Maybe it was what I learned from reading Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees that drew my interest to honey, also known as the nectar of the Gods. Maybe it was the memory of my mother making me drink a cup of tea with lemon and honey when I had a cold or a teaspoon of honey when my stomach was upset. Or maybe it was a combination of all of the above. All I know is that as I lay in bed last night for hours with an upset stomach and unable to sleep, I could hear my mother’s voice telling me to go have some honey. So I dragged myself out of bed and took a teaspoon of honey and within a few minutes, I could feel my stomach calming down and I was finally able to go to sleep.
When I finally fell asleep, my dreams were filled with honey. I had dreams about these bears that were so hungry for the taste of honey that they were willing to undergo being stung to get to that hive. I remembered a scene from Fried Green Tomatoes where Iggy was a bee charmer. I dreamt about making beeswax candles as a child. I remember the mother of one of my childhood friends rubbing our lips in the winter with beeswax to keep them from getting chapped. I remembered the saying about how an apple a day would keep the doctor away and my mother telling me to drizzle honey over that apple before I ate it. I remembered all the things my mother taught me to bake growing up Jewish and what a significant role honey played in all of that. Dipping the apples in honey was especially important on Rosh Hashanah. It is part of a prayer for a good and sweet new year. Honey brings me back to memories of my mother’s honey cakes, and drizzling honey on her homemade challah. I have found it interesting that the honey so often mentioned in the Hebrew Bible is that of the syrup of dates, for which I have a new reverence, not the comb honey we tend to think about.
Judaism is not the only tradition in which honey is important. For example, for Hindi’s honey is one of the five elixirs of immortality and is often poured over the deities in a ritual called Madhu abhisheka. Buddhist art frequently depicts a monkey bringing Buddha honey to eat in the wilderness. John the Baptist, in Christian writings is said to have lived on a diet of locusts and wild honey. The Qur’an, Hindi, and Jewish writings all talk about honey as a nutritious and healthy food, albeit consumed in moderation.
While honey has its spiritual roots, and its health benefits, at the end of the day it brings me back to my mother’s kitchen and memories of baking with her. When I am making her honey cake I am not necessarily thinking about how this is going to benefit my health or about where it is leading me spiritually. I am remembering the times and stories we shared while she taught me her lessons about baking and about life.
Mom’s Honey Cake
- 3 large eggs
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 fresh lemon rind , of grated
- 1⁄3 cup vegetable oil
- 1 cup honey
- 1 cup warm strong black coffee
- 3 ½ cups all-purpose flour , sifted
- 2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1 cup dark brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ cup slivered almond
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease and flour a 10-inch bundt pan.
- Place the eggs, lemon juice, lemon rind, oil, honey, and coffee in a bowl of an electric mixer. Mix on low speed until well blended.
- In a separate bowl combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cream of tartar, sugar, and cinnamon with a fork until mixed.
- Gradually add the flour mixture to the eggs mixture, mixing for about 5 minutes or until well blended. Fold in the slivered almonds.
- Pour the batter into the tube pan. Bake in the oven for 50 minutes to 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.