Kudos to the insect that makes food for people
Over the last 12 or so years, Cape Gazette Editor-in-Chief (now emeritus) Trish Vernon has regularly reminded me to be on the lookout for happenings/experiences/whatever that might make a good column. After all, that weekly deadline looms whether you want it to or not, so she’s right: Y’just never know.
Case in point is a RehobothFoodie.com fact-finding mission I recently mounted to DiFebo’s Market. The plan was to visit Lisa DiFebo, take some photos, get a few quotes and help get the word out. When I went into the shop, she was kibitzing with a guy over one of the products she sells, Locals Honey. In typical Lisa fashion, it wasn’t long before Nectar Collector Blair Cherico and I were sharing a wood-fired pizza – and about eight other things all at the same time. But the moment that’s still burned into my memory is when Lisa (award-winning chef and restaurateur in her own right) casually drizzled Blair’s honey across the top of that pizza. I was horrified! But (and I am not making this up), my horror vanished after I tasted that unlikely combination.
Honey on pizza. Who wooda thought! Well, Lisa thought, and as a result I got to know Blair while we shared slices there in Ocean View. A native Delawarean, Blair began to visit the beach from Wilmington around 1983. After graduating from Salesianum in ’92, he worked as a body piercer in a tattoo shop for five years. In what might seem like a lateral move, he was also earning a reputation as a skilled skimboarder – so much so that he purchased Dewey Beach Surf Shop and travelled professionally for Zap Skimboards. So what does this have to do with bees and honey, you might ask. Well, nothing yet. But read on.
Blair’s parents were the owners of Hooked on Plants, which used to be on Route 24 where Sussex Tree is now. They moved to the corner of Airport and Old Landing roads (it’s now Wharton’s), and sold all sorts of vegetation and gourmet cooking goodies – including honey. (See? I told you we’d get there….) After hanging out at the store, Blair became fascinated with the process and earned his agriculture degree from Delaware Technical Community College.
During that time, his parents were having problems stocking honey in the store, so, as the dedicated son, he took a leap and purchased “Beekeeping for Dummies.” (No, I’m not making that up, either.) He was fascinated with the concept and began to network with others in the same profession. He made a connection with a small apiary in Smyrna and got to know the owners of Bee Natural, a popular shop in Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market. From there he went full speed ahead into acquiring and maintaining his own hives, and harvesting the honey, the comb and other products from these little insect cities called “nucs” (pronounced “nukes,” referring to a nucleus colony). Think of it as sort of a filing system where panels or frames contain a honeycomb with thousands of bees, brood, honey, pollen and a mated/accepted queen.
Not unlike wines grown in specific areas of the world, honey samples can vary in taste. It all depends on having sufficient acreage for bees to pollinate specific crops and trees, such as beans, almonds, cherries, apples, tulip poplar, locust, clover, buckwheat; pretty much anything that has flowers. The simple fact is that agriculture as we know it would not exist without bees. Agriculture means food for us to eat. So bees are important, to say the least.
Depending on the primary source of food for the bees, honey can range from a pale golden color all the way to a deep, molasses-like brown. Blair even has a very special honey harvested from his own back yard in Rehoboth Beach. Honey and its by-products such as royal jelly (fed by the bees exclusively to the queen and said to have anti-aging properties for us non-bee creatures) and the wax comb (perfectly edible) have been known to exhibit antibacterial, antiseptic and antioxidant qualities revered for thousands of years. In fact, honey samples that are more than 5,500 years old have been excavated from tombs and ruins in the country of Georgia.
By the way, if you buy a jar (or two) of Blair Cherico’s Locals Honey, don’t fret if little crystals appear after a period of time. The product is still perfectly good. After all, if it can last for 5,500 years, it can last for a while in your kitchen. Locals Honey can be found at Sue Ryan’s Good Earth Market just west of Ocean View, Lisa Daisey’s Juice Box in Ocean View, DiFebo’s Market, and occasionally Fifer’s Farm Market and Mitch King’s Cool as a Cucumber produce – just to name a few.
Bob Yesbek writes and talks beach eats nonstop. He can be reached at email@example.com.