Taste of Honey by Marie Simmons – A Book Review

Honey Panna Cotta & Velvety Honey-Chocolate Pudding


Taste of Honey


Taste of Honey:
The Definitive Guide to Tasting and Cooking with 40 Varietals



Call it a convergence of events or call it synchronicity, but sometimes life has an exquisitely sweet harmony. For the last few weeks I have been consumed with thoughts of honey. I’ve been researching the state of the world’s bee population, along with the honey trade and manufacture. Right in the midst of it all I discovered Taste of Honey by Marie Simmons. Ms. Simmons, cooking teacher, food writer and author of over twenty cookbooks, has produced a veritable compendium of honey.

Ms. Simmons’ love of honey is clear from the outset. She leads the reader into the hive with an awe inspiring description of the life of these creatures, the organization of their society, and the division of labor between the queen, the male drones and female workers. It is all here, the world of bees, from their anatomy, to the queen’s virgin flight, to how they make their honey.

The section Tasting and Cooking with Honey opens with a guide to forty American honeys from Acacia to Wild Oak. A profile of each honey includes its plant source, color, texture and flavor notes along with suggestions for how each honey is best used, a treasure trove of information. There are honeys here I have never heard of, and this book sent me to the market to start exploring and experimenting.

Honey is a little like olive oil; there are myriad varieties, over three thousand worldwide, each a reflection of its land of origin and the particular plant the bees visited. As with olive oil, the best way to get to know it is to have a tasting where you can compare color, flavor notes, texture and viscosity of a variety of honeys. Guidelines for a Honey Tasting provides suggestions on how best to arrange a tasting and get started learning about this miraculous nectar. I have always thought that honey has a particular affinity for cheese, and I was pleased to read that Ms. Simmons agrees. I found the section Honey and Cheese Tasting particularly illuminating, and her suggestion of pairing Sicilian orange blossom honey and Burrata is a stroke of brilliance.

No matter how you like your honey, there is something in one of the four recipe sections for you. In Breakfasts and Snacks you’ll find everything from muffins to cornbread, popovers, quick breads, and more. The Flatbread with Melted Manchego, Rosemary and Honey makes a great afternoon snack or appetizer for a summer meal.

In Main Dishes are recipes for Pork Chops and Apples with Honey and Apple Cider Sauce, Sweet and Sour Meatballs (one of my favorites), and Chicken Stewed with Tomatoes, Green Olives and Orange, a dish the author said was inspired by Chicken Cacciatore. The play of the acid of the tomatoes and white wine with the sweet flavor of honey and orange make a particularly pleasing and satisfying supper dish.

Salads and Vegetable Side Dishes presents fifteen dishes that use honey in ways I never considered. Pear, Stilton, and Bacon Salad with Honey-Glazed Pecans was my favorite in the chapter. Roasted Red Onion Wedges with Honey and Balsamic Vinegar, Honey-Glazed Carrots with Oregano, and Moroccan-Style Stewed Tomatoes and Fennel with Honey and Preserved Lemon are also standouts.

The section entitled Sweets is sweet indeed. From Honey Oatmeal Raisin Cookies to Salted Honey Peanut Brittle, every page holds something tempting. I started with the Honey Panna Cotta; milk and cream are infused with cloves, cinnamon and orange and sweetened with honey. Sicilian orange blossom honey imbued this Italian classic with a soft, gentle sweetness that blended beautifully with the perfume of the spices and orange. The Velvety Honey-Chocolate Pudding was as smooth as satin, a harmony of texture and flavor, the cocoa and chocolate marrying beautifully with Eucalyptus honey.

Throughout the book are sidebars with honey factoids, and every recipe is preceded by the author’s suggestions for the type of honey best suited for use in the dish. Each chapter finishes with Quick Hits, bulleted suggestions for cooking with honey.

Photographs by Meg Smith reveal the glory that is the diverse world of honey. The book is packed with enticing shots of bees at work, jars of honey ranging in color from almost white to a deep amber and thick honey flowing from dippers. The shots of the recipes are lovingly styled by Nani Steele and thoroughly tempting. Throughout the book are drawings of bees and watercolors of the flowers that nourish them. Considering that our bee population is in jeopardy, this book is a most timely addition to anyone’s bookshelf. From the hive to your home, this volume has everything you need to choose and cook with the finest honey.


Honey Panna Cotta



{Type of honey} – Panna cotta is the perfect canvas for your most delicious and precious honey. I like a mild, not overly sweet honey with floral notes such as orange or lemon blossom, lavender, star thistle, tupelo or fireweed.

Honey Panna Cotta

Makes 4 to 6 servings

At a favorite Italian restaurant, I was once served a delicately set panna cotta spooned onto a large plate. A departure from the typical pudding cup serving, this is how I’ve been serving this simple dessert ever since. If preferred, the panna cotta can be made in individual pudding dishes or ramekins. However, I like the spooned version because it allows a large surface for a drizzle of honey to cascade in narrow rivulets down the sides of the pudding.

1 cup half-and-half
1 cup heavy cream
3 whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
1 strip orange zest
2 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
¼ cup honey, plus more for serving
Honey-Sweetened Fruit (recipe follows), for serving

1. Place the half-and-half, cream, cloves, cinnamon sticks, and orange zest in a medium saucepan and heat over medium-low, stirring constantly, until small bubbles appear around the edges. Cover and let stand off the heat for 15 minutes.

2. Place 2 tablespoons of water in a small bowl or cup and sprinkle the gelatin evenly on the surface. Let stand for about 5 minutes, or until softened.

3. Lift the solids (spices and zest) from the warm cream mixture with a slotted spoon. Add the honey and softened gelatin to the cream mixture and stir gently until the gelatin is dissolved.

4. Pour into a shallow bowl, cover, and refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours, until set. For a delicate texture, serve panna cotta the same day. As it stands the texture will stiffen slightly.

5. To serve, place a large spoon of panna cotta on a dessert plate and drizzle with about 1 tablespoon of honey. Surround with sliced peaches, strawberries, or Honey-Sweetened Fruit.

Honey-Sweetened Fruit
Combine 1 to 2 cups of sliced strawberries; a mixture of sliced strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries; or peeled and sliced ripe peaches or nectarines with 1 tablespoon of honey. Gently fold to blend and let stand at room temperature until ready to serve.



Velvety Honey Chocolate Pudding



{Type of honey} Use a full-flavored, amber-hued honey such as eucalyptus, Christmas Berry (from Australia), buckwheat, mesquite, leatherwood, pumpkin blossom, or whatever you have on hand. Select a honey that has menthol, mint, vanilla, or spice flavor notes that seem to bring out the best in chocolate.

Velvety Honey-Chocolate Pudding

Makes 4 to 6 servings

For some reason, chocolate emphasizes the distinctive flavor notes in full-bodied honey. It is one of those pleasant yet mysterious taste sensations. This pudding is a family favorite and is one of the first recipes I teach my grandkids to make. It’s a winner every time.

¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 ½ cups milk
½ cup heavy cream
¼ cup honey
2 squares (2 ounces) semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Place the cocoa and cornstarch in a medium saucepan and whisk until completely blended.

2. In a separate saucepan on medium heat, or in a 1-quart glass measuring cup in the microwave, heat the milk, cream, and honey until warmed. Stir to blend. Slowly whisk the milk mixture into the cocoa mixture until the cocoa and cornstarch are dissolved and the mixture is smooth. Heat over medium heat, stirring gently with a rubber spatula, until the mixture begins to thicken.

3. Add the chopped chocolate and boil gently, stirring for about 1 minute, or until the chocolate melts. Remove from the heat. Let stand for 5 minutes and then stir in the vanilla.

4. Pour into a serving bowl or individual pudding cups and refrigerate until slightly chilled or cold.


Visit the author’s website at MarieSimmons.com

Taste of Honey: The Definitive Guide to Tasting and Cooking with 40 Varietals
by Marie Simmons
Paperback, 192 pages
Andrews McMeel Publishing (June 4, 2013)
ISBN-10: 1449427545
ISBN-13: 978-1449427542

Sicilian Orange Blossom Honey is available from Olio2go.

Recipes reprinted by permission of the author.


Note: You can click on any picture for a larger image, and to see a slide show!

I have no affiliation with any product, manufacturer, or site mentioned in this article.

45 Comments

  1. Comment by mozzarellamamma@gmail.com:

    Hi Adri — As you know I am not a foodie, but I am fascinated by learning the background on food products. For example we always say the Chinese have hundreds of names for rice, and I would say the Italians probably have an equal number of names for pasta — fettucini, spaghetti, fusilli, rigatoni –to name a few. Once when I was on vacation in the US, I heard an expert on bananas interviewed on NPR and was fascinated by all the different kinds of bananas there are in this world with a vast variety of shapes and flavors. I think it is wonderful when a person takes one food product — like honey– and really investigates and learns everything about it. I think there have been such books about tea and coffee. Another one that I find fascinating is the Vanilla Bean. Last year I was asked to look into a story on a dramatic drop in Vanilla bean production and how that would effect Italian gelato producers. I interviewed the head of the all-natural GROM gelato maker, Federico Grom, who uses vanilla beans from Madagascar. I then got video from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome of Vanilla Bean production in Madagascar and it was just fascinating. I wanted to drop everything and travel the world to write a book about Vanilla Beans!!

    • Comment by Adri:

      Hi Trisha,

      Isn’t it something? It seems every food has a “backstory.” Vanilla is of particular interest to me, as you can imagine. Wasn’t the shortage due to particularly wet weather in the growing regions?

      Through industrialization and centralization of food production, we have lost the diversity among specific food products. Whether it is ham, honey or cheese, the mass-produced versions taste the same. Now, though, thanks to devoted small producers and in turn, hard working importers, things are changing. In fact, I just got a bottle of cardoon honey from Sardinia. Ten years ago, that would have been unheard of. The world of food is so huge, I am often at a loss – there is so much I want to write about.

  2. Comment by Barb | Creative Culinary:

    I just love honey and this book sounds delicious! I recently received a special jar from a friend; I think that panna cotta is calling my name!

  3. Comment by Rosa:

    I love honey. It is insanely fragrant and extremely versatile. A must-have in any kitchen!

    Both the panna cotta and pudding look and sound amazing! Two delightful desserts.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  4. Comment by TheKitchenLioness:

    Adri, such elegant photography and outstanding description not only of the book but about the many varieties of honey. It is so important to buy great quality honey and if you are lucky enough even from a local bee keeper. I like the comparison you make in your text about honey being a bit like olive oil – so very true, it always tastes different depending on the time of year and the location of the bee hives etc. I really enjoyed reading through your post (and all the while nodding my head) – now I will hop over to good old amazon and see whether I can get a copy of this interesting sounding book around here. Your recipes spound heavenly and since we will be visiting a country fair in August, I will make sure to stock up on some lovely organic honey from my favorite bee keeper there and try my hand at that fabulous looking panna cotta!
    Adri, you write the most inspiring and fabulous posts that always make me feel wonderful!

    • Comment by Adri:

      Hi Andrea,

      Thank you so much for your very kind words! You are so right about the honey being different depending on the time of year, location of the hives, and so on. I never gave much thought to all the varieties of honey until recently. I don’t know why all the nuances never really struck me; it makes perfect sense. I guess I just neglected the bees! That, however is no longer possible as I have begun to learn in what supreme jeopardy they now exist. The plight of the bees should be the concern of everyone, considering that our food supply depends on their continued vigorous activity and what should also be everyone’s desire to protect and protect the diversity of life on earth. You are so fortunate to be in Germany. My sister said they have the most glorious honeys there. I hope you can obtain a copy of this book. It really is wonderful. Alla prossima!

  5. Comment by Lori Lynn:

    Looks like a fabulous book. All the recipes you cite sound delicious. I like the idea of sweet & sour meatballs made with honey…
    LL

  6. Comment by speedy70:

    quante dolcezze qua da te, che voglia…….

  7. Comment by Emilie@TheCleverCarrot:

    OK…after reading this post I will definitely be dreaming of honey too!!! I’m in love 😉
    I agree that honey is like olive oil- so many varieties, tastes, textures, and unfortunately, counterfeits. A true honey is something to be treasured. Thank you for sharing this piece Adri. I’m inspired to seek out this book and make some sticky sweet recipes. Your desserts look absolutely decadent…

    • Comment by Adri:

      Hi Emilie,

      I’m glad you enjoyed this. Honey is just amazing, and this little book made me appreciate it all the more. Start with one of these, and you will be hooked.

  8. Comment by mariangela:

    OK grazie adesso ho capito, qui in Italia non si trova ma mi arrangerò! Grazie ancora sei sempre gentilissima!!!

  9. Comment by Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti:

    What a delightful sounding cookbook! I was enthralled by many of the recipe names you shared, Adri. I think I will add this book to my Amazon.com wish list today!

    I LOVE panna cotta. I order it whenever I see it on a menu –any flavor–it is always so good!

    • Comment by Adri:

      Hi Pat,

      I love cookbooks. I have stacks of them, and I read them as others might read a novel. I often shy away from single subject books, but with my current obsession with honey and bees, this one was a natural. I hope you give the Panna Cotta a try. The flavors are so delicate, and they marry beautifully. It was quite a delicious surprise to me. Ditto for the Chocolate Pudding. Enjoy!

  10. Comment by Jovina Coughlin:

    What a great resource and I like the idea of using honey in a panna cotta.

  11. Comment by sippitysup:

    I have a feral hive in my backyard. This is Los Angeles so I know the neighbors aren’t thrilled with me for not having it removed. But I have heard how hard things are for the bees right now. This hive is thriving and I can’t bring myself to destroy it. I might buy a bee keppers costume and see if I can steal some of the honey. It’s been there 3 or 4 years and I haven’t been brave enough yet. But I think about it. GREG

    • Comment by Adri:

      Hi Greg,

      Wow, right in your yard. It would indeed be terrible, not to mention perilous, to destroy it. It would however be pretty cool to get your own honey. Beekeeping is undergoing quite a resurgence now, and seminars to learn about it abound. How about a new hobby??!!

  12. Comment by marie simmons:

    Adri, what a fantastic review. I cannot fully express my gratitude. It was a please to read. You seem to be in my head thinking as I do about cooking, especially with honey. One can get obsessive on the subject of honeybees, but why not when they so generously provide the universe from pollination of many crops to their copious production of honey for their sustenance and our pleasure. Thank you honeybees. And thank you, Adri.

    • Comment by Adri:

      Benvenuta Marie!

      Congratulations on a wonderful book. Taste of Honey was a complete pleasure from start to finish. Since I posted this review I have heard from many people who are as intrigued by honey as we are. Isn’t that wonderful? For me, bees have made the complete circuit from something I ran from as a child to a thing of complete wonder and delight as an adult. Thank you, Marie!

  13. Comment by Ciao Chow Linda:

    What a great resource for all things honey – and two marvelous recipes. Only in the last few years have I been lured by the combination of honey and cheeses. What a perfect pairing.

    • Comment by Adri:

      Hi Linda,

      This a neat little book indeed. For me too the idea of honey and cheese is somewhat new, but it is such a wonderful match. I am astounded by how many varietals of honey there are and how different they are in color, fluidity, texture, clarity and taste. There is lots more out there than a little bear!

  14. Comment by amy @ fearless homemaker:

    Talk about syncronicity, I was *just* saying yesterday how I’ve been using honey more in the past month or two than I’ve ever used it before. I’ve been using it in marinades, desserts, as a natural sweetener, etc., where I rarely used it before. I’m just discovering how amazing it is, especially local honey. And both your panna cotta + the chocolate pudding look SO good – what an awesome way to showcase honey!

    • Comment by Adri:

      Hi Amy,

      Isn’t it weird when these things happen? The cynics call it coincidence, but I beg to differ. Sometimes there are other forces at work. I am convinced of it.

      I have learned so much about honey lately, and from this little book in particular. I hope you share some of your honey recipes on your site. Have a wonderful weekend.

  15. Comment by Marcie@flavorthemoments:

    The book sounds great, and those dishes you made look incredibly delicious! I love anything rich and creamy.

    • Comment by Adri:

      Benvenuta Marcie,

      It really is a wonderful book, and for anyone who enjoys honey, a treasure trove. I was surprised at the elegant sweetness the honey lent to these creamy desserts. The honey taste in no way predominated or took center stage, rather formed a beautiful backdrop for all the other flavors – the spices and orange in the panna cotta and the chocolate in the pudding. I hope you try these desserts.

  16. Comment by Chiara:

    Adri che meraviglia, questo post è proprio una dolcezza per amanti del miele! tantissime notizie interessanti, grazie mia cara, passa un felice weekend!

    • Comment by Adri:

      Ciao Chiara,

      Davvero, per amanti del miele. E ci sono tanti tipi di miele; il mondo del miele è vario e meraviglioso. Spero che ti provare queste ricette. Buon fine settimana!

  17. Comment by mariangela:

    Ecco la ricetta che aspettavo!!!! Devi sapere Adri che il miele a casa mia non manca mai, ho il miele di castagno, di eucalipto, millefiori, all’arancia….. ogni mattino un bel cucchiaio nel latte di mio figlio (lo uso come antibiotico naturale e in inverno il bambino si ammala molto di rado). Mi devi perdonare ma non ho capito che cos’è il primo ingrediente ( a me viene tradotto come”una tazza di metà e metà”) non capisco!!!!! Un bacione e buon fine settimana!

  18. Comment by Anthony Fama:

    The chocolate pudding sound like a must try. Yum

    • Comment by Adri:

      Hi Anthony,

      It is great. I was surprised at how the honey melds with the chocolate for a smooth and really just barely sweet dessert. It is more chocolate than sweet, and really good. Try it!

  19. Comment by Laney:

    Looks like a very interesting and informative book- I only recently actually realized how many types of honey there are and I agree that there are similarities in thinking about them like olive oil. Your recipes are a great way to span the horizons of the honey jars in my pantry…

  20. Comment by simona:

    Fantastic post and photos! Lovely dessert:* Kiss Adri:**

  21. Comment by Majella Home Cooking:

    This post could not be more timely for me, Adri. There are so many varieties of honey produced here in Abruzzo. I look forward to trying out the panna cotta recipe. I just purchased a jar of one of my new favorite things – miele con frutta secca – acacia honey with assorted nuts. Simply divine! A presto! Michelle

    • Comment by Adri:

      Hi Michelle,

      See, it’s synchronicity at work. Funny how that is happening with honey! Once one starts paying attention to honey, it is just astounding how many varietals there are. There’s a lot more than a little bear out there! I have been bowled over by the Italian honeys I have tried, and the one you describe sounds fabulous. I have never seen anything like that made here in the States. It sounds like you are having a marvelous summer. I like hearing that! Un bacione!

  22. Comment by Paola Lovisetti Scamihorn:

    I love honey, it is so tasty and healthy! Thank you so much for sharing these two delicious recipes. I will try both of them! All the best, Paola

    • Comment by Adri:

      Ciao Paola,

      It’s good to hear you too enjoy honey. In Italy you have so many wonderful varietals, ranging from very delicate to more assertive. I hope you enjoy the recipes. The panna cotta is really lovely. Un bacione!

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