The Taste of Here

Ames farm revolutionizes the gathering of honey, to flabbergasting effect

Except Brian Fredericksen does this 600 times in a season, and, as you yourself might have noticed, there aren't 600 long afternoons in a summer. So he stays up all night, in a little vinyl-sided honey house beside a lake, a honey house that looks like a garage and is only about as big as you'd need for some storage, three honey-spinners, a microscope with which to identify pollen, a couple of boxes of disposable spoons for tasting honey, and a computer with which to record the correlations detected between honey, pollen (and thus, floral source), and bee location.

Those little notations that Fredericksen added with the laser printer are what allows you, with your bottle, to go to the Ames Farm website and find out exactly when and where your honey was made.

For instance, my bottle of elderberry honey comes from a farm in Martin County established in 1857; it comes from hive 857, super A. It was harvested last July 8. The web implies that if I want to drive myself insane, I could spend the rest of the month driving around to the various Kowalski's and co-ops looking for hive 857's other super, super B. I just might because I am simply mad about their super A. Why, it has a light, almost neon pale green color, and a light, subtle lemon-lime taste. It's clean and sunny and lilting, it's so pure and clean it's nearly buoyant in the mouth, and it has a whimsical floral finish, as if you've just caught a whiff of perfume from a pretty girl leaving the garden party. Who knows--maybe super B, harvested on July 20, had an even more intense floral sense, because now I have looked at my planner and realized it was pouring rain on July 5 and who knows what that did to my honey? That would certainly teach me a few things about life. (Speaking of life, the honeybees of the century farm in Martin County were orphaned this year when the man who had been caring for them for the last 60 years died, but Brian Fredericksen took them into his heart, and now they do what they ever did.)

My bottle of boneset honey from Center Creek, hive 751, super B, is dark, and it tastes of molasses and raspberry tea. It tastes slightly meaty, like pork juices concentrated in a pan; it has a long, long finish like a minty burnt lemon peel. It was collected on August 26 from a beehive in a cow pasture on Center Creek, not too far from Faribault. Boneset was a widely used plant in Native American and early American medicine; I've read that the name came along because it was used to cure a painful sort of flu called "break-bone fever," and also that it was thought that the way the leaves looked indicated it would heal bones. Who knows? Either way, honey, all honey, has amazing medical properties--it's antibacterial; anti-inflammatory; and heals ulcers, burns, flesh wounds, and eye wounds. In Australia and New Zealand they've spent millions of dollars studying the medical effects of honeys made from native plants, and they now use honey made from Australian manuka honey to cure antibiotic-resistant staph infections and wounds. Here in America, Ames Farm might be the only place producing boneset honey, and if it has any magical medical properties, I certainly hope you'll write a grant proposal and save us all from our ignorance.

Finally, there is my precious jar of limited-edition buckwheat, from a now-lost organic farm, hive 906, super D. Most Ames Farm honeys cost $5 for a nine-ounce jar at the farmers' market or about $8 in stores, but twice in his life Brian Fredericksen has found honey so astonishingly great, even by his standards, that he has called it a limited edition and raised the price by a whole dollar. This stuff is only available locally at France 44, and it has as many layers and as much nuance as a fine wine: 906D tastes like mahogany and tobacco, earth and whiskey, peat and port, a roast and a gingerbread and a long night in front of the fire with a fascinating Russian in big boots. This honey will never be re-created, not just because of the ever-changing nature of sun and rain, but because the organic farm it came from has been sold and converted to conventional, pesticide-heavy production. I cherish this honey.

I would go on and on about Painters' Creek common tansy honey, from hive 6, super F (light and sweet, orange blossom and thyme!) or the Minnetrista Meadows basswood honey, from hive 307, super A (mentholated and minty, grassy and green, like a Portuguese vinho verde, with a eucalyptus garnish), but I think you get the idea: Fredericksen calls them "single source" honeys, or "entities," or even, sometimes, "portraits." However you think of them, I think you can see that they are the land, the flowers, and the rain, as spoken by honeybees.

Part of the reason these honeys are so good is because of what Fredericksen doesn't do: He doesn't blend the honey from one super with another super. He doesn't boil it. He doesn't mess with it at all. It is "raw."

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