i saw a squirrel shivering on a windowsill this morning, and i almost felt sorry for it. Winter is wacky enough in Canada, but when you factor in being on an island in the middle of massive river, it is downright insane. the overnight temperatures are in the mid thirties... mid minus thirties, that is... with the wind-chill making it feel like the minus-mid-forties. you know that has to be cold, even if you do not speak Celsius.
the local news is splashed with weather-advisory warnings in bold red letters, and constant suggestions to remain indoors unless absolutely necessary. hypothermia sets in quickly under such conditions, so the police even take the extraordinary step of rounding up the homeless population, and transporting them to the shelters around the city. simply put, there is no playing around in these kinds of temperatures.
we are weathering the cold spell by avoiding the outdoors. there are currently three notices on the table for packages to be picked up at the local post office, two of which i know for a fact contain yarn, and they are going to have to remain there until it warms up by at least ten or fifteen degrees. yep... i am not going out for yarn. that is when you know that it is insanely cold.
we are also drinking absurd amounts of tea. this is a common practice around here in the colder months, but the cups-per-day count has almost doubled over the past week... which brings me to the point of today's post.
we do not get into the whole "watch me eat this piece of meat that has been fermenting in a sewer pipe for the past six months" type of nonsense that seems to rank only second to cat videos in the domination of social media. however we do occasionally come across something that is so genuinely intriguing, it has to be tasted. this was the case when i was watching some random food-related thing on You Tube, and the guy in the video made a passing reference to using pine honey in the dish. pine... what???
me: uhm... sweetie... have you ever heard of something called pine honey?
him: i didn't know pines had flowers. do butterflies even live near pine trees?
this, naturally, led to lots of googling, as i exist in a constant state of needing too much information about... well... everything. in short, the honey is indeed produced by bees, but unlike the more common honey-production which begins with nectar collected from flowers, this variety begins with waste material collected from lots of bugs.
[full disclosure: this part is potentially a bit gross.] honeydew is a sugary substance that is secreted by some insects that feed on the sap of plants. if you have ever seen a bug with a clear droplet of liquid on some part of its body, or found sticky drops of what looks like dew on a leaf, then you were likely looking at honeydew. bugs drink the sap from the plants, and they excrete waste in the form of a sugary liquid from special glands at their mouth, rear end, or along their skin. honeybees then collect said liquid, and take it back to their hives to begin the magic of honey-making. the resulting product is referred to as a "honeydew honey". like i said, kinda gross.
i love love love honey. it is one of those things that i enjoy trying from different places, as the local plant life has a lot of influence on the taste. try a light, floral clover honey (the more common variety in this area) alongside a dark, malty buckwheat honey, and you will instantly see what i mean.
in the case of pine honey, the honeydew is collected from aphids that feed on the pine resin. resin is lower in water content than nectar, so the resulting honey tends to be thicker than conventional honey. most of the sites i visited also suggested a certain element of "piney-ness" in the end product. oh, yes... i was deeply intrigued.
pine honey is produced chiefly in the Mediterranean region, which meant it would be an imported product... which meant it would be pricey. there is a running joke in our household about echeloning our lifestyle by getting hooked on things that are outside of our usual price range (i spoke about this back when he bought some marmalade made with ten-year-old scotch whiskey). i found a few places selling pine honey online, but most of them had shipping costs that were almost as high as the price of the honey, and a few came with warnings that you may be charged additional import taxes depending on where you live. finally, i found a Canadian company selling pine honey from Greece. so i put it in my shopping cart... then i stared at the "order" button for a while.
him: what if you really like it, and you can't go back to the squeeze bottle of Billy Bee honey from the supermarket?
me: i know. that's why i'm afraid.
we got a 1kg (roughly, two-and-a-quarter pounds) can of honey, cat sold separately.
it cost $28 (Canadian), not including shipping, which was quite reasonable, as some of the pine honeys i found cost almost twice as much... and that was before you include the tariff and shipping.
the can was full when it arrived, but we have already used quite a bit of it. the first impression upon opening the can was the intensity of the smell. fragrances can be powerful triggers for forgotten memories, and this one took me right back to the many jars of stewed plums my grandmother used to make back in the Caribbean. it is a deep, earthy fruit flavor, like opening a package of really plump prunes, mixed with the rich, sweetness of dark-brown sugar or a dark maple syrup.
the can had one of those easy-open tops, where you lift the metal ring and peel it back, plus a plastic top for after it was opened. this was quite convenient, as the metal top doubled as a tasting tray. i would love to say that i did not resort to licking the last few drops of honey from said surface before tossing it in the recycling bin, but that would be a lie. the stuff is seriously tasty, and it delivers precisely the profile of flavor you would expect from the smell. most surprisingly, it was slightly less sweet than with most other types of honey, and there was a trace of the earthy, mineral taste you get in maple syrup, and the slightest echo of something reminiscent of a pine tree. who knew aphid-ooze honey would taste so nice!
i plunged a wooden stir-stick into the can, and i was surprised at the resistance with which it was met. the stick leaves an indentation in the honey that takes a few seconds to disappear, and when you lift the stick, the honey seems reluctant to let go. [i had to get my assistant to hold the stir stick while i took these photos.]
this stuff is seriously thick. it has a tackiness similar to the pine resin from which it originated, and it behaves like a taffy mixture near the end stage of candy-making.
you know that candy they make by pouring hot maple syrup onto packed snow? well, i am sure you would get the same result with this stuff, even without heating it up.
this thought occurred to me as i stared through the frosted-over windows at the balcony full of untouched snow... then the wind blew, and i remembered that this is still Canada, and it is still cold. this would be a good time for another cup of tea.