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Sweet Memory

Randolph Couple Gifts Vintage Honey

Pastor Lynn and Donna Gatz with buckwheat honey Mrs. Gatz’ father produced six decades ago. Photos by Beverly Kehe-Rowland

Recently, Pastor Lynn and Donna Gatz spent a few hours in their kitchen while working on a sweet project. The Randolph couple were preparing a surprise for their children and Donna’s siblings.

In the 1930s, Mrs. Gatz’s father, Edwin Larson and a man called Buzzy, hauled bees back and forth from Minnesota to Texas in a large truck. The pair did this seasonally for many years.

“This is still being done. The bees pollinate the southern farms and the northern farms,” says the daughter.

After he married, Larson kept bees at his Ludington, Mich. farm, “the widest place in the road.” His daughter suited-up and helped her dad extract the honey in the honey house. Victor, her oldest brother, was allergic to bees and was given allergy shots in the 1950s.

The biggest share of the honey was sold commercially to Holland Honey Cakes Company in Holland, Mich., which the company used in its delicious Honey Cakes. Much to the beekeeper’s surprise, the year he chose to plant a field of buckwheat, the bees produced honey that was black in color. Because the bakery was expecting amber honey and because buckwheat honey had a much stronger flavor than what he had supplied to them in the past, Larson kept the honey for his family’s use.

Mrs. Gatz pours buckwheat honey into jelly jars for gifting family members.

“Being frugal, Dad thought we should use honey in everything we made, including Kool-Aid, which was OK unless the Kool-Aid was left in the hay mow for a few days. Water causes honey to ferment,” his daughter said with a grin.

Mrs. Gatz, the oldest of the Larson’s children, had three one-gallon jars of the buckwheat honey at her home, which she decided to put it into smaller jars to take to a family retreat in Sun River, Ore., on the Deschutes River near Bend. The most interesting, even amazing part of the story, is the fact that the honey was produced in the early 1960s. As expected, crystallization had taken place. After the retired Seventh Day Adventist pastor had opened two of the gallon jars, his wife put the dark-colored liquid in the top of a single double-boiler. When the water in the bottom pan came to a boil, she turned off the burner, stirred the honey a bit until the crystals dissolved. Throughout this process, she was careful not to get water into the honey.

“Honey never spoils,” she said.

The very dark liquid was then poured into 8-ounce dry, sterile jelly jars to be taken to her family members. There was no need to process or refrigerate the jars.

“We tried to find dad’s original labels,” said Mrs. Gatz. “He sent away for four-color labels. It was done by mail back then and was special.”

Mrs. Gatz brought out the sweet surprise when her brother made waffles for breakfast.

“They were very surprised and didn’t remember the honey being in the basement,” she reports. “We had it on hot homemade waffles and they relished it.”

She had a gift for everyone. She took “artsy things to the kiddos.”

This was the second year the family rented a very large house with the six remaining Larson siblings, their children and grandchildren for a total of 28 participants. Some came in recreational vehicles, some flew in and others attended for one day, the event that was started at a beachfront house two years ago as a birthday celebration. The same house has been reserved for next year’s gathering, but in order to accommodate college students, it will take place in June.

Larson kept bees on the farm for 15 years, until his death in 1968, after which time his wife sold the beekeeping equipment. Victor, who was 18-years old, took over the 167-acre farm.

“The kids had been doing a lot of the farming because Dad was a foreman at a foundry,” said their oldest sibling.

Aside from working at the foundry and selling honey, the father of eight supplied cases of eggs to area restaurants and bars. The demand was biggest when the fishermen converged on their town during the Coho Salmon run. Mrs. Larson sold eggs and honey when interested parties stopped by the house.

Over the years, Victor bought acreage as neighboring farmers sold off land, growing the farm to 400 acres. He also bought a second farm before he passed away in 2016. His son, Tad, and his two teenaged sons run the farm that now grows soybeans and corn. Another of Larson’s sons, Allen, continues his dad’s legacy of beekeeping in Boring, Ore.

Honey is the only food product produced by an insect, which humans consume. Unfiltered raw honey will crystalize faster than filtered honey. Some of the oldest honey found was in tombs of the Egyptians dating back several thousand years. It contains low moisture levels and is naturally acidic, making it difficult for spoiling bacteria to grow. There is an enzyme found in the stomach of bees, which breaks down into chemicals inhibiting the growth of bacteria and other organisms.

Just two tablespoons of the sweet, golden, or even black, liquid will give a bee enough energy to fly around the world. Honey contains water, vitamins, minerals and enzymes necessary to give the body energy.

It has been said it is the only known food containing all of the ingredients needed to keep a person alive. More and more as people are learning that honey is beneficial in treating seasonal allergies, they are seeking local beekeepers. Honey produced locally is required because it contains the allergens of local plants.

Honey is delicious on toast, muffins and scones, stirred into hot or cold tea, combined with citrus juice to glaze meat or wherever one’s imagination leads.

A few honey recipes follow. Mrs. Gatz remembers the Holland Honey Cakes being very heavy and dense and coming in plain and raisin or currant varieties. The company is no longer in operation.

HOLLAND HONEY CAKE

1 c sugar

1 c honey

1 c milk

4 c flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp cloves

1/2 tsp nutmeg

Mix all ingredients together in 3 qt bowl using a mixer. Pour the thick batter into 2 greased bread pans. Fill pans half full. Bake at 300 degrees for 50-60 minutes.

HONEY-GINGER FLUFF

2 c heavy cream

1/4 c honey

1/2 tsp ginger

Chill medium-size bowl and beaters. Beat cream until stiff. Gradually add honey and ginger while continuing to beat. Chill two hours before serving. May be used as a fruit or graham cracker dip or to frost cake.

HONEY-PEACH BUTTER

18 medium peaches, peeled and coarsely chopped

1/4 c water

3/4 c honey

1 1/4 c sugar

In a large saucepan, cook peaches in water until soft. Put through food mill or sieve. Measure 6 cups into large saucepan. Stir in honey and sugar. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Simmer until mixture thickens, about 40-50 minutes. Fill 3-4 dry, sterile half-pint canning jars. Process by water bath method. Cool. Check to be sure jars have sealed.

LEBKUCHEN

3/4 c brown sugar

1 egg

1 c buckwheat honey or 1/2 c dark molasses and 1/2 c honey

3 c flour

1 1/4 tsp cinnamon

1 1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp allspice

1/2 tsp cloves

1/2 tsp soda

1/2 c candied mixed peels

1/2 c slivered blanched almonds

Beat brown sugar and egg. Stir in buckwheat honey. Add dry ingredients, combining well. Fold in fruits and nuts. Chill 8 hours or overnight. Roll out to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut into 3 1/2 -inch by 2-inch rectangles. Bake on greased cookie sheet at 350 degrees about 12 minutes. Cool slightly before removing from pan. While still warm, brush on glaze.

GLAZE FOR LEBKUCHEN

1 egg white, slightly beaten

1 T lemon juice

1 1/2 c confectioners’ sugar, sifted

Dash of salt

1/2 tsp grated lemon peel

Combine and spread on warm cookies.

HONEY BUTTER

1 c butter, room temperature

1/3 c honey

3 T powdered sugar

1/4 tsp salt, optional

Beat butter on medium speed just until it is smooth. Add remaining ingredients and beat until smooth.

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