Thursday, January 1, 2009


This is my jar of Tasmanian Leatherwood honey. Before I ever tasted it, I knew of its existence for about one minute. Before that one minute I didn't even know there was a tree by the common name of leatherwood.

Such discoveries occur when you go to your local honeybee center. The one you've been passing by a thousand times while driving back and forth between other destinations. I had assumed I knew pretty much all the kinds of honeys, at least the ones highly prized. Linden, Tupelo, Sourwood, Acacia. By name if not taste. In fact, I have not tasted either of those four.

So I went to the local honeybee center for the third or fourth time the other week, and this time they had a load of honeys they had not had before. Cranberry, blueberry, blackberry and so on; and three from Australia - one of them called Tasmanian Leatherwood.

Doesn’t that name just flick a switch? Leatherwood. The common name applies to a number of trees/shrubs. In Australia, Tasmania, it's Eucryphia lucid. In eastern North America it's Dirca palustris. Then there's one in southeastern United States: Cyrilla racemiflora. But they're all different plants. Dirca palustris's (not the Tasmanian one) common name is quite a literal one. You can take the branches of the tree and tie them into knots that hold like strong thick rope. While the inner wood is brittle, as long as the outer bark is there it's very resilient. Some pictures can be found here.

This honeybee center has a tasting section where you can taste every one of the honeys they have in store. They have a container of toothpicks for dipping. You have to be careful not to take the toothpicks that are sitting in the white coffee filter nearby. Those ones have already been used.

So there I go, tasting one after the other…cranberry, hmmm…blackberry, yeah, nice…orange blossom, ugh, ick…butternut squash, wow, awesome…Tasmanian Leatherwood, oh, oh, WOW, oh, and now there's something else coming through, WOW, and now another something…I'll be jiggered!

Says the man who works there, "Yes, that one's got a very earthy taste".

Understatement. Insufficient statement.

Then I tried the other Australian ones. I can't remember the names, except one had the word iron in it. They were even more powerful than the Leatherwood. Perhaps a little too powerful. I'll work on leatherwood for now.

Let me try and describe the taste. Earthy, you know already. Intense and magnificently complex. Smoky, but with a limpid singing astringency upon swallowing that lets you know it could have something like a mild antibiotic character.

I'm a honey lover. I don't have a strong sweet tooth, but I love detecting those essences behind the sweetness; those mysterious essences derived by the bees through the blossom that tell you this is blackberry without having to be told by a label. To take a huge heaping spoonful (especially when you feel a cold coming on) and letting it, pure and unadulterated, ease on down the throat: excellent. A bona fide Winnie the Pooh.

That day I discovered Tasmanian Leatherwood honey, my youngest sister was with me. She's a honey hater. A bona fide honey hater. If the work of honeybees was protected by the Canadian Human Rights Commission (which would be less of a joke than their current status) she would be getting smacked down with lawsuits left right and center ("So tell us, before this [kangaroo] court, what was your intent in declining then discriminating against the multi-floral honey?"). Upon entering the store she asked with disdain, "Ugh, what is that smell?"

What? What? That smell is one of the best smells on earth: the smell of pure beeswax and honey in their natural warm state (the center sells all honeybee products, such as wax candles, and not just honeys), and she finds it repugnant.

I was shocked. She smells the honeys while I taste them, and she's repeating her disdain. "Ugh, that's so gross." And that was before she saw the hive of living bees boiling about in the see-through glass display. I think she covered her face with her hand. I'm baffled. Maybe I shouldn't be; she also hates onions, garlic and tomatoes. Please pray for her conversion.

Anyhow, kidding aside, if you have some local honeybee centers or local beekeepers (apiarists) in your area go and give them some support. Especially if they do apiculture locally. Taste their honey. The notion of beekeepers as relaxed do-nothings is a myth (not the Tolkienesque kind of myth, but the rash, unconsidered use of the word). It can be very onerous work.

And you might be totally surprised by what those little winged workers, together with the blossoms, can yield to your tastebuds.

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