Look at all that delicious honey comb.

Look at all that delicious honey comb.

Honey is one of the oldest sweeteners known to man.  There is evidence of humans gathering honey to eat as far in the past as 8,000 years ago (as compared to common table sugar, which, at the earliest, may have been discovered and used around 800 B.C.)  Sugar only began to rival honey as a sweetening agent after the Crusades, and it remained a luxury item until the 19th century when it finally completed its transformation to basic human necessity.  So honey has been a pretty big deal for most of human history.

Mmmmm, baklava.

Mmmmm, baklava.

And baklava is pretty much the best thing you can make with honey.  (Although honey is also great in a variety of beverages like tea and lemonade!)  If you've never had baklava, let me break it down for you.  Baklava is a pastry from the former Ottoman Empire (though variations exist in many of the surrounding cultures and most people think baklava originated in Greece!) and it is made by layering filo, chopped nuts, butter, and a syrup made with honey.  And it is damned delectable.

Ahh!  Beeeeeeeeeees!  Bees are awesome, actually.

Ahh! Beeeeeeeeeees! Bees are awesome, actually.

But National Honey Month isn't all about the amazing treats one can make with honey.  Any discussion of honey must include bees, which a) are totally cool, and b) are in decline.  Which sucks, both because the cause of the bees' decline remains unknown and because the loss of honeybee populations would have severely adverse effects on agriculture.  (And the amount of honey that might be available for use in baklava and other recipes in the future.)

So make sure you get you some honey this month and make delicious treats with it.  And appreciate the bees!  They may not be around forever!

And!  As an added bonus, here's the baklava recipe that I use!  I generally use pecans or walnuts for my baklava, though pistachios are traditional and I read something recently about using hazelnuts, so I'm probably definitely going to try that some time soon.  Enjoy!

1 (16 ounce) package phyllo dough
1 pound chopped nuts
1 cup butter
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup water
1 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup honey

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F(175 degrees C). Butter the bottoms and sides of a 9x13 inch pan.
2. Chop nuts and toss with cinnamon. Set aside. Unroll phyllo dough. Cut whole stack in half to fit pan. Cover phyllo with a dampened cloth to keep from drying out as you work. Place two sheets of dough in pan, butter thoroughly. Repeat until you have 8 sheets layered. Sprinkle 2 - 3 tablespoons of nut mixture on top. Top with two sheets of dough, butter, nuts, layering as you go. The top layer should be about 6 - 8 sheets deep.
3. Using a sharp knife cut into diamond or square shapes all the way to the bottom of the pan. You may cut into 4 long rows the make diagonal cuts. Bake for about 50 minutes until baklava is golden and crisp.
4. Make sauce while baklava is baking. Boil sugar and water until sugar is melted. Add vanilla and honey. Simmer for about 20 minutes.
5. Remove baklava from oven and immediately spoon sauce over it. Let cool. Serve in cupcake papers. This freezes well. Leave it uncovered as it gets soggy if it is wrapped up.

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