Chicago co-op turns honey into gold

September 8, 2010 9:39:37 AM PDT
The Jewish high holidays begin at sundown tonight. Honey plays a major role in the celebration: it symbolizes a sweet new year ahead, and the Hungry Hound says there is a local honey that's certainly worth including.

The Jewish new year of 5771 will be celebrated with matzo ball soup, brisket and lots of apples and honey. The apples are a reference to the harvest, while that honey is a reminder that all things in the new year ahead should be sweet.

You don't have to go to far to find locally made honey this year. In fact, there's a unique community project on the city's West Side, where they're creating jobs and producing world-class honey.

For the eighth summer in a row, this abandoned, cement and weed-covered lot on the West Side is buzzing with activity.

Between 50 and 60 hives are the property of the Chicago Honey Co-Op, an organization dedicated to an ancient practice, reaping the sweet result of nature's bounty.

"It's the best honey you could imagine, because the bees get to choose the best honey plants in the world," said Chicago Honey Co-op Founder Michael Thompson. "Because of the density of flora and the quantity of flowers in Chicago - or any big urban area - the honey is really great."

The work is delicate, and precise. The opening to each hive always faces southeast, and the bees - like wild salmon - know exactly which panel in which hive to go to for work.

The bees also know when their honey producing job is finished, and will cap them with wax to protect it. The finished product is lighter than most store-bought honeys, and has a clean, almost floral quality.

The Co-Op isn't just in the business of producing honey, it also helps community residents with job skills, and encourages gardening the surrounding land as well.

"We do job training here for neighbors and people who need jobs on the West Side of Chicago and so we're teaching how to not only produce honey but grow food in the ground," said Thompson.

Chicago Honey Co-op:

Green City Market on Saturdays (http://www.chicagogreencitymarket.org/about/market-location-and-hours.asp)

Logan Square Farmers Market on Sundays (http://www.logansquarefarmersmarket.org/) (both these only through October)

The Hull House Museum Store on Halsted (http://www.uic.edu/jaddams/hull/) Also, the Co-Op has an online store at its website (http://www.chicagohoneycoop.com/)

Where to find other local honey:

- The City of Chicago sells the honey it harvests from hives on various downtown rooftops. You can find this at Chicago's Downtown Farmstand, 66 E. Randolph St. The hives are managed by the Chicago Honey CoOp, and sales support programs in that building, Gallery 37. (http://www.explorechicago.org/city/en/things_see_do/attractions/tourism/chicago_s_downtown.html)

- Also, Bob Kress sells honey he makes in Michigan at the City of Chicago's farmers market on Tuesdays at Federal Plaza. (http://www.localharvest.org/federal-plaza-farmers-market-M1977)

Bronwyn Weaver wants people to think of honey the way they think of wine: a dynamic product that reflects its terroir and comes in vintages.

The owner of Bron's Bees, the beekeeping operation based at Elburn's organic Heritage Prairie Farm, is an ardent honey advocate. And this summer, she's made local chefs her ambassadors. Her honeybees' current vintage is pouring into Chicago restaurants via the farm's chef-supported apiary, a honey CSA for Chicago chefs that's now in full swing.

Earlier this year, chefs signed up for a share: one hive, and the promise of 150 pounds of honey. Some, like Naha's Carrie Nahabedian and City Provisions' Cleetus Friedman, even helped install the bees in their hives.

Weaver calls the raw honey she's now delivering to the chefs "miel (honey) nouveau"--the sweet version of the wine world's Beaujolais nouveau. It's light and flavorful, the best of the season.

Find it at Balsan and Carnival; in ice cream form at Province.

September is National Honey Month. For your sweet pleasure, some quick facts:

- Americans consume nearly 1.5 pounds of honey per person every year.

- An estimated 300 unique varieties of honey exist in the United States. Common types include clover and orange blossom. Rarities include mint and Hawaiian white honey.

- It would take two tablespoons of honey to fuel one bee's flight around the world.

- Some of the most noxious weeds produce the most delicious honey. Dandelion, the bane of most every gardener, produces a beautiful, golden honey.

- A recent study found honey is an effective moisturizer and skin toner. Simply adding a few drops to your regular lotion gives it a moisturizing boost.

- During the cane sugar rationing of World War II, millions of Americans sweetened their coffee with honey.

- The National Honey Board is holding a recipe contest through Sept. 15. You can enter via honey.com for the chance to take home one of three Le Creuset cookware prizes, ranging in value from $200 to $1,600.

If you don't want to cook this Rosh Hashana:

Wildfire's Rosh Hashanah Dinner at Wildfire Lincolnshire and Wildfire Glenview on Wednesday, September 8 and Thursday, September 9 from 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.

Both locations are offering a Rosh Hashanah Three Course Dinner Menu for $32.95 per person, featuring traditional Rosh Hashanah dishes, including homemade chopped liver, apricot glazed chicken breast, braised brisket of beef, Joe's Special Recipe Noodle Kugel, and homemade honey cake.

The Rosh Hashanah Kids Menu for $14.95 for kids 12 and under features matzo ball soup, apricot glazed chicken fingers, flourless chocolate cake


Load Comments