I vividly remember sitting in front of a pot of clover honey as a child and asking my mother why it had a picture of a flower on it (this was in the same kitchen, so I know that it was at the same age, that I was asking the uncomfortable questions about where beefburgers came from which led to me having been a vegetarian for the last 34 years).
Clover I recognised because we had it in our garden, and my mother explained that it was from those flowers that bees made this honey. It seemed a ridiculous idea (it reminds me now of the conversation I witnessed between an earnest friend and his 4 year old son who was asking how the tide came in. Dave explained about the moon and the pull on the water, and neap and spring tides, and when he’d finished little Alfie looked at him and giggled. ‘Don’t be silly, Daddy!’).
I remember pulling apart a clover flower shortly after this conversation with my mother, and concentrating very carefully as I nibbled the tiny ends which I had been told (‘don’t be silly, Mummy!’) contained the sugars which the bees collected to produce that pot I’d dipped into over breakfast. Hmm. There was, yes, a vague sweetness, but the claim that from this came my spoonful of pale creamy, buttery, slightly spicy honey was quite clearly just one of those fibs that adults told you.
In fact, bees have to visit 100 000 flowers for 10 grams of honey, so if I’d thought to multiply the taste I’d had from the clover petals, and then to reduce it as thousands of tiny wings reduce it by fanning to evaporate the water, my mother’s story becomes more believable.
But it’s good to retain that childish sense of awe before the miracle that is honey. This morning, as I did 34 years ago, I roll around my mouth the cool spoonful of clover honey. It’s sweet and light, with a citrus tang which changes to a sourish aftertaste that stops it being sickly to eat. Just as each of us has a deep instinctive association with the word ‘mother’ based on the woman who cared for us when we were first constructing our names for the world, each of us has an ‘ur’ honey against which we judge all others. Clover is mine; you never forget your first honey.
For more of my adventures in honey-tasting and honey-harvesting, read my Travels in Blood and Honey; becoming a beekeeper in Kosovo, published last year by Signal Books