Honey… Will you take out the garbage?

commercial_honey

I’m re-posting this as a public safety alert. I never knew this and I bake with a lot of honey. From now on it’s only “Buy Local” for me!  JW

Tests Show Most Store Honey Isn’t Honey

Ultra-filtering Removes Pollen, Hides Honey Origins

By Andrew Schneider 

More than three-fourths of the honey sold in U.S. grocery stores isn’t exactly what the bees produce, according to testing done exclusively for Food Safety News.

The results show that the pollen frequently has been filtered out of products labeled “honey.”

The removal of these microscopic particles from deep within a flower would make the nectar flunk the quality standards set by most of the world’s food safety agencies.

The food safety divisions of the  World Health Organization, the European Commission and dozens of others also have ruled that without pollen there is no way to determine whether the honey came from legitimate and safe sources.

honey-without-pollen

In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration says that any product that’s been ultra-filtered and no longer contains pollen isn’t honey. However, the FDA isn’t checking honey sold here to see if it contains pollen.

Ultra filtering is a high-tech procedure where honey is heated, sometimes watered down and then forced at high pressure through extremely small filters to remove pollen, which is the only foolproof sign identifying the source of the honey. It is a spin-off of a technique refined by the Chinese, who have illegally dumped tons of their honey – some containing illegal antibiotics – on the U.S. market for years.

Food Safety News decided to test honey sold in various outlets after its earlier investigation found U.S. groceries flooded with Indian honey banned in Europe as unsafe because of contamination with antibiotics, heavy metal and a total lack of pollen which prevented tracking its origin.

Food Safety News purchased more than 60 jars, jugs and plastic bears of honey in 10 states and the District of Columbia.

The contents were analyzed for pollen by Vaughn Bryant, a professor at Texas A&M University and one of the nation’s premier melissopalynologists, or investigators of pollen in honey.

Vaughn-Bryant

Bryant, who is director of the Palynology Research Laboratory, found that among the containers of honey provided by Food Safety News:

•76 percent of samples bought at groceries had all the pollen removed, These were stores like TOP Food, Safeway, Giant Eagle, QFC, Kroger, Metro Market, Harris Teeter, A&P, Stop & Shop and King Soopers.

•100 percent of the honey sampled from drugstores like Walgreens, Rite-Aid and CVS Pharmacy had no pollen.

•77 percent of the honey sampled from big box stores like Costco, Sam’s Club, Walmart, Target and H-E-B had the pollen filtered out.

•100 percent of the honey packaged in the small individual service portions from Smucker, McDonald’s and KFC had the pollen removed.

•Bryant found that every one of the samples Food Safety News bought at farmers markets, co-ops and “natural” stores like PCC and Trader Joe’s had the full, anticipated, amount of pollen.

And if you have to buy at major grocery chains, the analysis found that your odds are somewhat better of getting honey that wasn’t ultra-filtered if you buy brands labeled as organic. Out of seven samples tested, five (71 percent) were heavy with pollen. All of the organic honey was produced in Brazil, according to the labels.

The National Honey Board, a federal research and promotion organization under USDA oversight, says the bulk of foreign honey (at least 60 percent or more) is sold to the food industry for use in baked goods, beverages, sauces and processed foods.  Food Safety News did not examine these products for this story.

Some U.S. honey packers didn’t want to talk about how they process their merchandise.

One who did was Bob Olney, of Honey Tree Inc., in Michigan, who sells its Winnie the Pooh honey in Walmart stores.  Bryant’s analysis of the contents of the container made in Winnie’s image found that the pollen had been removed.

Olney says that his honey came from suppliers in Montana, North Dakota and Alberta. “It was filtered in processing because North American shoppers want their honey crystal clear,” he said.

The packers of Silverbow Honey added: “The grocery stores want processed honey as it lasts longer on the shelves.”

However, most beekeepers say traditional filtering used by most will catch bee parts, wax, debris from the hives and other visible contaminants but will leave the pollen in place.

Ernie Groeb, the president and CEO of Groeb Farms Inc., which calls itself “the world’s largest packer of honey,” says he makes no specific requirement to the pollen content of the 85 million pounds of honey his company buys.

Groeb sells retail under the Miller’s brand and says he buys 100 percent pure honey, but does not “specify nor do we require that the pollen be left in or be removed.”

He says that there are many different filtering methods used by beekeepers and honey packers.

“We buy basically what’s considered raw honey. We trust good suppliers. That’s what we rely on,” said Groeb, whose headquarters is in Onsted, Mich.

Why Remove the Pollen?

Removal of all pollen from honey “makes no sense” and is completely contrary to marketing the highest quality product possible, Mark Jensen, president of the American Honey Producers Association, told Food Safety News.

food-safety-news-good-honey-sample.jpg“I don’t know of any U.S. producer that would want to do that. Elimination of all pollen can only be achieved by ultra-filtering and this filtration process does nothing but cost money and diminish the quality of the honey,” Jensen said.

“In my judgment, it is pretty safe to assume that any ultra-filtered honey on store shelves is Chinese honey and it’s even safer to assume that it entered the country uninspected and in violation of federal law,” he added.

Richard Adee, whose 80,000 hives in multiple states produce 7 million pounds of honey each year, told Food Safety News that “honey has been valued by millions for centuries for its flavor and nutritional value and that is precisely what is completely removed by the ultra-filtration process.”

“There is only one reason to ultra-filter honey and there’s nothing good about it,” he says.

“It’s no secret to anyone in the business that the only reason all the pollen is filtered out is to hide where it initially came from and the fact is that in almost all cases, that is China,” Adee added.

The Sioux Honey Association, who says it’s America’s largest supplier, declined repeated requests for comments on ultra-filtration, what Sue Bee does with its foreign honey and whether it’s u
ltra-filtered when they buy it. The co-op markets retail under Sue Bee, Clover Maid, Aunt Sue, Natural Pure and many store brands.

Eric Wenger, director of quality services for Golden Heritage Foods, the nation’s third largest packer, said his company takes every precaution not to buy laundered Chinese honey.

“We are well aware of the tricks being used by some brokers to sell honey that originated in China and laundering it in a second country by filtering out the pollen and other adulterants,” said Wenger, whose firm markets 55 million pounds of honey annually under its Busy Bee brand, store brands, club stores and food service.

“The brokers know that if there’s an absence of all pollen in the raw honey we won’t buy it, we won’t touch it, because without pollen we have no way to verify its origin.”

He said his company uses “extreme care” including pollen analysis when purchasing foreign honey, especially from countries like India, Vietnam and others that have or have had “business arrangements” with Chinese honey producers.

Golden Heritage, Wenger said, then carefully removes all pollen from the raw honey when it’s processed to extend shelf life, but says, “as we see it, that is not ultra-filtration.

“There is a significant difference between filtration, which is a standard industry practice intended to create a shelf-stable honey, and ultra-filtration, which is a deceptive, illegal, unethical practice.”

Some of the foreign and state standards that are being instituted can be read to mean different things, Wenger said “but the confusion can be eliminated and we can all be held to the same appropriate standards for quality if FDA finally establishes the standards we’ve all wanted for so long.”

Groeb says he has urged FDA to take action as he also “totally supports a standard of Identity for honey. It will help everyone have common ground as to what pure honey truly is!”

What’s Wrong With Chinese Honey?

Chinese honey has long had a poor reputation in the U.S., where – in 2001 – the Federal Trade Commission imposed stiff import tariffs or taxes to stop the Chinese from flooding the marketplace with dirt-cheap, heavily subsidized honey, which was forcing American beekeepers out of business.

To avoid the dumping tariffs, the Chinese quickly began transshipping honey to several other countries, then laundering it by switching the color of the shipping drums, the documents and labels to indicate a bogus but tariff-free country of origin for the honey.

Most U.S. honey buyers knew about the Chinese actions because of the sudden availability of lower cost honey, and little was said.

The FDA — either because of lack of interest or resources — devoted little effort to inspecting imported honey. Nevertheless, the agency had occasionally either been told of, or had stumbled upon, Chinese honey contaminated with chloramphenicol and other illegal animal antibiotics which are dangerous, even fatal, to a very small percentage of the population.

Mostly, the adulteration went undetected. Sometimes FDA caught it.

In one instance 10 years ago, contaminated Chinese honey was shipped to Canada and then on to a warehouse in Houston where it was sold to jelly maker J.M. Smuckers and the national baker Sara Lee.

By the time the FDA said it realized the Chinese honey was tainted, Smuckers had sold 12,040 cases of individually packed honey to Ritz-Carlton Hotels and Sara Lee said it may have been used in a half-million loaves of bread that were on store shelves.

Eventually, some honey packers became worried about what they were pumping into the plastic bears and jars they were selling. They began using in-house or private labs to test for honey diluted with inexpensive high fructose corn syrup or 13 other illegal sweeteners or for the presence of illegal antibiotics. But even the most sophisticated of these tests would not pinpoint the geographic source of the honey.

Food scientists and honey specialists say pollen is the only foolproof fingerprint to a honey’s source.

Federal investigators working on criminal indictments and a very few conscientious packers were willing to pay stiff fees to have the pollen in their honey analyzed for country of origin. That complex, multi-step analysis is done by fewer than five commercial laboratories in the world.

But, Customs and Justice Department investigators told Food Safety News that whenever U.S. food safety or criminal experts verify a method to identify potentially illegal honey – such as analyzing the pollen – the laundering operators find a way to thwart it, such as ultra-filtration.

The U.S. imported 208 million pounds of honey over the past 18 months. Almost 60 percent came from Asian countries – traditional laundering points for Chinese honey. This included 45 million pounds from India alone.

And websites still openly offer brokers who will illegally transship honey and scores of other tariff-protected goods from China to the U.S.

FDA’s Lack of Action

The Food and Drug Administration weighed into the filtration issue years ago.

“The FDA has sent a letter to industry stating that the FDA does not consider ‘ultra-filtered’ honey to be honey,” agency press officer Tamara Ward told Food Safety News.

She went on to explain: “We have not halted any importation of honey because we have yet to detect ‘ultra-filtered’ honey. If we do detect ‘ultra-filtered’ honey we will refuse entry.”

Many in the honey industry and some in FDA’s import office say they doubt that FDA checks more than 5 percent of all foreign honey shipments.

For three months, the FDA promised Food Safety News to make its “honey expert” available to explain what that statement meant.  It never happened. Further, the federal food safety authorities refused offers to examine Bryant’s analysis and explain what it plans to do about the selling of honey it says is adulterated because of the removal of pollen, a key ingredient.

Major food safety standard-setting organizations such as the United Nations’ Codex Alimentarius, the European Union and the European Food Safety Authority say the intentional removal of pollen is dangerous because it eliminates the ability of consumers and law enforcement to determine the actual origin of the honey.

“The removal of pollen will make the determination of botanical and geographic origin of honey impossible and circumvents the ability to trace and identify the actual source of the honey,” says the European Union Directive on Honey.

The Codex commission’s Standard for Honey, which sets principles for the international trade in food, has ruled that “No pollen or constituent particular to honey may be removed except where this is unavoidable in the removal of foreign matter. . .”

 It even suggested what size mesh to use (not smaller than 0.2mm or 200 micron) to filter out unwanted debris — bits of wax and wood from the frames, and parts of bees — but retain 95 percent of all the pollen.

Food Safety News asked Bryant to analyze foreign honey packaged in Italy, Hungary, Greece, Tasmania and New Zealand to try to get a feeling for whether the Codex standards for pollen were being heeded overseas. The samples from every country but Greece were loaded with various types and amounts of pollen. Honey from Greece had none.

You’ll Never Know

sue bee

In many cases, consumers would have an easier time deciphering state secrets than pinning down where the honey they’re buying in groceries actually came from.

The majority of the honey that Bryant’s analysis found to have no pollen was packaged as store brands by outside companies but carried a label unique to the food chain. For example, Giant Eagle has a ValuTime label on some of its honey. In Target it’s called Market Pantry, Naturally Preferred  and others. Walmart uses Great Value and Safeway just says Safeway. Wegmans also uses its own name.

Who actually bottled these store brands is often a mystery.

A noteworthy exception is Golden Heritage of Hillsboro, Kan. The company either puts its name or decipherable initials on the back of store brands it fills.

“We’re never bashful about discussing the products we put out” said Wenger, the company’s quality director. “We want people to know who to contact if they have questions.”

The big grocery chains were no help in identifying the sources of the honey they package in their store brands.

For example, when Food Safety News was hunting the source of nine samples that came back as ultra-filtered from QFC, Fred Myer and King Sooper, the various customer service numbers all led to representatives of Kroger, which owns them all. The replies were identical: “We can’t release that information. It is proprietary.”

One of the customer service representatives said the contact address on two of the honeys being questioned was in Sioux City, Iowa, which is where Sioux Bee’s corporate office is located.

Jessica Carlson, a public relations person for Target, waved the proprietary banner and also refused to say whether it was Target management or the honey suppliers that wanted the source of the honey kept from the public.

Similar non-answers came from representatives of Safeway, Walmart and Giant Eagle.

The drugstores weren’t any more open with the sources of their house brands of honey. A Rite Aid representative said “if it’s not marked made in China, than it’s made in the United States.” She didn’t know who made it but said “I’ll ask someone.”

Rite Aid, Walgreen and CVS have yet to supply the information.

Only two smaller Pacific Northwest grocery chains – Haggen and Metropolitan Market – both selling honey without pollen, weren’t bashful about the source of their honey. Haggen said right off that its brand comes from Golden Heritage. Metropolitan Market said its honey – Western Family – is packed by Bee Maid Honey, a co-op of beekeepers from the Canadian provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia.

Pollen? Who Cares?

Why should consumers care if their honey has had its pollen removed?

“Raw honey is thought to have many medicinal properties,” says Kathy Egan, dietitian at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass.  ”Stomach ailments, anemia and allergies are just a few of the conditions that may be improved by consumption of unprocessed honey.”

But beyond pollen’s reported enzymes, antioxidants and well documented anti-allergenic benefits, a growing population of natural food advocates just don’t want their honey messed with.

There is enormous variety among honeys. They range in color from glass-clear to a dark mahogany and in consistency from watery to chunky to a crystallized solid. It’s the plants and flowers where the bees forage for nectar that will determine the significant difference in the taste, aroma and color of what the bees produce. It is the processing that controls the texture.

Food historians say that in the 1950s the typical grocery might have offered three or four different brands of honey.  Today, a fair-sized store will offer 40 to 50 different types, flavors and sources of honey out of the estimated 300 different honeys made in the U.S.. And with the attractiveness of natural food and the locavore movement, honey’s popularity is burgeoning. Unfortunately, with it comes the potential for fraud.

Concocting a sweet-tasting syrup out of cane, corn or beet sugar, rice syrup or any of more than a dozen sweetening agents is a great deal easier, quicker and far less expensive than dealing with the natural brew of bees.

However, even the most dedicated beekeeper can unknowingly put incorrect information on a honey jar’s label.

Bryant has examined nearly 2,000 samples of honey sent in by beekeepers, honey importers, and ag officials checking commercial brands off store shelves. Types include premium honey such as “buckwheat, tupelo, sage, orange blossom, and sourwood” produced in Florida, North Carolina, California, New York and Virginia and “fireweed” from Alaska.

“Almost all were incorrectly labeled based on their pollen and nectar contents,” he said.

Out of the 60 plus samples that Bryant tested for Food Safety News, the absolute most flavorful said “blackberry” on the label. When Bryant concluded his examination of the pollen in this sample he found clover and wildflowers clearly outnumbering a smattering of grains of blackberry pollen.

For the most part we are not talking about intentional fraud here. Contrary to their most fervent wishes, beekeepers can’t control where their bees actually forage any more than they can keep the tides from changing. They offer their best guess on the predominant foliage within flying distance of the hives.

“I think we need a truth in labeling law in the U.S. as they have in other countries,” Bryant added.

FDA Ignores Pleas

No one can say for sure why the FDA has ignored repeated pleas from Congress, beekeepers and the honey industry to develop a U.S. standard for identification for honey.

Nancy Gentry owns the small Cross Creek Honey Company in Interlachen, Fla., and she isn’t worried about the quality of the honey she sells.

“I harvest my own honey. We put the frames in an extractor, spin it out, strain it, and it goes into a jar. It’s honey the way bees intended,” Gentry said.

But the negative stories on the discovery of tainted and bogus honey raised her fears for the public’s perception of honey.

She spent months of studying what the rest of the world was doing to protect consumers from tainted honey and questioning beekeepers and industry on what was needed here. Gentry became the leading force in crafting language for Florida to develop the nation’s first standard for identification for honey.

In July 2009, Florida adopted the standard and placed its Division of Food Safety in the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in charge of enforcing it.  It’s since been followed by California, Wisconsin and North Carolina and is somewhere in the state legislative or regulatory maze in Georgia, Virginia, Maryland, Ohio, New York, Texas, Kansas, Oregon, North Dakota, South Dakota, West Virginia and others.

John Ambrose’s battle for a national definition goes back 36 years. He said the issue is of great importance to North Carolina because it has more beekeepers than any other state in the country.

He and others tried to convince FDA that a single national standard for honey to help prevent adulterated honey from being sold was needed. The agency promised him it would be on the books within two years.

“But that never happened,” said Ambrose, a professor and entomologist at North Carolina State University and apiculturist, or bee expert. North Carolina followed Florida’s lead and passed its own identification standards last year.

Ambrose, who was co-chair of the team that drafted the state beekeeper association’s honey standards says the language is very simple, ”Our standard says that nothing can be added or removed from the honey. So in other words, if somebody removes the pollen, or adds moisture or corn syrup or table sugar, that’s adulteration,” Ambrose told Food Safety News.

But still, he says he’s asked all the time how to ensure that you’re buying quality honey.  ”The fact is, unless you’re buying from a beekeeper, you’re at risk,” was his uncomfortably blunt reply.

Eric Silva, counsel for the American Honey Producers Association said the standard is a simple but essential tool in ensuring the quality and safety of honey consumed by millions of Americans each year.

“Without it, the FDA and their trade enforcement counterparts are severely limited in their ability to combat the flow of illicit and potentially dangerous honey into this country,” Silva told Food Safety News.

It’s not just beekeepers, consumers and the industry that FDA officials either ignore or slough off with comments that they’re too busy.

New York Sen. Charles Schumer is one of more than 20 U.S. senators and members of Congress of both parties who have asked the FDA repeatedly to create a federal “pure honey” standard, similar to what the rest of the world has established.

They get the same answer that Ambrose got in 1975:  ”Any day now.”

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A FRESH LOOK AT EGGS

eggdiagram

The information below is reposted from the only Chef I follow online. Chef Todd Mohr. You can check out Chef Mohr’s web site at;   http://www.webcookingclasses.com   (you may have to copy and paste this)   JW

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Exquisitely simple, yet enormously complex, the egg is one of nature’s marvels. The real facts about eggs have been scrambled in recent years, as they’ve gotten a bad rap for being high in cholesterol and fat. This singular view has ignored the enormous benefit of fresh eggs to the human body and the entire culinary world.

Nature designed the egg as the food source for developing chicks. Eggs, in particular chicken eggs, are also an excellent food for humans because of their high protein content, low cost and ready availability.

The most nutritious eggs ARE the freshest, from your local farm. Nutrition declines with age in an egg that must be shipped across the state or the country. Often, eggs must be additionally treated for such a long journey, even if that means exposing them to unnatural treatment until purchased by you.

One of the stunning facts about eggs comes from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, which has created a scale to measure the efficiency with which protein is used for growth in the human body. This is called a “Biological Value”.

Egg contains the highest quality food protein known. Based on essential amino acids it provides, egg protein is second only to mother’s milk for human nutrition. On a scale with 100 representing the top efficiency, eggs are rated at 93.7 percent in protein efficiency.

Comparing protein efficiency breaks down like this;   Eggs = 93.7%      Milk = 88%    Fish = 76%

Beef = 74%   Soy and Rice protein were even less efficiently absorbed and used by the body.  Only breast milk rated higher than the egg!

One of the many beneficial elements in an egg is called Biotin, one of the B vitamins which play an important role in cell metabolism and the utilization of fats, proteins and carbohydrates in the human body. Biotin is present in egg yolk. An egg white omelet may have less fat, certainly has no flavor, but also omits this important B vitamin.

While eggs are widely known as breakfast entrees, they also perform in many other ways for the knowledgeable cook. Their cooking properties are so varied, that they have been called “the cement that holds the castle of cuisine together”.

When you know the true facts about eggs, you’ll realize that there is barely an area of the kitchen, for the professional or the home cook that eggs don’t touch.

Eggs can:
Bind – meatloaves, Lasagna, croquettes
Leaven – baked goods, soufflés, and sponge cakes
Thicken – as in custards and sauces
Emulsify – mayonnaise, salad dressings, hollandaise sauce
Coat or Glaze – cookies or breads
Clarify soups – to make consommé
Inhibit crystallization – in boiled candies and frostings
Garnish – chopped egg whites and/or yolks give a finishing touch.

Eggs are composed of three basic parts, the shell, the yolk and albumen. The shell is made of calcium carbonate, and prevents microbes from entering as well as moisture from escaping. It’s the casing that protects the egg during handling and transport. The color of the egg shell is determined by the breed of the hen and has no bearing on its nutritional value or flavor.

The egg yolk is the yellow portion of the egg which takes up only 1/3 of the egg’s mass, but accounts for ¾ of all the calories, minerals, vitamins, and all of the fat. The yolk contains lecithin, which is an emulsifier that enables us to make mayonnaise, dressings, and hollandaise sauce.

Albumen is the clear portion of the egg, often referred to as the egg white, taking up 2/3 of the eggs mass but none of the fat and only 16 calories. Whipped egg whites can hold twice their volume in air, and create a protein web that helps leaven baked products. There’d be no Angel Food Cake without whipped egg whites, among many other baked goods.

What about that pesky strand that always seems to cling to the shell when you’re trying to crack them? This is called the “Chalazae Chord”. It’s the thick, twisted strands of egg white that anchor the yolk in place, They are NOT embryos nor imperfections as many people believe, but the more prominent the chalazae, the fresher the egg.

I’ve gathered three types of eggs for today’s Great Egg Test. If you missed the last blog post, there’s still an opportunity for you to see the Farm Eggs Challenge from the Downtown Baltimore Farmers Market. (see you tube video at; http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=eYz2z4UFbrw )

I’ve just returned from there after interviewing two egg providers. The first raises their hens in cages and feeds a corn and soybean meal. The second feeds a vegetarian diet and the chickens are raised in hen houses. Both treat their animals in the kindest, most humane fashion. Each explained how they give the birds twice the room required by law.

But, the egg test is not about passing judgment on the treatment of animals, that’s for another day. I’m concerned with the end-product. I want to know if a cage free egg is actually better than one from a hen that lives in a cage.

I’ll also bring in a third contestant, a plain white egg from the grocery store. I have no idea of its origin or how its mother lived. Since most people get their eggs from a display case and not the farmers market, I’ve chosen to bring in the mass-produced egg as a comparison.

The first event in my Egg-lympics is the spread test. After cracking each raw egg onto a plain white plate, I notice how it fills the surface. The more an egg spreads on the plate, the less fresh it is.

A truly fresh egg is measured by how high the yolk sits atop the white. Instantly, I notice a difference between both farmers market eggs and the grocery store one. The mass-produced egg spills like water onto the plate and rolls around as I pick it up to view. The yolk is spread almost flat and has a dull yellow color.

The egg that came from a caged hen being fed corn and soybean gave a much better display. The bright yellow yolk displayed a high arched dome sitting on the jiggly albumen. The egg still spread to the edges of the plate, but did not slide around like it was in water. It’s clearly a fresher egg than the grocery store version.

The third contestant is the cage-free bird that eats a vegetarian diet. This egg has the darkest yolk, more orange than yellow. The yolk perches on the egg white like it’s sitting on a throne, up straight and proud. It does spread more than the caged egg, but the yolk is stronger.

Event number two in this egg test is the frying test. As I put each egg into its own omelet pan, I notice immediate differences. The grocery store egg flattens as it cooks and the yolk becomes a cloudy yellow. The cage-free egg cooks nicely, the yellow yolk sinking a bit into the white that quickly dries out.

The winner of the cook test is the cage-free egg. Once cracked into the pan, it retains its original position, not spreading, now weeping. It looks like a picture of an egg in a magazine, with three tiers leading to the orange yolk. The white stays moist and shiny. It clearly looks the best cooked.

However, it’s really the flavor test that I’m most interest in and the grocery store egg is again last in the race. It tastes like water. The yolk is mealy and flavorless. While egg whites are not usually known for their flavor anyway, this one has LESS flavor than water.

There’s a clear difference in flavor between the mass-produced egg and both eggs from the farmers market. The local eggs both have a much more pronounced flavor. There’s an “earthy-ness” to both eggs that the factory egg just can’t match.

From this point, it’s really just a matter of your personal preference. For my palate, the cage-free vegetarian-fed egg had a creamier yolk, a moister white, and a more complex flavor that gave me a sense of the farm they were raised on. The eggs from caged hens was excellent also, just not as much complexity of flavor to my tastes.

So, who wins the Great Egg Test? You do!  Start buying local eggs from your farmers market. It will be your gateway into seeking out wholesome, fresh ingredients that benefit your community, your farmer, your earth, and your body as well. Buy local, buy fresh and you’ll always have the best ingredients.

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I hope this post clarifies some of the information about the egg for you. Sadly, there is a lot of misinformation being presented as facts  out there by anti meat/egg groups just as there is a lot of purposeful misinformation about sugar, gluten and other evil ‘poster child’ of the day food.  Please, do your homework before deciding how and what you should eat.

Personally, I am not much a meat eater simply because I find it hard to eat an animal that is a social creature. (cares for their young, plays, teaches and has has social interaction with others within its species). I eat this way because for the present I have that choice. But, if it were a choice between survival and dying, no cow would be safe near me.

Having said that, I do eat fish, eat eggs, butter, milk and cream in cooking. My decision is personal, just as yours should be.  JW

Who put the lentils in my Shepards Pie?

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When I think of lentils I can’t help but imagine the Biblical scene where Isaac’s laying on his death bed and Jacob’s about to supplant his brother Esau by fooling Isaac with a bowl of lentils and a sheep’s skin wrapped around his arm to imitate his wild and  hairy brother.

“Oh, man!” Isaac exclaims, “This is the blandest set a beans I ever did eat! Y’all gotta’ be Esau ’cause Jacob’s a fine bred man and no fine bred man would waste his time on these here mushy undersized beans!” Turning to his wife who’s in cahoots with Jacob to steal Esau’s blessing, he ask her, “Is this here boy intent on killin’ me? ‘Cause if he is, he’s doing a quick job of it!… “Oh, I’m a dead man fer sure now!”

OK, I know Isaac didn’t have a Texas cowboy accent but I think they call what I just wrote literary license or something like that… it’s allowable under the right circumstances. Besides, I know Isaac would have fallen in love with Texas.

So you ask,  what has lentils got to do with Shepard’s pie? Plenty if you want a meatless dinner for a change. I’m not going to haggle about the good or bad of beef here, that’s for you to decide upon. I will say that if you ain’t eating real Range of Grass fed beef then all them cancers and other such medical maladies might just be your own fault. ‘Nuff said about that!

Back to the Pie. You can easily replace the lentils here with 1 lb of grass fed chipped or ground beef but for the sake of my daughter in law who fed me this surprisingly good dish, I’ll keep it to her original recipe.

Now, a bit of history (you know I’m a big history buff so bare with me) “Shepard’s pie” began as “Cottage pie” somewhere around 1791 or about the time poor folks here started eating potatoes. The word cottage did not mean a small vacation home along the banks of an upstate New York lake, instead a cottage was a small dwelling, sometimes made of sod, logs or if available, cut lumber. It was a humble abode built mostly by poor folk. Shepard’s Pie was the American version of the French Ratatouille (made famous in the  Disney film of the same name). Most every culture’s favorite recipe comes from poor folks kitchen for survival and not created to impress folks. Basically it was a mish mash of veggies that were available to the poor from their own gardens. Potato’s had been thought to be poisonous a bit before that so they weren’t real common. Maybe the early settlers saw the Irish eating them without dying and that convinced the poor folks in this country that eating a potato may not be so bad after all. I mean the Irish were alive even after getting pie faced on there homemade whiskey so maybe they were onto something. Today we call that moonshine and someday I’ll put my recipe for it on this site since it too is a Heritage Recipe… illegal but a Heritage recipe none the less.

The first time “Shepard’s” pie was found in writing is in 1877. Now folks bicker about the origins but I’m figuring most all cultures have their own version of Shepard’s pie, the same as the French with their Ratatouille. In rural Appalachia where potatoes don’t grow well, bread crumbs were used and Shepard’s Pie was called Cumberland Pie.  So now you know.

The recipe is simple.

Ingredients
1 1/2 pounds of russet (white) potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon butter
3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, divided
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, finely diced
1/2 cup finely diced carrots
1 tablespoon water
3/4 cup frozen corn kernels, and 1/2 cup of peas, thawed
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 14-ounce can vegetable broth
1 1/2 cups cooked or canned (rinsed) lentils (see Tip)

Place potatoes in a large saucepan and cover with 2 inches of water. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce
heat to medium, partially cover and cook until tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Drain and return the potatoes to the pot. Add
buttermilk, butter and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Mash with a potato masher until very smooth. Add enough water to get the potatoes similar to frosting, but not soggy. Dry potatoes don’t spread well.

While the potatoes are cooking, position rack in upper third of oven; preheat broiler. Coat four 10- to 12-ounce
broiler-safe ramekins (or an 8-inch-square broiler-safe baking dish or glass pie dish) with cooking spray. Place ramekins on a broiler-safe
baking sheet.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, carrot and water. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until
softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in corn, thyme and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper; cook,
stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes. Sprinkle with flour and stir to coat. Stir in broth. Bring to a simmer; cook, stirring, for
1 minute. Stir in lentils and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes.

Divide the hot lentil mixture among the prepared ramekins (or spread in the baking dish). Top with the mashed potatoes. (Don’t get upset if they don’t spread easily, just do what you can).
Broil, rotating halfway through, until the potato is lightly browned in spots, 6 to 10 minutes.

In a large frying pan I add the veggies and spices then simmer until soft.

In a large frying pan I add the veggies and spices then simmer until soft.

I have my mashed potatoes all done

I have my mashed potatoes all done

Here I add my cooked Lentil beans to the veggies

Here I add my cooked Lentil beans to the veggies

I simmer these until thickened with the flour

I simmer these until thickened with the flour

When ready, I pour the mixture into a pyrex pie bowl

When ready, I pour the mixture into a pyrex pie bowl

I carefully top the mixture with my very soft mashed potatoes

I carefully top the mixture with my very soft mashed potatoes

Perfectly cooked!

Perfectly cooked!

Earlier in this post I mentioned the Scott/Irish connection to their wonderful distilling of Moonshine. I was about to post my own recipe for “Moonshine” but then wondered if WordPress might delete it since the making of Moonshine is not actually legal. (Distilled spirits). So instead I did a slight alteration and in the end I think it’ll be a lot easier on you if you decide you want to wet your lips on the real McCoy of booze.  With this recipe, you’ll have no need to run out and buy a bunch of sheet copper, tubing and silver solder to make a still with. Today you can find real “Moonshine” in many State liquor stores. So here in this post I am using a store bought jar of Moonshine for the photo…note that I said “Jar” and not the spirits.

Anyway, to make one of the best flavored moonshines all you need is some fresh or frozen berries… plus a hunk of burnt oak wood.  Add a hand full of the berries into your “Jar” of moonshine. You may need to empty out some of the spirits in the jar so it don’t overflow before you add the berries. (That means drink some of it!) I use a mixture of Black, Blue and Raspberries in equal amounts. The burnt piece of wood is important in removing a lot of the bite in the original moonshine. It acts as a wooden cask does. It absorbs the bite and mellows the shine with the carbon from the burnt wood. It only take a hunk the size of a 9 Volt battery. Find a nice dried oak twig, cut it into a 2″ long piece and burn 1/2 half of it pretty well. DON’T put the hot ember in your shine, this may cause it to blow up! Instead, drown the hunk in tap water then when you’re sure it has no burning ember to it, place it in your jar of shine. 2-3 weeks later, Strain the shine through a coffee filter and you will have the best berry flavored moonshine you ever tasted! And a lot of the bite will be gone too. Before replacing the cap, reinsert the burnt oak wood piece. This will continue the “aging” process of the shine. Real shine is drank straight from the still after adding a bit of water to it. This is a bit more refined than straight Moonshine and if you’re a woman (not being sexist here, just fact) you’ll appreciate the mellow berry taste. Men on the other hand won’t admit to that and decry the fouling of real undiluted shine. We all know men will pretend to enjoy anything that makes them look manlier than they really are so bare with them ladies. JW

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