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FOOD AND LOATHING : Don't Call Me Honey

March 18, 1993|RUTH REICHL | TIMES FOOD EDITOR

I hated honey before I hated bees. I learned to hate them later, when I found out the bees thought the house I had just bought belonged to them. After all, the bees were there first.

"That white house?" I heard every time I called a new bee company for advice on how to get the bees to leave. And then there was always a slightly mean laugh. "You'll never get the bees out of there. They've been building hives under those shingles for 25 years."

We could hear the bees from inside, humming happily against the walls, making honey. When you put your ear against the wall, the buzz became a roar. It came to be a sound I hated, and as we dealt with the bees, year after year, I came to hate them too. But I had to learn to do it.

Honey was different. I can't remember a time, ever, when I could swallow it. My dislike of the stuff is visceral and powerful; I simply can't imagine how anyone can choke honey down. It doesn't taste bad to me--it tastes terrible.

My hatred of honey is not, as far as I know, the result of any horrible childhood incident. I did get stung by a bee once or twice--who didn't?--but it was not particularly traumatic. Nobody ever forced me to eat honey--I don't think my mother ever had it in the house. But that certainly can't be the reason why I hate it: Unfamiliarity has not stopped me from falling in love with some pretty peculiar flavors. In fact, of all the things I've ever tasted, honey is just about the only flavor I don't like.

And it's a dislike that has served me well. It was honey that formed the first bond between M.F.K. Fisher and me.

As a young reporter I was sent to interview this prickly and acerbic woman who was not yet accustomed to the adulation of what later became her legions of fans. She was not inclined to be kind to such an inexperienced reporter and seemed taken aback at being faced with someone who could quote whole passages of books she had written almost 50 years before. She eventually became so impatient with my questions that she became quite sharp. This made me so flustered and uncomfortable that when she offered me honey with my tea I found myself blurting out, "I loathe the stuff."

"You do?" she asked, favoring me with a long, appraising look. "Really?"

Why hadn't I settled for a polite "No, thank you"?

"Yes," I mumbled, my hands shaking.

"I do too," she said. "Somebody brought this as a present, and I'm constantly trying to get rid of it." The tone of her voice made very clear what she thought of any guest foolish enough to come bearing honey.

We talked about all the times we'd been served honey and had to force ourselves to eat it. We talked about how awful it was. Joined in the sisterhood of honey haters, we became friends. From that point on, the interview--and all the subsequent ones--went extremely well. I never got around to asking what she thought of bees.

The Times' Test Kitchen thought they had done it: created a honey recipe that even Ruth Reichl could love (or at least tolerate). The Honey-Mustard Dressing, sharpened with a good bit of horseradish, was waiting for Reichl when she walked in the door. She took a spoon, dipped it in the dressing and tasted. "It's not disgusting," she admitted. She even took a second taste--and didn't gag or even wrinkle her nose. Success? She shrugged. "Well, I hate thick dressings anyway, and the idea of putting honey on lettuce is perfectly repulsive to me. I'd as soon eat honey on ants."

As for the rest of the tasters, they thought it was the best Honey-Mustard Dressing they'd tried . Unlike many other versions, it's not too sweet and it has a good kick.

HONEY-MUSTARD DRESSING 3/4 cups mayonnaise 2 tablespoons honey 2 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard 2 teaspoons prepared horseradish White pepper 2 tablespoons minced onion 1/2 cup chopped parsley 1 teaspoon paprika

Combine mayonnaise, honey, mustard, horseradish, white pepper, onion, parsley and paprika in small bowl and mix well. Makes 1 3/4 cups dressing.

Each tablespoon contains about: 32 calories; 78 mg sodium; 2 mg cholesterol; 2 grams fat; 3 grams carbohydrates; 0 grams protein; 0.04 grams fiber.

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