Book review and guest post – ‘The Little Book of Honey’ by Elizabeth Gowing

When I first started writing this blog I thought it would pretty much just be me reading it. I never imagined that one day a writer I greatly admire would ask me to review their book! Yet this day has arrived, and the lovely Elizabeth Gowing, author of ‘Travels in Blood and Honey: Becoming a beekeeper in Kosovo‘, has sent me her new book, ‘The Little Book of Honey‘.

Little Book of Honey cover In the first part of the book, Elizabeth gives us her opinions of honeys she’s enjoyed from around the world. It is a fascinating way of tasting your way around different parts of the Earth, taking in the concentrated scents and tastes of the flowers surrounding the bees. Is there any other food that reflects its local area so vividly?

Elizabeth’s lushly descriptive writing brings the labours of the bees to life. She even manages to find a honey “better than chocolate” – carob honey. And viper’s bugloss reveals itself as having a fairy tale taste, “with a butterscotch and ripe banana taste”.

The second half of the book contains honey recipes, some of which come with particular honeys recommended. Apple blossom honey is the best to have with a croissant. French honeysuckle is ideal for making ice lollies and Greek pine honey for Loukoumades, a Greek dessert of fried dough balls soaked in honey syrup.

Naturally I couldn’t review the book properly without first trying out its recipes. Drew and my colleagues have generously helped me out with tasting the resulting cakes. The first recipe I tried was Honey Spice Cake, which fills the house with the sweet smells of cinnamon, ginger, allspice and cloves. This went down well, the honey taste really coming through.  My mum’s family is Welsh, so for my second recipe I chose the Welsh Honey Muffins. I like fruity cakes, so I added in some sultanas soaked in honey flavoured tea, and also made them fairy cake size. Dark and full of flavour, yet very soft and airy in texture, they brought the uplifting scents of cinnamon and ginger amidst the darkness of winter.

Honey muffins

Honey muffins

I have a couple of minor niggles with The Little Book of Honey as a recipe book – size and measurements. It’s small size is sweet but means the book needs weighting down to keep it on the right page whilst baking. And although it’s published in the UK, the measurements are in US cups (though there is a conversion chart at the back). My problem with US cups is that I don’t feel the measurements are as accurate, especially when it comes to measuring butter. Slabs of butter don’t fit properly into a round cup. Anyway, these are tiny complaints – the vivid descriptions and unusual recipes more than make up for them.

I asked Elizabeth if she could explain a little about the background of the book, how she came to write it and went about researching it. This is what she said:

“I’ve always been keen on buying local and when I was travelling around, and particularly when I came from England to live in Kosovo, I discovered that honeys from different landscapes and flowers have a ‘terroir’ just like wine, and you can taste the combination of flowers whose nectar contributed to any particular jar. Just like wine, every batch of honey is unique too and I got excited by tasting honey from coriander flowers, from avocado flowers, pine honey in Greece, ivy honey in Cornwall (strangely like Stilton), beechwood honey from New Zealand etc etc.

When I became a beekeeper I also became interested in what to do with the honey I harvested (other than just spreading it on toast!) and researched some recipes and realised there were lots more things I could do with the honey – smoothies and breads, desserts and snacks. I’ve included in the book recipes for Russian ‘sbiten’ herbal honey drink, Yemeni honey bread, Welsh honey muffins (my favourite recipe in the book), and honey vinaigrette.

Many of the recipes I found came from other beekeepers and in talking to them I also heard about some ways that beekeeping can change lives – a poverty reduction project in Nigeria with Bees Abroad, the inspirational work of the Golden Company with disaffected young people trained as beekeepers in Hackney, or the women in a shelter in Kosovo who have survived trafficking or domestic violence and who now have a business producing wonderful face creams with the propolis from their beehives to support themselves. When you hear stories or savour tastes like these you want to share them, so I had the idea of the Little Book of Honey.

I’d worked with designers, Su Jones and Paddy McEntaggart on the design for my first book, Travels in Blood and Honey; becoming a beekeeper in Kosovo (Signal Books, 2011) so I knew they would transform my words into a beautiful artefact. I think what they’ve produced is really gorgeous – with woodcut-style illustrations on every page it’s a treat to hold and flick through (check out the flickbook effect of the bees around the page numbers!) and the perfect gift for any beekeeper or foodie. People can see some sample pages – and order a copy! – at the website www.thelittlebookofhoney.co.uk. The book costs £6 plus £1.50 P&P.”

Order a giftpack with a signed copy of my Travels in Blood and Honey; becoming a beekeeper in Kosovo, together with a hand-crafted Kosovan honey drizzler. See more at http://100daysofhoney.wordpress.com/2011/11/12/a-new-way-to-eat-honey-my-own-kosovan-handcrafted-drizzler-also-available-to-buy/

Fascinating – thanks so much Elizabeth! I love my Little Book of Honey; it has a place of honour on my bee themed bookshelf.

Related posts/links:

About Emily Scott

I am a UK beekeeper living in Ealing, west London. I have been keeping bees in the Ealing Beekeepers Association’s local apiary since 2008 and created this blog as a record for myself of my various beekeeping related disasters and - hopefully - future successes. Busy taking the British Beekeeping Association module exams too!
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18 Responses to Book review and guest post – ‘The Little Book of Honey’ by Elizabeth Gowing

  1. I like your book reviews. I am looking forward to trying some of the honey recipes. The American cup idea is strange but I got used to it when I used to live there. The funny thing is it really works well and some of my favourite cake recipes date from that time. I do cheat with the butter though and weigh it in ounces.

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  2. I don’t know if this will make things any less confusing, but 1/2 lb. butter equals 1 cup butter. It’s usually sold here in the U.S. by the pound, four 1/4 lb. sticks in each package. If less and 1/2 cup butter is called for, each stick is marked to further divide it into 8 tablespoons. The upshot is that we measure butter with a knife rather than a cup.

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    • Emily Heath says:

      Ah I see – so even Americans don’t measure butter with the cups! Our butter isn’t marked up in the same way. I’ve also seen recipes where the butter amount is in tablespoons, and thought it very inconvenient trying to scoop one tablespoon exactly out. But if the sticks are divided up into tablespoons for you, that makes sense.

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  3. Just confirming what was said previously about American butter measures. It was something I had to get used to in the UK–not being able to ‘measure’ with a knife. Now, as with most baking in US or UK measures, I tend to weigh ingredients. I do cheat sometimes with tablespoons: my cutlery set is American and I use those spoons when cooking. My friends are always remarking on my lack of a good set of measuring spoons, although none of them have been motivated enough to give me one as a present!

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  4. cecilia says:

    You know I am always grateful when I get recipes that have the measurements in cups, my mum said – as long as you use the same cup for everything that is fine! This little honey book sounds lovely, and especially the idea of using different honeys for different recipes. My honey is different in taste every year, who knows what they will find this yea and what tastes i will have. Morning Emily. Have a lovely day..c

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  5. Sad to miss the honey muffins, they look delicious!

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  6. I want those honey muffins… 😀

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  7. lovely muffins. I was going to tell you the same things about US butter, but Jennifer B. above beat me to it. The measurements on the sticks make it to easy. Weighing would be the next easy way I think. That little book is so cute and sounds wonderful.

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  8. milapostol says:

    Interesting book review. I will look for that book here in the US. As for measuring butter…if I don’t have the “stick of butter” but some unknown amount of slab, I will take a 4 cup pyrex measuring cup, put a 1 cup of water in it, and stick in my unknown slab amount and figure out how much I have! I like that idea of the weights, though. Much more convenient.

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