The story goes that when Tutankhamun’s tomb was being excavated, some intriguing ancient jars were discovered. On opening them up, the archaeologists found they were full of something dark and sticky and liquid, sweet-smelling. Poking a nervous finger into the jar (this is the bit I can’t believe. You just wouldn’t, would you. Do they not cover the risks of doing this kind of thing on archaeologists’ induction courses?) an archaeologist lifted a fingerful of the liquid to his lips and announced that it was honey, and delicious. Everyone buzzed (sorry) with the idea of eating millennia-old honey and brought the jar back to the lab for further analysis. On closer inspection they found that, deep inside the jar, in a slow – very slow – marinade within the honey, there were the well-preserved vital organs of some four thousand year old member of the court.
Are you feeling little queasy?
But it all goes to show that honey is an excellent preservative. Alexander the Great allegedly ordered his body to be stored in honey after his death, as did Shakespeare’s patron the Earl of Southampton. The honey is hygroscopic, absorbing water, and leaving none for the bacteria necessary for decomposition, and when it comes into contact with animal tissue, it produces hydrogen peroxide, which stops putrefaction.
So when the Cotswold Bees company markets ‘vintage London honey’ it doesn’t mean they are selling off out of date stock. The honey should have kept its flavour, and maybe even matured into something slightly better. I was intrigued to find out.
Looking at the jar you could imagine that Anubis might have presided over its sealing. The contents are dark and mysterious.
The aroma is malty and musky – late autumn leaves in scent as well as colour. It’s a pleasingly fluid honey though – not the encrusted crystals you might imagine if you’d dug out a twenty year old jar from the back of your cupboard.
Twenty years! It is some kind of miracle that this honey is here. I try to remember what the summer of 1991 was like. Bryan Adams, the Gulf war, John McCarthy’s release, and Time’s Arrow. What did it taste like?
It’s not as sweet as my memories. This honey is tinged with nostalgia in its mellowed caramel tobacco flavours, though its aftertaste is as strong and sweet as the first tones on your tastebuds. But of course what I’m getting now is in fact the aftertaste – the flavour that has lingered for a score of years, over half my lifetime. This honey is as delicious a concept as it is a richly flavoured treat.
My book, Travels in Blood and Honey; becoming a beekeeper in Kosovo is available on Amazon – or for a signed copy in a gift pack together with a Kosovan handcrafted honey drizzler, get in touch at email@example.com