Food of the gods, celestial nectar, liquid gold. Shrouded in sacral legend, honey’s amber-hued sweetness has been worshipped since its first discovery by man around ten thousand years ago, likely in the depths of a wild beehive. In its distinct intensity, unlike anything tasted before, it isn’t surprising that the fascinating substance was seen as a gift from above in almost every culture.
In India, it was considered dew fallen from the heavens; Egyptians (thought to be the first to cultivate honey using logs to mimic hives), buried honey-filled clay vessels in tombs — traces of it, still edible, have been unearthed dating over 5,000 years back; and the Greeks spoke of ambrosia, a drink of honey and milk enjoyed by the deities.
Mythology aside, ancient Greece was also among the first to tap into honey’s powerful medicinal potential. While home cooks concocted newfound delicacies with the first-ever sweetener, others explored its many therapeutic properties. Homer and Aristotle wrote extensively on its virtues, and Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine, proclaimed the bees’ precious product as one of nature’s most potent healing agents, using it to treat a variety of ailments and dress wounds and burns.
In the physician’s footsteps, modern findings confirm that the delicious condiment boasts a plethora of disease-fighting compounds, even aiding in cancer prevention. Perhaps we no longer attribute its powers to the divine, yet honey is still something of a miracle — the product of a team of petite workers, it’s a testament to nature’s perfect design and the wonder of its complex workings.
Honey-infused food and drink, such as the fabled mead of the medieval table, starred in feasts and royal tables throughout history, and the French courts were not immune. A favourite of Louis XIV’s Queen, Maria Theresa of Spain, the golden confection was elevated to refined heights, maintaining its status as a darling of French cuisine to this day.
This silky pudding, inspired by the regal desserts of centuries past, brings out the nectar’s delicate floral notes in a bouquet of fragrant almonds and verbena leaves, an ideal finish to a light spring meal.
Almond Verbena Dessert
1 litre oat milk
250ml oat or soy cream
4 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons almond butter
4 tablespoons almond meal
1 small handful lemon verbena leaves
1 teaspoon agar-agar
In a saucepan, combine the agar-agar and almond butter. Gradually pour in milk until butter is dissolved; then add in cream, almond meal, and verbena leaves, whisking constantly. Bring to a boil, then stir in honey, and remove from heat.
Pour the still-hot mixture into small dishes or molds. Let cool, then refrigerate for 2 hours. Turn molds upside down onto plates, or serve directly in serving dishes.
Story by Kate MissineOriginal recipe by Gaelle DidillionTranslated by Zhao Wen
Food styling and photography by Jie Freishter