A honey of a treat

Steve Peters / Photo

Steve Peters / Photo

Steve Peters
RUTLAND BITES

We’ve all had honey, but have you ever had honeycomb? Real honeycomb is made up of a hexagonal pattern of waxy cells, that like honey itself is made entirely by honeybees. Bee colonies use combs to store their honey, pollen, and larvae.

The female worker bees secrete the natural wax that forms the intricate structure of the honeycomb. Scientists believe that when forming each cell of the comb, the bees may focus heat from their bodies at certain points to create hexagons. Why hexagons? Science proves that they’re the most efficient packing shape. Charles Darwin once described the honeycomb as “absolutely perfect in economizing labor and wax.”

A typical honey collection involves spinning the honey-filled honeycombs in an extraction machine that collects the honey but leaves the comb intact. The honeycomb is then returned to the bees for reuse.

However, the honeycomb is edible as well, and when left filled with honey, is likely how many of our grandparents once commonly bought their honey. Although it’s not as prevalent these days, you may be able to get your hands on a piece of honeycomb by contacting a local beekeeper. Just don’t be surprised if it comes at a steep price, as bees must consume more than eight pounds of honey to produce one pound of honeycomb wax. That’s why it just makes economic sense for most apiarists to return the honeycomb back to the bees rather than offer it up for sale.

Of course, if you can’t find it locally, there are many options for buying a piece of honeycomb online, such as the Savannah Bee Company, the company from which I was gifted some honeycomb a few months ago. Luckily, just like honey, it won’t go bad on you.

I first tried using a piece of the honeycomb by adding it to my tea. This was not the best use. The honey dissolved but pieces of the waxy comb were left floating in the tea. I didn’t try using it again until I thought to crumble some up and put it out on a cheese plate for a party. It was a surprise hit and my friends were intrigued. When paired up with other foods, the slightly crunchy, chewy texture of the honeycomb works much better than eating it on its own.

On the other hand, I’ve read on several message boards that back in the day, after the honey was taken out of a piece of honeycomb, kids would chew the waxy remains as you would a piece of gum. Personally, I’d rather spread it on some toast with a bit of melted brie.

Now for the other honeycomb.

When in England, my girlfriend and I found a confection that is also called honeycomb. She loved the crispy honey candy, but by the time we thought to stockpile some to bring home, we couldn’t find it again. Recently I came across a recipe on Proper Tasty, a video recipe page on Facebook dedicated to English recipes, and I had to give it a try.

Honeycomb, also known as honeycomb toffee, golden crushers or cinder toffee, is, as these alternative names suggest, a lot like toffee. Recipes vary, but in the few I found, sugar, honey and corn syrup are cooked together until baking soda is added and the confection almost erupts out of the pot as it inflates to several times its original size. The candy is left to cool, and then may or may not be dipped in chocolate.

Honeycomb was first mass produced at England’s Cadbury Sponge Candy Company in the 1920s. Though where it originated is unclear, as it is also popular in random places such as Buffalo, Scotland, New Zealand and Michigan.

While I wouldn’t lead you to believe that this honeycomb candy by any means compares for the true honeycomb produced by bees, I do think it’s worth a try nonetheless. Yeah, I’m aware it’s little more than three forms of sugar cooked together, and sugar will no doubt kill us all, but sometimes we need more than a kale fruit smoothie to satisfy our craving for something sweet.

Honeycomb candy

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • ¼ cup honey
  • ¼ cup light corn syrup
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda

Line a 9” x 13” baking pan with parchment paper. Measure out the baking soda and have a whisk at the ready.

Combine the sugar, water, honey and baking soda in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-low heat. Stir until the mixture comes together and begins to bubble. Gently cook until it reaches just under 300 degrees F, about 10 -15 minutes. Turn off the heat, whisk in the baking soda and be prepared for the mixture to rise in the pot. As quickly as you can, pour it into the prepared baking pan. It will begin to harden immediately. Allow cooling for at least an hour and a half. When cool, whack with the back of a knife, or another heavy item, to break into chunks.

If desired, you may dip pieces of the honeycomb in melted dark chocolate.

Steve Peters

Steve Peters is a cook, gardener and baker living in Rutland.

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