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Cottage County Cuisine - Cooking with golden honey is sweeter than sugar
The use of honey in cuisine definitely goes back to the ancient Sumerians and probably long into prehistory, and continues to this day, right here, in Muskoka because it’s so good. Packing more sweetness power than sugar, the golden product of the busiest of insects adds a special intensity, which can perhaps only be described as floral, to any sweet dish.
Honey starts with bees, of course, so we’ll start with Muskoka’s largest beekeeping/honey-producing business, Muskoka Honey Bee of Dwight, co-owned by Annmarie Boehm-Tapley and her husband, Ross Tapley. They boast they are the fourth generation in her family, training the fifth.
Boehm-Tapley’s paternal great-grandfather was of German extraction but lived in what was then Yugoslavia. At the end of World War II, he brought his family to Canada as refugees from a devastated continent. Moving to the Delhi, Ontario area, they became tobacco farmers. Her grandfather had died in the war; her father was a young boy, who learned beekeeping from his grandfather and father-in-law. Once grown up and running a business in Toronto, he kept bees at his cottage near Rosseau as a hobby until he and his wife retired and moved to Bracebridge. Throughout her childhood and youth, Boehm-Tapley helped maintain the hives.
In 2002, she, Ross and their young daughters also moved to Muskoka and decided in 2011 or thereabouts to pursue beekeeping as a business rather than a hobby. “The demand for honey was huge up here,” she says. “We kept running out.” Increasing production allowed her to sell at farmer’s markets and retail stores. In 2013, Muskoka Honey Bee Products was incorporated.
Boehm-Tapley now works four farmers’ markets – Bracebridge, Gravenhurst, Rosseau and Parry Sound – and sells through a number of stores and special events, listed on the company’s website. She also supplies many local restaurants and bakeries. Muskoka Honey Bee Products owns hundreds of hives on former homestead properties around Muskoka, and keeps their locations secret; a fully-operational hive is worth $1,000.
“There are only certain areas that have the wildflowers available in enough quantity to have hives,” Boehm-Tapley explains. “There has to be a water source, usually a stream, the right orientation to the sun, shelter from some sort of forest and open fields of all wildflowers starting with dandelions in the spring to the blooming trees to goldenrod in the fall – a constant turnover of flowers.” You may curse at those first yellow-gold blooms in your lawn in spring; not Boehm-Tapley. “I am the happiest woman in the world when I see dandelions,” she says. “So many pollinators survive on that first flower of the year.”
Beekeeping in Muskoka, due to the short season, requires extra work to keep the bees alive over winter. They are fed hard sugar candy in the fall, then again in spring as soon as the family can get to them. “We also give them pollen patties, as a source of protein, and that triggers the queens to start laying eggs,” says Boehm-Tapley, who is a licensed queen-breeder, qualified to raise and sell queen bees.
What about colony collapse disorder, the scourge of honeybees worldwide including in Ontario? North of Orillia, she says, it’s not a problem.
“There is no commercial farming anywhere near us,” she gives as the reason. The family never uses pesticides, convinced they are poisonous to the entire ecology of the land. Colony collapse disorder, she notes, pits farmers against beekeepers, when traditionally they were one and the same. “We need to get that balance back.”
Muskoka Honey Bee currently sells wildflower honey, creamed wildflower honey and cinnamon creamed honey (“you can make great little cinnamon rolls just by putting that on”), as well as non-food but fragrant products such as beeswax candles, honey soap and lip balm.
As soon as Muskoka Honey Bee has the proper licensing, they will open their Muskoka Mead division to sell honey-based alcoholic beverages. Two products are planned: Traditional Corked Bottle Honey Wine, which Boehm-Tapley hopes to start making in fall 2019 and selling in fall 2020, and Canned Carbonated Mead, which, “if everything aligns in the universe,” in her words, will be available next spring.
She is confident this aspect of the business could provide livings for both her grown daughters, if they so choose. Oddly, when the family works the hives, wearing suits that make a person look somewhat like an astronaut, their millions of tiny winged staffers tend to sting some family members more than others. One doesn’t mind, however: “My dad doesn’t wear gloves,” Boehm-Tapley says. “He likes to get stung because it helps his arthritis.”
Now on our honey-based culinary journey, we will visit two happy Muskoka Honey Bee customers. We’ll start with one that provides an entrée: Muskoka Honey Bee Honey Garlic Chicken Wings, as served at the Huntsville Brewhouse in downtown Huntsville. Affiliated with Lake of Bays Brewery in Baysville, it’s a very beer-oriented establishment, with brewing facilities right on the premises and a row of taps at which you can freely taste from all to find your fave. But they serve gourmet food, also.
Chef Brian Stone, originally of Pickering, wanted to cook professionally from childhood. Trained at Georgian Brown College, he did a simultaneous three-year apprenticeship at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto. He went on to work for 17 years at the Royal York under Master Chef George McNeill, providing cuisine to diners such as Prince Charles and Princess Diana, the Queen Mother, Pierre Trudeau, Ronald Reagan and the Sultan of Brunei. One time, required to stay on call overnight for the Sultan’s family, Stone was charged with fetching a bowl of cereals. In return, he was politely handed an envelope containing US $500.
“But I always loved the thought of living in a small town for a balanced lifestyle for me and my family,” Stone, who has three children, says. When the opportunity came up to work as a sous-chef at Deerhurst Resort, he took it. “I thought I’d be here just for a short time. But it was my last move. You’re on break having a cigarette and looking at boats, a lake, cottages; in Toronto, you’re looking at walls. Muskoka has all the things you wished for as a kid.”
Stone worked at Deerhurst for 20 years total, again serving world leaders during the 2010 G8. But, he explains, “as a sous-chef or executive sous-chef, you spend a lot of time sitting in an office.” Working at the Brewhouse since it opened in May 2018, he can do what he loves most: hands-on cooking. His philosophy: cook from scratch favouring local fresh ingredients and products. Nearby suppliers in addition to Muskoka Honey Bee include Whimsical Bakery, Windmill Bakery, Four Season Greens, Spring Hill Farms, Kawartha Dairy and Belly Ice Cream.
Baked to crispy perfection and sticky in your fingers as honey-garlic wings should be, these tasty morsels have a brightness in their flavour, even a delightful faint note of citrus. The recipe is deceptively simple (you already know two of the ingredients) …for a dish fit for a president, prince or Sultan.
And now, to a dessert featuring honey. Did I mention Whimsical Bakery? Across and a little way up Main Street in Huntsville, this establishment supplies the Brewhouse with brownies, smores and carrot-cake.
“Our name is Whimsical,” owner Christine Kropp points out, “because we aren’t traditional.”
Kropp, who used to bake Christmas cakes for all her friends, has been in Huntsville since April of 2012, starting a strictly-by-order business offering mostly wedding cakes, celebration cakes and cupcakes, and using an offsite commercial kitchen. Only since April of 2017 has the permanent staff of four, plus an additional two or three in summer, worked in their current location, with store, kitchen and eatery under one roof.
Here you can buy locally-produced jams, granola, juices, Beaver Rock coffee from Barrie, espresso, soup, frozen yoghurt, Kawartha Dairy ice cream, a sit-down light breakfast or lunch, and a wide range of baked goods made from scratch. And Muskoka Honey Bee honey, of course.
“We put it in our granola,” Kropp explains. “For sticky buns, we interchange it with syrup (in maple syrup season). We use it in our muffins, too.”
Why Upside-Down Pecan Cupcakes? “We were looking for a sticky bun recipe with no yeast in it, so we didn’t have to do the whole rise-and-bake thing,” she says. “It’s very much a coffee-cake-type texture, light and airy and sweet. You’re not getting that heaviness. And it’s easy.”
Kropp speaks not a word of a lie. If you want to get your fingers all sweetly sticky, this cupcake will certainly satisfy, but it is indeed light, as well as tender, juicy and cheerily rather than intensely sweet. The pecans are crunchy in a moist, melt-in-your-mouth kind of way.
Royal families should find out about these, too. Their sweetness did start with a queen.
Muskoka Honey Bee
Honey Garlic Wings
Brian Stone at Huntsville Brewhouse
2 cups Muskoka Honey Bee honey
(if available, or other honey if not)
¾ cup tamari sauce
½ cup minced garlic
• Slowly warm combined ingredients until simmering then shut off heat. Cool completely. Makes enough for four or five dozen wings, keeps well in fridge.
• Bake chicken wings until crispy, toss in a bowl of glaze and serve.
This glaze can be used on other cuts of chicken, ribs, other meats and other foods. Don't glaze before cooking as the glaze will burn black.
Upside-Down Pecan Cupcakes
Adapted from Style at Home by Christine Kropp
1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
1 egg, large
1 egg yolk, large
1 cup white sugar
½ cup canola oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ cup sour cream
1 ½ cup pecans, coarsely chopped
• Sift and combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.
• Beat the egg, egg yolk, and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed, until thickened and lightened to a cream colour (about two minutes). While mixing, stop to scrape the sides of the bowl as needed.
• On low speed, mix in the oil and vanilla extract until blended. Mix in the sour cream until no white streaks remain.
• Add the flour mixture until the batter is smooth
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
5 Tbsp Muskoka Honey Bee honey
(if available, or other honey if not)
2/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
• Combine all ingredients and cook in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the butter and sugar are fully melted and the mixture is smooth.
Instructions for Baking the Cupcakes:
• Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.
• Spray the inside of each cup of a 12-extra-large muffin tin with nonstick spray.
• Roast chopped pecans until toasted (6 minutes). Remove and turn oven up to 350.
• Evenly distribute topping in the 12 cups.
• Do the same with the pecans.
• Do the same with cupcake batter.
• Bake until the top of each cupcake feels firm and a toothpick inserted in the centre (just into the batter, not the topping) comes out clean (about 25 minutes).
• Cool cupcakes in the pan for two minutes.
• Loosen cupcakes gently around the sides with a small knife.
• Place wire rack over cupcakes, then invert the pan and rack so cupcakes fall onto rack. Cool completely and serve.
Chef’s Tip About Baking
“Most chefs don’t like to bake, because what we do is put in a bit of this and a bit of that,” says Brian Stone. “Baking is about measuring.”
• Measure ingredients by weight metrically. “It’s more precise,” says Christine Kropp.
• Always use unsalted butter in baking. “Because then you can control the amount of salt.”
• Kropp’s formula for substituting honey for sugar in a recipe: for every 1 cup of sugar use a ½ cup of honey, and for every cup of honey, subtract a ¼ cup of liquid.
• Any nuts will work in the above recipe. When you're roasting nuts: as soon as you smell them cooking, they're done.