A neighbor keeps bees on our farm property. Except for the dogs’ lack of fear and the resulting too close turns around the barn, we don’t know they’re there. As a thank you, each year, our neighbor gives us jars of honey. No matter the size of the jar, I never use up all the honey before the next year’s gift, much less before the honey crystallizes.
This is the time of year, I think about jars and space. I don’t have room for the honey jars, especially the oversized ones, in the same cupboard where we store the canned tomatoes and apples. I slide the jars safely under a red bench that sits along the wall. They are protected from light and clumsiness. I can also ignore the reality; they turn from their glowing color to a duller substance.
I love food seasoned with story, and stories told through food. I love food at Rosh Hashanah, specifically honey’s purpose of spreading to others in the new year, the next year. For this reason, I often wished my birthday was just a few weeks later so that it had the chance to fall on Rosh Hashanah and my year could sweeten along with the world’s.
Each year on Rosh Hashanah, I look for a new recipe to make with honey. This blog holds many of those experiences: their recipes and reflections. This year, all my honey has turned solid. I select one of the largest jars, the oldest jars and stare into the cloud of crystallized honey. This form is one unmeasurable and so unusable for baking. I hid its sweetness. Only, I can bring it back.
Its return will come in stages. We don’t have a cooking pot high enough to fill with water to cover the jar. This honey will come back first from the edges and then the center, like a winter thaw. As it does, the liquid will rise and seep over the hardened pieces. Finally, the piece will be too small to cling to the edges of the jar. It will sink. It will hover amid the orange hue now coloring the glass until it blends completely, disappearing to the eye.
I fill the pot with water and place it on the burner. I turn the burner up to medium. I hear the water warm before I see it. Its tumble creates an agitated sound. I’m invested now, not only in the solution, but the cause. What causes honey to become solid? To crystallize?
Honey is a concentrated sugar solution. Its ability to crystallize means its raw, unprocessed, and of high quality. It is resistant to fermentation or spoilage if it is not exposed to moisture or air.
I pause. Moisture. Air. Sweetness remains pleasing as long as it is separated from the world.
Honey’s sugar content can be determined by the flowers from which the bees gathered nectar.
The jar is vibrating rapidly now. I tip it carefully by the top. Layers of honey are now able to roll in waves. The jar is the honey’s world, but once upon a time, it was the world that determined the sweetness of the honey. Its existence forever linked to its environment.
I am fascinated by a story of King Tut’s tomb. The archaeologists found a jar of honey. If King Tut preserved a honey jar then certainly a group of my ancestors somewhere were like me. Perhaps they came upon it one Rosh Hashanah after forgetting their jar in a hidden corner. Despite not being found, its sweetness remained.
It doesn’t take long to reconstitute honey. Perhaps twenty minutes or so. Once the process is in motion, there is a multiplicative effect. The remaining solid pieces will dissolve as the honey jar cools.
Some who Googled my same question were told to buy honey in smaller quantities or use it faster, but I don’t believe that is the answer.
Instead, the honey jar reminds me that sweetness waits. Though sweetness may seem inaccessible, it can always return. And, the power to help spread its sweetness is in my hands.