Beekeepers Association.