Apes complent melle favos.—Tibullus.
The delicious, fragrant, and nutritive matter called Honey, is extracted by bees from the sugar existing in the nectaries of flowers, which sugar is converted into honey by being elaborated in the stomach of these insects. The process by which it is formed, during this animal elaboration, is speedily completed, and the luscious substance immediately deposited in waxen cells which the bees have previously constructed and joined together in one large mass, called the Honeycomb. When the bees are robbed of this precious deposit, the honey which trickles from the cells with the aid, in our climate, of a very small addition to the atmospheric temperature, and, in southern latitudes, by the heat of the air alone, is termed Virgin Honey; and that afterwards procured by additional heat and pressure, is the common honey. The first is much paler, much more fragrant, and better tasted; the latter is darker, coarser, and contains impurities, especially a portion of wax. In some honeys, there is a pungent, and sometimes an acrid, and even a rank flavour. Honey is therefore estimated according to the nature of the flowers from which it is produced; and as certain flowers are more prevalent in particular countries, the honey is designated by the name of the country in which it is produced.
The honey from the southern parts of France is in great repute. That from Narbonne is the most esteemed. It is produced from the flowers of the order of plants called Labiate, such as rosemary, sage, clary, lavender, mint, pennyroyal, basil, savory, thyme, marjoram, dittany, germander, and many others. All the labiate herbs are extremely aromatic, which accounts for the peculiar fragrance of this honey; they are also free from the principle which imparts to other honeys an acrid and pungent character. So particular are the Narbonnese bee-keepers in their choice of the flowers from which their bees collect the rich juice, that not only are choice plants cultivated round the hives, but at particular seasons, the bees are made to travel in search of labiate flowers, the hives being transported, by easy journeys, from one part of the country to another, and made to rest several days, sometimes weeks, at the stations best calculated to improve the fragrance of the honey.
The Narbonne honey is celebrated all over the Continent, as well as in Great Britain; and it has been found worth while, by unscrupulous tradesmen, to prepare and falsify a less costly material, and sell it, under the name of this, to persons unable, for want of experience, to detect the difference. But those who have once tasted the real Narbonne honey, can never mistake it. There is nothing to be found with the same peculiar fragrance. It is perfectly colourless when in its purest virgin state. In warm weather it resembles a clear syrup, limpid as the crystal stream. It is quite free from wax, and the common honey expressed from the comb contains very little.
In the island of Bourbon, there is a honey still more delicious and fragrant than that of Narbonne. Its colour is a light green; and, from the heat of the climate, it is so liquid that it is always kept in common black winebottles. It is not obtained from domestic bees, but is found in the woods, in hollow trunks of trees, where it is deposited in such quantities that several hundred pounds of honey and wax are sometimes taken from the same tree. What the particular colour of this honey is derived from we are unable to say; but its fragrance, no doubt, arises from the great variety of aromatic flowers that fill the forests of Bourbon, Mauritius, Rodrigues, and the other , smaller islands of the Indian ocean; but none other of these islands produce this particular kind of honey. Though the green honey of Bourbon is in the highest repute at the Mauritius and in the East Indies, we are not aware that any of it has ever reached this country.
The honey of Spain and Minorca is fine and fragrant, but inferior to that of Narbonne. In Italy there are several fine honeys, but they are not plentiful. Of the coarser kinds there is great abundance; and there is one kind that exists in the Milanese and in Switzerland, also in the Apennines, of which great use is made by the common people throughout Italy. It is produced from the fir, the pine, the birch, and similar trees. Besides being of a dark colour, almost black, its taste is disagreeably rank and strong. And yet with this honey we have seen very delicious dainties prepared. Well do we remember at Naples a young man with a humorous, good-natured, handsome countenance, his eyes full of fire and bespeaking a happy and elastic mind, who, each day in the street, under our window, prepared a treat of this kind for his countrymen. While at work, he was either singing—for he had a splendid tenor voice and the natural taste of the Italian peasantry—or uttering his jibes and jests to a crowd of lazzaroni by whom he was surrounded, waiting for the delicate regale. Before him stood a table, which he kept scrupulously clean—an unusual precaution for a Neapolitan of his class. At one side of the table was an upright, from which, and at right angles with it, projected a piece of iron, in the form of that instrument termed by laundresses "an Italian-iron." At the opposite end of the table was a small earthenware furnace with lighted charcoal; and from a nail at the side of the table hung a frying-pan with a short handle, of the form known in England by the name of saute-pan. Having placed upon the table a small quantity of polenta, which is the very fine meal of the maize or Indian corn, he mixed with it certain spices from a spice-box, then making a hole in the middle, he poured in a quantity of the black honey we have described, and worked the whole into a paste with a pair of wooden instruments, not touching the mass with his hands. When stiff enough, he further worked it with a rollingpin, rolling it every way, until at last he got it into the form of a gigantic German sausage. Taking this in both hands, he beat it against his Italianiron until it was perfectly white. He now rolled it out till it was no thicker than a dollar; then, with a tin mould of fantastic form, divided it into small symmetrical pieces. Meanwhile, he had placed upon the furnace his sautepan, charged with a convenient quantity of virgin olive oil. The moment this boiled, he threw iu his little bits of paste and fried them till they were of a light brown. They were now ready, and soon disposed of, to be eaten hot. No sooner was his paste exhausted than he began another batch, for which he had always customers waiting. We had the curiosity to taste this dainty, which we found so much to our liking, that during the remainder of our stay at Naples, we had a plate of it made every day for our own particular use.
The honey of England is inferior to that of the south of Europe both in colour and in taste; and it contains much more wax. It is collected chiefly from the flowers of furze, broom, and other leguminous plants. In Norfolk, and some parts of Scotland, where buckwheat is cultivated, the honey is said to be better; the improvement arising from the flowers of that plant, one of the Polyoone^:, of which bees are very fond.
There is a beautiful kind of honey found in Imerethi, a country belonging to Georgia, and also in some other parts of Asia. It is deposited by the bees in the clefts of rocks, where it crystallises and becomes hard. This honey is not viscid, but resembles the white sugar-candy of China in its purest crystalline condition. If kept a long time,'it assumes a yellow tinge. It is rich in sugar, but contains no mucilage. It will, therefore, not ferment spontaneously.