The oldest word still in use in the English language is ‘town, ’according to the Oxford English Dictionary, which cites the first written occurrence in 725. One hundred years later, the word ‘honey’ is attested, in an Anglo-Saxon psalter, in the phrase ‘Swoetran ofer hunig and biobread.’ This translates as ‘sweeter than honey and bee-bread (honeycomb.)
Honey is defined by the OED as ‘A sweet viscid fluid, of various shades from nearly white to deep golden, being the nectar of flowers collected and worked up for food by certain insects, esp. the honey-bee’ – a fine and accurate definition, to be sure, but one which does not do justice to the great love-affair of humans with this marvelous food.
I am on a mission to find the early culinary uses of honey. I have not yet delved into earlier texts, so I am starting in the second half of the sixteenth century, in The widdowes treasure: Plentifully furnished with sundry precious and approued secrets in physicke and chirurgery, for the health and pleasure of mankinde. Hereunto are adioyned, sundry prittie practices and conclusions of cookerie, vvith many profitable and wholesome medicines for sundry diseases in cattle, by John Partridge (1586.)
To make drie Peares.
Take faire water and Rosewater according to the quantitie of your Peares, then take Honey as muche as you thinke good and put in your Peares, then let them seethe very softly that thei breake not, then take them out and put them in a Collander, and let them dreaine, then when you drawe your bread put them into the Oven in some earthen panne, and if they be not drie at the first, put them in againe until they be drie, then barrel them.
To keepe Venison freshed long tyme.
Presse out the bloud cleane, and put it into an earthen pot, and fill it with clarified Honey two fingers above the fleshe, and binde a leather cloase about the mouth that mo ayre enter.