Sunday, March 27, 2011

Review of Honey Cookbooks, Part II

I've added three more honey cookbooks to our library this month, and am disappointed to say that I can recommend only one of them without reservation.

Gene Opton with Nancie Hughes. (2000). Honey:  A connoisseur's guide with recipes.  (Berkeley, CA:  Ten Speed Press).  I think this book may be out of print, but is available from private sellers through on-line booksellers. (I purchased it for less than $10.)  It offers a nice overview of how bees make honey, honey's properties, the rich array of honey varieties and how to use them. Apparently, Gene Opton was quite a honey collector, having more than 100 varieties on her pantry shelves.   In the 1970s, she owned The Kitchen, a gourmet cookware store in Berkeley, CA.  Alice Waters credits Opton with providing the solid business background that put Chez Panisse on firm footing.  The recipes range from breads and muffins to main dishes to syrups and toppings.  There are recipes for corn fritters, honey ice cream, and sweet-and-sour coleslaw. A few of the recipes are illustrated, but most are not.  If you were going to get only one honey-based cookbook, you wouldn't go wrong with this one.   Last night, I made "Mrs. G's Chocolate Brownies," which use honey as the exclusive sweetener and they came out great.  I'll include the recipe in a later post.

NOT (as) RECOMMENDED (though both books do have some merits!)
May Berenbaum. (2010). Honey, I'm Homemade:  Sweet treats from the beehive across the centuries and around the world. (Urbana, IL:  University of Illinois Press).  Less than $15. As one of the most recent honey-focused cookbooks on the market, I had high hopes for this book and am disappointed that it doesn't live up to my expectations.  Berenbaum is an entomologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the author of many brightly-named books about bugs (e.g.Ninety-nine Gnats, Nits and Nibblers).  She is neither a beekeeper nor a chef and that, unfortunately, shows in this collection.  As the title suggests, the recipes focus on "sweet treats"--and include a range of recipes for cookies, breads, pies, cakes, and even a few candies. For this book, Berenbaum sought recipes from colleagues, friends and bee clubs.  She did not test all of the recipes, instead relying on those who gave her the recipes to vouch for them. For example, one recipe for Spiced Honey Cake Cocaigne is from a colleague who hasn't made the recipe in more than 25 years (but remembers it fondly).  Berenbaum does source most of her recipes and provides a nice discussion of honey's properties, complete with citations to scholarly studies to back up those claims.  I'll give a few of the recipes a try and present the results in a future post.

Jenni Fleetwood (2008). Honey: Nature's wonder ingredient:  100 amazing uses from traditional cures to food and beauty, with tips, hints and 40 tempting recipes. (London: Lorenz Books).  I purchased this book for less than $10 on-line. As the subtitle makes clear, it covers a variety of uses for honey and beeswax, from health and healing to beauty to cleaning products to food recipes.  It includes honey-based remedies for ailments like hangovers and tension as well as facial scrubs, bath bombs and shampoo. It has one chapter of food recipes that offers a variety of smoothies, some meat and fish dishes and inventive dressings, relishes and dips (e.g. honey, carrot and almond relish).  It's richly illustrated with gorgeous photos.  Though it was printed in the UK, the recipes include US measurements.  It also includes information about calorie and nutrition amounts of the dishes.  My biggest gripe about this book is that it makes many unsupported claims (honey-based treatments for insomnia, bedwetting, and hair loss, for example).   If you're looking for a well-illustrated book that includes great honey recipes as well as formulas for honey and beeswax-based beauty treatments, I'd point you instead to Charlton & Newdick's A Taste of Honey, reviewed in Part I.

I have one more book on the way: Honey: More than 75 Delicious and Healthy Recipes and will review it when it arrives!

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