Honey Journal #32 -- The Minnesota State Fair
Name: (1) Ames Farms Single Source Honey -- Basswood. You can buy it in fine food stores in Minnesota or on the Internet here,
(2) Kallas Pure Honey -- Sunflower. Unfiltered and Uncooked. You can buy it: In fine food stores throughout Wisconsin and Minnesota or on the Internet here.
(3) Bar Bell Bee Ranch Dandelion Honey. You can buy it throughout Minnesota or on the Internet here.
Country: USA, Minnesota and Wisconsin
Color: (1) Grape Green (2) Dark brown sugar (3) Caramel
Flavor: (1) Sweet honey dew with crisp snaps of mint (2) Dark brown sugar with a spicy finish (3) Musky sweetness cut with a sneaky tart lime follow through.
Consistency: (1) Spreadably thick (2) Heavy syrup (3) Easy flow.
Fragrance: (1)Watermelon rind (2) Handful of dark raisins (3) Fresh cut hay.
Dennis and I were at the Minnesota State Fair, the biggest fair in the country, last week. Dennis has been coming for years, but this was my first trip. I was curious about three things: food, livestock and honey. The food was fried; the livestock, big; the honey, varied.
It didn't take long (about 18 seconds) to figure out that the main event of the fair is eating. It's really an orgy of food, most of it coated with dense batter and then boiled in oil. We're talking fried pickles, fried vegetables, fried hot dogs, fried cheese, fried chicken, fried chicken wrapped in bacon and fried, fried Twinkies, fried Oreo cookies and fried Snickers bars. Let's put it this way, if it can be fried, it will be. Good luck trying to find a salad. I felt like a wimp even thinking about one.
Where does this fixation with fried food come from? Is it a long tradition? Fried chicken okay. But fried candy bars? Do all other state fairs do it? I admit to being fascinated, but not terribly tempted. Obviously, others are. Over a million people attend the Minnesota fair.
Like all city kids, I'm mesmerized by farm animals. Who doesn't have a childhood memory of driving on a country road with his parents and someone in the car shouting "there's a cow!" Sheep were positively exotic. At state fair you can see all the farm animals you want. Many of them are very large: prize winning cows the size of small buildings.
The animals are accompanied by their owners. Look into the faces of these fine people, sharp creases cut into their sunburnt faces and you can only feel admiration. There are easier ways to make a living, so one assumes that they love their work and get great satisfaction from it. From the conversations I've had with farmers, I would say this is true. Or am I just romanticizing? In any case, I'm glad they do what they do. If they didn't, we'd all be in big trouble.
The fair had a fine, well organized honey exhibit in the Horticulture Building. You could sample and/or buy 30 or 40 different kinds of honey from a dozen different vendors. I picked out three -- two from Minnesota and one from neighboring Wisconsin. All three were monoflorals or single source honeys; that is, the bees perform their magic on a single type of flower in this case basswood, sunflower, and dandelion.
The dandelion honey from Bar Bell Bee Ranch has a sweet versus tart thing going on that's surprisingly complex given it's humble origins, the common dandelion. You also pick up clear traces of lime as it settles on the palate. The fragrance is very pronounced -- fresh cut hay. Took a little getting used to, but the more I sampled the more it grew on me.
When I think of dandelions of think of our backyard in Wilmette, Illinois. My dad took a lot of pride in his lawn. The dandelion, a weed with a nasty stem and small yellow petalled flower, was his sworn enemy. We had a special tool to combat it: a hollow green tube thing with a sort of pogo stick bottom that you'd press onto the individual dandelion weed to release a pesticide to kill it. I spent a not insignificant part of my youth in that fight. I won some battles, killed a lot of weeds, but never won the war. They always came back, those damn dandelions. I never thought I'd ever have something nice to say about them. Leave it to bees to bring the peace.
The sunflower honey from Kallas Farm has a pleasing spicy snap to go with its sunny sweetness. The bouquet has that dark raisin scent that many honeys share. Whenever I think of sunflowers now, I think of the trip that Dennis, Sue and I took through the Dakotas. Driving north on two lane Highway 83, we saw mile after mile, field after field of sunflowers. It's quite a sight. You see things on the open road you never thought you would. That's the glory of the road trip, especially when you take back roads.The sunflowers are so big and probably have so much pollen you can imagine one hive could satisfy itself on one plant.
I've saved the best for last, the basswood. Basswood honey has a prized reputation, something akin to tupelo honey. The small fragrant flowers of the basswood tree
are a bee favorite. What a revelation this honey was to me, totally unexpected! First the color: picture the inside of a green grape and you've got it. The flavor is ripe honeydew melon with a dash of mint.
I must warn you, this honey is not for everyone. Susie didn't like it. She happens to be allergic to melon so she may be biased. I thoroughly enjoyed it. So did Dennis. I also love the regal way it's packaged by Ames Farms. My beloved late brother Mark taught me about the importance of packaging. This is one of the nicest honey jars I've seen, worthy of this fine honey.
Of course, the best part of the fair is the people. The term "Minnesota Nice" is no exaggeration. You can square that when talking about Dennis's fans. Nowhere are they are more appreciative and loyal than in this great state. One final note: Dennis and I met the Republican candidate for Governor, Tom Emmer on this trip. He made a big impression on us both. The father of seven children, the man is as solid as a rock. He'll be a sensible, strong governor, and clearly a "the bigger the government, the smaller the citizen" leader. Electing him won't make up for the Al Franken fiasco, but it would be a major step in the right direction, literally.