FOOD FOR THE WESTERN MIND

Many of you have enjoyed my Western and Heritage cooking recipes on this blog but did you know I also write Westerns?  Yup!

Now Red Dashboard Publishing has revived the famous dime novel! The dime novel was made famous in the late 1800’s to early 1900’s, especially with its Western Series.

There are two great reasons to purchase a dime novel.

1) It revives a form of entertainment from a bygone era.

2) MY STORY, SUNSET GOLD CANYON, HAS BEEN PUBLISHED INTO A DIME NOVEL!!!

It is now available on Amazon.com

Just type in JW EDWARDS into the search box on Amazon.com or copy and paste this link; http://www.amazon.com/Sunset-Gold-Canyon-JW-Edwards/dp/1499586663

index

 

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SAVE THAT ‘OL HAM BONE

hambone

 

It’s been weeks since Easter but today I re-enjoyed the fruits of my spiral sliced Easter ham. Well, technically it was my daughters ham since she had invited me over for dinner but let’s not split hairs here on ownership. Besides, I ended up with the ham bone when I realized she was about to throw it away so I rescued it.

Upon returning home, I immediately wrapped and froze it.

Today during my hunt for some breakfast vittles I spied that ‘ol ham bone (it actually called my name from the freezer and called out, “eat me!”).

My first thought in rescuing the ham was to cut off as much usable large pieces of meat from it and save the rest for bean soup. (somewhere in my blog I’m sure I have a recipe for bean soup, if not, shame on me!) By the time I prepped everything, the ham bone was still partially frozen so I had a bit more difficulty in saving the nice spiral hunks clinging to it. Frustrated by my ineptness that early in the morning (5:30 am) I decided to just strip the bone bare as possible and grind like hamburger whatever meat I could glean from it.

That ham bone produced a whopping 2.5  pounds of incredibly delicious  ground ham! And to think it was destined for the trash bin!

Below is a pictorial of making one of the most delicious breakfast I’ve enjoyed since moving here to the desert of Arizona.

My nearly 4 pound rescued ham bone

My nearly 4 pound rescued ham bone

Chopped up and ready for the grinder

Chopped up and ready for the grinder. Notice how much smaller the bone is now.

My 30 year old KitchenAid

My 30 year old KitchenAid

I have to hand it to the KitchenAid folks, the hopper is just the right size

I have to hand it to the KitchenAid folks, the hopper is just the right size

Using the small hole plate and cutter blade, the ham quickly ground into a perfect blend of high quality ham fat and meat.

Using the small hole plate and cutter blade, the ham quickly ground into a perfect blend of high quality ham fat and meat. Opps, sorry about the blurriness, my bad.

I recovered 2.5 pounds of delicious meat and fat from that 'ol bone!

I recovered 2.5 pounds of delicious meat and fat from that ‘ol bone!

Bagged by the pound

Bagged by the pound

With the ground ham all fried up to my liking, I throw in a couple of eggs and mix it all together.

With the ground ham all fried up to my liking, I throw in a couple of eggs and mix it all together.

A couple of slices of my home made bread to toast makes for a great breakfast sandwich (the recipe for this bread is located in an earlier post in this blog).

A couple of slices of my home made bread to toast makes for a great breakfast sandwich (the recipe for this bread is located in an earlier post in this blog).

I added a slab of cheddar to it all and had a very fine breakfast... and still have enough for at least 10 more breakfast sandwiches too boot!

I added a slab of cheddar to it all and had a very fine breakfast… and still have enough for at least 10 more breakfast sandwiches too boot!

A note of caution... after grinding and washing, soak or spray all the parts in bleach water for 5 minutes before packing the grinder away. Better safe than sorry.

A note of caution… after grinding and washing, soak or spray all the parts in bleach water for 5 minutes before packing the grinder away. Better safe than sorry.

 

 

 

Why you need this little wonder in your kitchen

real butter bell

I recently posted a story about a neat little heritage kitchen device that I use everyday in my home that is commonly referred to as a butter crock, a French Butter Dish or just simply, a butter keeper.  I had originally posted a photo I took of a inferior butter keeper I own  and then inadvertently referred to it as a Butter Bell. This would be similar to calling a cheap generic facial tissue a ‘Kleenex’. While both may be used to wipe a nose, there is a great difference in quality.

So, let me clear the air. The  Butter Bell® crock shown above is far superior in quality to the one I had originally posted the photo of and wrongly called the Butter Bell®. For that, I offer my apologies to all the good folks at the L. Tremain company as they definitely do not make a generic quality product but produce a high quality butter keeper that you’d be proud to own.

As many of you know, I never advertise a name brand product disguised in the form of a post. But, this is a blog about Heritage and Trail cooking so from time to time I need to give a heads up on a product in order to prevent you from buying inferior or copy cat products. An earlier example of this is in my blog regarding cast iron cookware and the warning I sounded about cheap, poorly made imports from China.

So, to photograph a quality product for my post here, I’m using the real  Butter Bell® butter keeper made by the L. Tremain company

It arrived quickly by mail and I immediately set about unpacking it from its well designed styrofoam and cardboard shipping box. No damage noted. I then compared it side by side to my knock off Butter Bell® butter keeper. What a difference in quality! The knock off Butter Bell® butter keeper had multiple obvious flaws, not only in its shape but especially in its glazing. Being so poorly made, it was no wonder the manufacturer did not bother to put their company name on it!  My advise in this post is this; If you are spending good money on a butter keeper and want top quality, then consider purchasing the Butter Bell® butter keeper over a knock off.

Now, back to my original post.

Tearing and then having to throw your freshly toasted bread away because your butter was too chilled to spread without damaging your toast is frustrating and wasteful. Having soft butter on hand is invaluable to the cook, the baker and the poor soul at 5 am trying to butter their toast. The biggest problem with keeping unrefrigerated soft butter available at all times is that it can turn rancid or moldy. In a short time due to ambient air, airborne contaminates and heat foster mold and rancidity. The common non sealed butter dish does little to prevent this.

moldy butter

Since oxygen is the main culprit along with airborne mold spores to room temperature butter, a better method was needed in preservation technique.  With the invention of creating a water trap which seals out fresh air in the 1800’s, the butter keeper prevents contaminate filled air from touching your butter, thus allowing it to stay at room temperature for an extended time without spoiling. Some of these butter keepers were huge and held many pounds of butter in them. For today’s kitchen, the present 1 stick capacity does a great job!

As I mentioned, this is not a new invention but one from at least the early 19th century. At that time it was called a French Butter Dish. One precaution here. Make sure you keep your butter clean and contaminate free. Food crumbs, jelly etc can contain mold spores, sugar and bacteria that can spoil your butter. Keeping your butter free of these contaminates is easy and takes only a few seconds before replacing the top.

Here’s a diagram of the L. Tremain companies Butter Bell® describing how their butter crock works.

Posted with permission

Posted with permission


                                                        Below are photo’s of my new Butter Bell® being readied for use.

most butter keepers hold 1 stick of butter

most butter keepers hold 1 stick of butter

Filled and ready to be turned upside down into the base portion which holds the water.

Filled and ready to be turned upside down into the base portion which holds the water.

A bit of advice;

1- Wash and thoroughly dry your crock (I mean real dry!) A wet crock will not let the butter adhere to the inside and it will fall out into the lower water receptacle when turned upside down for storage.

2- Fill the lower water receptacle about 1/3rd cup with clean cold water (or to the manufacturers recommended depth.)

3- After each use, I remove any specks of crumbs or contaminates that may have gotten in it to prevent spoilage.

4- When it’s time to refill your crock, It’s best you wash and completely dry it before refilling.

As I was waiting for my new Butter Bell® to arrive so I could use it in this post, I received an email from the L. Tremain company with an attachment showing a photo of one of their latest products that they are very excited about… A Cow Pattern Butter Bell® crock ! How cool is that? It matches my cow creamer and sugar set I keep displayed on my breakfast table. I need to order this pronto!

Can a person have too many designs? I think not!

Can a person have too many designs? I think not!

For more information about the L. Tremain Inc. Butter Bell® and how to purchase one, go to  http://www.butterbell.com. If you navigate through their website, you will discover lots of other quality kitchen products, specials and even pantry items. It’s worth checking out.

One further FAQ. Since I use my own kitchen to photograph most of my finished recipes in, from time to time I receive emails asking about a kitchen item shown in the background of the photo. I have had numerous inquiries asking about my coffee maker.

It is a Techni Vorm Moccamaster KGBT 741 with thermal carafe. They are hand made in Holland and sell for about $300. They are readily available online from many American sources. An interesting note is that in Italy and a few other European countries, a bride is given one of these as a wedding present by her family. If the bride does not receive one, it is a sign of bad luck. (BTW, it makes incredible Cowboy coffee too!)

For more info go to; http://www.technivorm.com.  See products.

A great tasting oven baked French Fry? No way!

12

First, let me state for the record that I used to say that oven baked French Fries are about as appetizing as a cooked Gila Monster…YUCK!   Until I tried these!

I can’t even remember where I got this recipe from so I can’t give the credit to the rightful person. Whoever you are, thank you big time.  I grew up in Idaho and since I was old enough to exchange breast milk for spuds, I’ve been eating these things with gusto. I consider myself a true spud connoisseur.

I’ve tried cooking potatoes in every form imaginable with pleasure but one form that I’ve consistently turned my nose up at is the oven baked French Fry. They either turn out so crisp that they cut the roof of your mouth or so mushy that they mimic a mashed potato.  Well guess what? This recipe fills the bill for great tasting fries!

Now spuds are a staple for the trail cook. Tossed directly into a fire, home fries made in a skillet or even baked in a portable oven, potatoes can be cooked in numerous ways. But good tasting non-deep fried french fries have always been elusive… until now.

Try them and see for yourself. It’s all I’m asking.

Seasoning Ingredients

3 large russet potatoes, peeled and cut into good sized pieces.

1/2 tsp of salt

1/2 tsp of pepper

1/2 tsp of paprika

1/2 tsp of garlic powder

2 TBL of grated  Parmesan cheese

1 TBL of olive oil

Oddball stuff

*Lots of ice

*A big bowl

*Parchment paper lined baking pan (Not really needed but it keeps the pan from getting all messy)

*A gallon sized zip lock type storage bag

Directions for making and baking

Preheat oven to 425 degrees—– baking time will be 35 minutes (preheating is important if you’re using your portable camp oven.)

Peel and cut your potatoes into pieces a bit thicker than a McDonalds fry but not the size of a true potato wedge. Immediately place the cut fries into a bowl. Add a bunch of ice to the bowl and fill with water until the potatoes are covered. Let stand for 45 minutes to an hour to deep chill the fries. (This is important!  The combination of cold and soaking in water forces the extra starch a russet contains, out of it but leaves the sugars intact.  (In this case, you want to keep the russets sugar but not the starch.)

In a large plastic storage bag place all the dry ingredients in it including the Parmesan cheese, and shake it up until well mixed.

When your fries are done being chilled, drain off all the water and pour the fries out onto a cloth towel to absorb any remaining water. Give them a good rubbing to get them dry.

Place the chilled and now dry fries into the plastic storage bag that contains the spices and grated cheese. Do a shake and bake to get them all good and covered.

NOW, add the olive oil to the same  bag and redo the shake and bake again to make sure every fry is well coated with the oil / spice mixture.

Pour the fries onto the parchment lined baking sheet and spread them out so they don’t touch each other.

Bake until a golden brown.  (around 30 -35 minutes, begin checking at 30)

Rare pictures of french fries being made… 

Gather up your fixens

Gather up your fixens

Get your spuds in order

Get your spuds in order

cut up spuds and get 'em soaking in ice water

cut up spuds and get ’em soaking in ice water

 

prepare your baking sheet.

prepare your baking sheet.

 

Mix up your spices and grated cheese in a gallon storage bag.

Mix up your spices and grated cheese in a gallon storage bag.

 

keep your olive oil close at hand

keep your olive oil close at hand

 

place dried but chilled fries into your spice filled storage bag and do a 'shake and bake'  to 'em.

place dried but chilled fries into your spice filled storage bag and do a ‘shake and bake’ to ’em.

 

Once the fries are well coated with the seasoning, add your olive oil and man handle the bag  until every fry is well coated

Once the fries are well coated with the seasoning, add your olive oil and man handle the bag until every fry is well coated

 

Once your fries have absorbed all the spice/oil mixture, lay them out in your pan like this.

Once your fries have absorbed all the spice/oil mixture, lay them out in your pan like this.

When done baking, they should look like this.

When done baking, they should look like this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hey cowboy, would you like some biscotti with that cup of Arbuckles?

b9

Double chocolate walnut biscotti recipe

OK, I know you Heritage recipe purist may not think of biscotti as a true American Heritage recipe but you’re wrong… For those who still disagree, you may want to hold off until you taste these before condemning me to dangle from the hanging tree.

Biscotti comes from the two Italian words bis and cotti, which means twice or two times baked in Old West lingo. In Roman times biscotti lacked some of the flavorings of today’s biscotti but remarkably it remains similar to today’s biscotti.

Since refrigeration was virtually nonexistent in Roman times or in the days of the Old West, drying foods was a common practice. Twice drying foods could be made so hard that even long voyages at sea couldn’t soften them.  I bet you didn’t know that Sailors and American pioneers on the trail alike made biscotti to take on their long journeys did you?  A recipe from the early 1800’s was found even calling for almonds to be added. Since then bakers seemed to find no end to what could be included in them.

In Roman times, biscotti was popular by dipping it in wine to soften it up, by the time it arrived over here, Arbuckles coffee* was the dippers choice.  Biscotti to the pioneer was like hard tack to the early day sailors…minus the weevils! So, go make up a batch, grab a cup of coffee, rent a Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Western movie and enjoy a true Americana Heritage cookie!

This recipe will make between 30 and 40 biscotti and can be topped with powdered sugar or  dipped in a chocolate coating.

For the larger amount of biscotti, use the amounts featured within the ( ) symbols.

Ingredients

2 (3) cups of all unbleached purpose flour

1/2 (3/4) cups of unsweetened cocoa powder

1 (1 ½) teaspoon baking soda

1/2 (3/4) teaspoon of salt

1 (1½) teaspoon vanilla

2 (3) teaspoons of instant espresso coffee

3/4 (1) stick of butter, softened (not melted)

1 (1 ½) cups of granulated sugar

2 (3) large eggs

1 (1 ½) cups of chopped walnuts or a nut of your choice

3/4 (1) cup of semi sweet dark chocolate morsels

 

Topping/Coating

 

Confectionery sugar

              Or

Chocolate dip coating – follow your morsel companies directions on making a dipping chocolate. I normally use Hershey’s dark morsels. For each 12 oz package I melt and mix into it 1 heaping Tablespoon of shortening…DO NOT USE OIL OR BUTTER! The water in these will ruin your chocolate.

 

Directions- read thoroughly before starting

 

Preheat oven to 350°F. butter and flour a large baking sheet or use parchment paper.

In a bowl whisk together flour, cocoa powder, espresso powder, baking soda, and salt. In another bowl with an electric mixer beat together butter and granulated sugar. Add eggs and vanilla then beat until combined well, continue until light and fluffy. Stir in flour mixture until it forms a stiff dough. Stir in walnuts and chocolate chips.

On your prepared baking sheet with floured hands form the dough into two slightly flattened logs, each 12 inches long and 2 inches wide, and sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar or wait until they are completed and coat with chocolate dip coating .  If you are using the larger recipe make logs 3” wide. Bake logs 35 minutes, or until slightly firm to the touch. Cool biscotti on baking sheet for 5 minutes until able to touch.

On a cutting board cut biscotti perpendicular to the log into 3/4 to1 inch slices. Arrange biscotti, cut sides down, on baking sheet and bake until crisp, about 10 minutes. Cool biscotti to room temperature on a rack before eating or dip coating. If dip coating, transfer biscotti afterward to refrigerator until the chocolate dip coating hardens.

Divide mixed dough into two equal parts to form into logs.

Divide the mixed dough into two equal parts to form into logs.

roughly formed logs. Coat hands completely with flour to handle sticky dough

Roughly formed logs. Coat hands completely with flour to handle sticky dough

Flastten logs a bit using the palm of your hand. The logs will spread out as they cook.

Flatten logs a bit using the palm of your hand. The logs will spread out as they cook.

After the first baking, cut the logs into the size you want. I'm a pig so I make BIG pieces!

After the first baking, cut the logs into the size you want. I’m a pig so I make BIG pieces!

Back they go into the oven on their side for the 2nd baking

Back they go into the oven on their side for the 2nd baking

Let them cool now until room temperature. Next step is the topping

Let them cool now until room temperature. Next step is the topping

Dip each biscotti into the melted chocolate and place on a cookie sheet to cool in the fridge over night. In the morning, grab your coffee and one of the tastiest treats you'll ever make... and it'll for sure impress your friends too!   JW

Dip each biscotti into the melted chocolate and place on a cookie sheet to cool in the fridge over night. In the morning, grab your coffee and one of the tastiest treats you’ll ever make… and it’ll for sure impress your friends too! JW

*Arbuckles coffee;

Arbuckles’ Coffee began in the post Civil War Era of the 19th Century. Two brothers, John and Charles Arbuckle, initiated a new concept in the coffee industry; selling roasted coffee in one pound packages.  Until that time, coffee was sold green and had to be roasted in a skillet over a fire or in a wood stove.  You can imagine the inconsistency of the coffee.  One burned bean ruined the whole batch.  The Arbuckle Brothers were able to roast a coffee that was of consistently fine quality and the first to be packaged in one pound bags. They also discovered that by coating the beans in an egg wash, the beans could be preserved for long periods of time without rotting.

Needless to say, Arbuckles’ Coffee caught on like wild fire.  It was soon able to be shipped around the United States and became a favorite in the Old West.  In fact, Arbuckles’ Ariosa Blend became so popular in the Old West that most cowboys didn’t even know that there was any other. While a company has rejuvenated the Arbuckles brand the only surviving direct relation today to Arbuckles coffee is the Yuban brand.

Arbuckles coffee was a very strong coffee and to tame the bitterness egg shells were added to the pot during brewing. I myself do the same… with a modern twist. I bake my egg shells, crush them fine them store them in a container. Each batch of coffee gets a teaspoon of the crushed shells in the grounds. The calcium carbonate in the shells act like Tums to the coffee, removing much of the acid. JW

Pancakes… Olde vs Modern

Pancakes… 1588 style

Pancakes-1588-Making

 It seems pancakes have had little change until the mid 1800’s. In the mid 1800’s leavening agents first made the scene, thus… the fluffy pancake. But, if you desire to try out the world’s oldest known recipe for pancakes here it is. Culinary historians have converted the amounts into modern day measurements. (Historians converted the Olde English measurements into metrics and I converted metric into our American standards as best as I could)

 Below is the recipe. Notice there is no leavening used but I’m sure the unpasteurized Ale, if left overnight, might cause it to act a bit as a yeast bread. My guess it was used as a bitter agent to offset all the sugar or to curdle the cream. I may be way off base here since no one in 1588 bothered to explain why they used ale. Truthfully, I should have just drank the Ale.

Pancakes-1585

If this recipe is accurate (along with my conversions) then these folks sure loved their sugar!  English recipes sometimes leave the pallet a bit flat but gets even worse when you look at the Olde English breakfast called a flap jack! It’s nothing like our pancake. Take my advice, some recipes are better left to history.

 

Pancakes 1588 Recipe (Above recipe) converted into modern measurements

Recipe Ingredients.

  • 300ml cream (1 ¼ cups)
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 175g plain flour (¾ cup)
  • 60ml ale traditional British ale (2 oz)
  • 100g sugar (7 Tablespoons)
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 25g butter (for frying) (2 Tablespoons)

Directions.

In a mixing bowl sift in the flour, ground cinnamon and ginger. Make a well in the center and using a spoon mix in the egg yolks. Then switch to a whisk and gradually whisk in the cream, then the sugar, then the ale, making a smooth and silky batter.

Use an 8 inch (or 20cm) non-stick frying pan (or a traditional English griddle) and for each pancake grease it lightly with a little butter – carefully wipe the surface over with a little softened butter dabbed onto a piece of kitchen paper, folded over to thicken it, keeping your fingers from the heat. For the first pancake heat the pan until the butter smokes, then turn the heat down a little.

Pour about 1/4 cup of the batter into the center of the pan, and quickly tilt the pan to and fro to spread the mixture thinly across the surface evenly. The amount of batter poured in should just coat the surface of the pan, no more.

—————————————————————————————————————————————————————————-

Now, for a much better tasting pancake try this recipe. I love the hint of vanilla found in this fluffy version.

buttermilk_pancakes_1

  If you’re trail cooking you will need an ice chest or cooler to preserve the buttermilk, sour cream etc outdoors. These pancakes end up nice and fluffy with a delicious hint of vanilla

Makes sixteen 4-inch pancakes

The pancakes can be cooked on an electric griddle or frying pan. Set the griddle temperature to 350 degrees and cook as directed. It’s best if you use a lower-protein all-purpose flour like Gold Medal or Pillsbury. If you use an all purpose flour with a higher protein content, like King Arthur, you will need to add an extra tablespoon or two of buttermilk. The lower the protein or gluten, the more cake like your pancakes will be.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups of unbleached all purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 Tablespoonbakingpowder * see note below
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda * see note below
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
  • 1 – 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon of cream of tartar. or 1/4 teaspoon of citric acid. (citric acid is roughly four times as strong, so you have to reduce the amount used by four. If your recipe calls for a teaspoon of cream of tartar, use 1/4 teaspoon citric acid.)

Instructions

1. Whisk flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, cream of tartar (or citric acid) and baking soda together in medium bowl. In second medium bowl, whisk together buttermilk, vanilla, sour cream, eggs, and melted butter. Make well in center of dry ingredients and pour in wet ingredients. Whisk until combined then Allow batter to sit for a few minutes to allow leavening to begin (Bubbles will form).

2. Heat 1 teaspoon oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Using paper towels, carefully wipe out oil, leaving thin film of oil on bottom and sides of pan. This insures even cooking. Using ¼ cup measure, portion batter evenly on griddle. Cook until edges are firm. When the first side is golden brown, and bubbles on the surface are beginning to break, (2 to 3 minutes) then using your spatula, flip the pancakes and continue to cook until second side is golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes longer.

If you wish a good recipe for homemade maple tasting syrup (Non high fructose corn syrup) you will find it within this blog under; Homemade syrups and ingredient replacements.

* Test your baking soda and baking powder once a month… here’s how

Baking soda. Place 1/2 tsp of vinegar into 1/2 cup of water and add 1/2 tsp of soda… if good it will bubble violently.

Baking powder. Place 1/2 tsp of baking powder in 1/3 of a cup of HOT water…it should bubble violently.

Using out of date ingredients is the most common reason for recipe failure!

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.”