That is a question I and at least one other reader of this blog asked after my last post, Spoiled Honey Made Good, a title taken from a recipe in an ancient Roman cookbook. Before answering it from a modern perspective, it would be interesting to know what the Roman perspective was, because according to Apicius it can indeed. It is not uncommon, even nowadays, for people to think that honey has gone bad when it crystallizes. It certainly is not as easy to use as it is in its more liquid form (bees I think are generally of this opinion as well although they will try to work with it). However, all one need do is heat it to restore it to its former state.
However, crystallization can lead to fermentation, and once this happens, it’s probably safe to say that the honey has ‘spoiled.’ Think about what bees are doing to nectar to turn it into honey: all that flapping about reduces the moisture in the nectar. If you leave your jar of honey unsealed especially in humidity that moisture gets sucked right back in. A higher moisture content than what is normally acceptable creates an environment where yeast can grow, and the presence of yeast leads to fermentation. A good explanation of this process can be found at the Honey Bee Suite and at the Smithsonian site. Note that even though heating honey can return it to its liquid state, this is only temporary and it can change the taste and texture. Of course, that change can mean you’ve just made yourself some mead, so maybe spoiled honey isn’t so bad after all.
Queen bees (where I haul myself onto one of my soapboxes)
The lovely reproduction of a cave painting on the subject of honey-gathering puts me in mind of a recent bit of news, especially as the figure in the cave painting has all the appearance of a female (or is just my overwrought imagination?). American Antiquity published findings from a study claiming that paleolithic cave painters in Europe were more likely to be women than men. The study concentrated on the size of hand prints left on the cave walls which are generally regarded to be the signature of the artist. Because of the size, it had been assumed that most of the handprints were likely to be those of adolescent males. However, scientists devised a measurements involving the length of the ring finger that helped to determine sex.
I suppose this conclusion can be debated, but I find it interesting that what has been accepted so far, that males even adolescent males at that were the artists, was considered more of a likely prospect (without any hard evidence) than the possibility of female creativity. The study of ancient humans is one area that, to me anyway, is rife with gender-based subjectivity and this study underscores that observation.
Marin Alsop, an American conductor, became the first woman to conduct the Last Night of the BBC Proms (for those of you who do not know what the Proms are, they are concerts in the same tradition as that of the Boston Pops -inside promenade concerts-but with a very British flavor, especially on the Last Night). Alsop in her address to the audience admitted that she was “quite shocked that it can be 2013 and there can still be firsts for women”. Another summary of an article in my newsfeeds stated that “Andy Murray is the first Brit to win Wimbledon in 77 years if women are not considered to be human” Four women have actually won since 1936, but as that doesn’t really count, most of the reporting had it that Murray was the first Brit.
You know where I am going with this; do I have to connect the dots? Guys do wonderful things. I know, I live with one. But one of them is not giving credit to women, essentially denying them their history. So, Marin, we still need to remark on firsts, even though a lot of these firsts may actually be seconds, thirds, etc. If we as women don’t do it, who will?
Autumn Watch (which starts this week) beware!
For more on the cave paintings, see:
Oh, and about those bees
Let’s end on a nice positive note. We fed the bees on Sunday and affixed the mouseguards. The last week or so has been relatively warm and they seem to have still been bringing in massive amounts of pollen. So we have held back with feeding. But as a major rain and windstorm was predicted for this week, we gave them something to work with during their confinement to quarters. Of course, if a recent BBKA article* is anything to go by, we may just have poisoned them, although my husband assures me we haven’t been boiling the sugar syrup solution. Oh well….
*The BBKA article in question: Bridget Beattie. Feeding Bees: Is feeding heated sugar syrup to honey bees bad for them?” BBKA News: the newsletter of the British Beekeepers’ Association. November 2013, p27+. This article is in response to a query about a statement by the same author but in a previous article about the toxicity of boiling ‘the mixture’. Those not BBKA members may not be able to see this article online (I can’t find it). A good discussion that might clarify the point can be found at
http://www.beesource.com/forums/archive/index.php/t-247744.html. What it comes down to, if you can believe it, is semantics-what we mean when we say sugar. If your mixture is simply cane sugar and water, you should be fine unless you boil to the point of caramelization. If you are using something like corn syrup, you are on questionable ground. The BBKA article, in my opinion, is a bit equivocal as all the evidence the author musters seem to have come from a lab looking at the different effects of heat on sugars. No studies about well-meaning beekeepers wiping out scores of bees in an effort to keep them fed. Still and all, I did go down and check to see if there was life after reading the article….