This past week Boulder has been abuzz. The Colorado State Beekeepers Association held their conference in our buzy, buzzing town. So much talk about our pollinators.
Well fellow food lovers, chefs, food lovers, our pollinators are our friends. They keep our fragile ecosystem in balance and we owe them our lives. Now, I have been accused of exaggerating to make a point on occasion, but this is not one of those times. I promise. Pollinators are quite literally our life lines and they need our help. They need us to tend our gardens, to be conscious of their needs for clean organically grown food sources, and to be good stewards of our collective environment. In exchange, we get the long end of the stick. We get flowers and food in abundance, we get healthy animals, heck, we even get the cotton to make the clothes we wear. Those industrious little critters drive so much of the good in our world. Take a moment to bee (get it, “bee”, ha ha) thankful for those bees and the beekeepers who are helping them fro dying out. I mean let’s face it, we’re kind of in trouble when it comes to the bee population. It’s crashing. The bees need all the help they can get and that’s where the beekeepers come in. They work tirelessly, selflessly to make certain the bees have a fighting chance.. Well Yay for them.
That’s why, when Elyse Wood from the Boulder Farmer’s Market asked me to participate in a Farm to Table Bee honey dinner for the last night of the conference, I enthusiastically jumped on board. Who wouldn’t love the chance to celebrate bees and their honey. Kelly Whitaker from Basta and Cart Driver was the featured chef for appetizers and dinner and mali b would follow with dessert – all things honey based – YAY! Kelly outdid himself with monroe organic farm melon, clover honey, togorashi chicken liver mousse, orange blossom honey foccacia, roasted pork shoulder w/ wildflower honey & polenta isabelle farm fall squash lasagna, cure organic farm heirloom tomato carpaccio w/ housemade ricotta honey, and sous vide munson farms sticky corn w/ pickled sea beans. Take a moment. You know you want to; no, need to. You need to imagine the deliciousness and while you are at it, go get a napkin and wipe that drool from the corner of your mouth. But for me the question is/was, how to follow that?
I had this image of apples and honey dancing through my brain, but was feeling a bit dejected because my searches for apples recently had not been going well. Moving to Colorado was difficult on my food lust for several reasons, (Sorry Boulder, but love you as I do, you’ve got nothing on the farms of the East End!) and apples are way at the top of my “must have” list. Must have, crunchy but light outer skin, must have firm interior, must have juicy but not too juicy, must have just an edge of sweet to match the tart, must have perfect apples! Colorado’s apples might not have the same place in my heart as New York apples, but darned if I’m not going to try to find the right one anyway. Unfortunately…this year is not an apple year folks. A couple of factors, rainy May, warm winter, dry summer, etc. led to a less than stellar harvest year and I had been butting my head up against Mother Nature in my search for apples. And then…slowly and surely apples started cropping up at the Farmer’s Market. Not abundant mind you, but there nonetheless. I approached the stand with a bit of wariness and tried Masonville Orchard’s honey crisp. It wasn’t good. It was great! Delicious! Happily I purchased all I needed for the dinner and a bit of extra for my family (even though the dinner was not for a week, the folks at market told me the honeycrisp could be gone and I better get while the getting was good!)
So, apples, check. Elyse gave me a beautiful bottle of bee squared rose honey! and I picked up a bottle of Highland Honey Bees’ Osha honey. One sweet and one savory – you know I love a good mix of the sweet and savory. So, honey, check. Good start, but you can’t just have apples and honey to follow a complex creation from Kelly Whitaker…
What’s a chefess to do? I thought about mini apple pies right away – but because the subject of the dinner was to be pollinators and I love me some flowers, I thought I had to add some floral sweet and savory notes. Turning the pies into tartlets that resembled roses seemed like a no brainer. Instead of soaking the apple slices in a lemon juice water mixture to soften them and prevent oxidation, I decided to poach them lightly in the rose honey. That made them pliable enough to work with and gave them a balance of the honey note. To go with the tartlets, I wanted to use flowers from one of the local schoolyard gardens. I had just done a dinner at Dawson School and knew their garden had sunflowers, marigolds, and calendula which all together would make a great caramel. I mean who doesn’t love a little caramel with their apple
pie tartlet after all. So…caramel, check.
Still in flower mode I thought an herb might be nice, specifically an herb flower. Looking around I found oregano flowers in abundance and remembered a trick I had learned from my friend Claudia Fleming. She makes these herb syrups that are just that perfect blend of sweet and savory and put a little rare green color on the dessert plate. Tasty. And…pretty! And we all know I like to eat pretty. So, oregano syrup, check.
You know what else goes swimmingly with pie? Whipped cream. Well, ice cream, but you try doing a plated dessert for 100 and have your little cannelle of ice cream stay frozen long enough to make it to the table. SO, back to the whipped cream. Whipped cream seemed a little, well, not to disparage whipped cream, but wimpy. Nope, I needed something with a little more backbone. I settled on a mascarpone whipped cream infused with that yummy rose honey. That would stand up nicely and balance the flavors. So, delicious cream accompaniment, check.
But something was nagging at me. I had that Osha honey with its strong flavor and wanted to use it. I also had a texture issue to solve. There was crispy delicate pie crust, soft yielding apples with a hint of firm behind them, oozy caramel, drippy syrup, and soft cream. There needed to be a definite crunch. OOOOOOH! What about roasting some nuts in the Osha honey and turning them into a crumble. Yes brain, that’s just what this dish needed! Thank you brain.
And thank you pollinators, beekeepers, and Farmer’s Market for giving me inspiration. What resulted from this long story was a Masonville Farms rose honey apple tartlet with Dawson garden flower caramel, oregano flower syrup, rose honey mascarpone whipped cream and Osha honey roasted nut crumble. A mouthful. A delicious, delicious mouthful!