Lately, I’ve had terroir on the brain. You know, the fancy French word for what dirt makes things taste like. So, the same grape grown in two different places (say, France v. California: always a fun fight) expresses its flavor differently based on the mineral composition of the soil, the amount of sun it receives, the amount of rain that fell, whether it was sung to and in what language, things like that.
But with the Eat Local Challenge kicking around in the back of my mind (no commitments, just a one-woman exploratory committee), I was curious about what local products Boston had to offer. Any at all? I mean, I don’t want to starve my family to death on a dare.
In other words, what in the world does Boston taste like? Frankly, I was afraid to find out. But, it just so happened that I stumbled across local honey at Russo’s. Not local as in the wild fields of New Hampshire, but local as in Boston. The Boston Honey Company.
Where the hell, I wondered, are they hiding all the bees?
I’ve seen bumblebees around periodically (they smoke like the dickens when they get caught in a halogen lamp), not to mention sweat bees, hornets, wasps, and those goddamned yellow jackets buzzing all over the place. But, I’ve never seen a honeybee in Boston. Or the suburbs, for that matter. Ever.
Still, there it was. A jar of golden honey claiming to have originated in our historic city. So I thought about doing me some research, maybe pay them a visit, perhaps bribe some workers to let me speak to the queen, but instead I just ended up doing some serious wondering. The bees find the flowers. They drink the nectar. They return to the hive where they partially digest it, then regurgitate it into honeycombs. Mmmm, sounds delicious.
Even more scrumptious was the idea that, according to the honey jar’s little cardboard tag, their bee colonies were kept along the Charles River, one of many putrid sewers of the Industrial Revolution until about, oh, three weeks ago. Gulp.
Now, I’ve seen people fishing along the Charles River, usually with a child, so I’ve always assumed that it’s just for sport. That they catch the fish, then throw it back. No one’s bringing home any Charles River fish expecting to call it dinner. But our local bait shop seems to think this is a fine place to fish, and he ain’t throwing ‘em back. So maybe it is true that the water and the soil around it, as well as the flowers that grow nearby, wouldn’t glow green as krypton in certain specialized lighting? Maybe the Standells were just a bunch of lazy slackers that didn’t know what the hell they were talking about?
Still, I feel sorry for the bees. It’s like trying to convert water into wine, with only a tiny little bee metabolism to filter out all the carcinogens. Actually, I imagine the bees have caught on by now. A few of their own keeling over is just another day on the job. Martyr bees taking one for the team. Crass, hardened, townie bees sucking down fermented liquid and vomiting up golden deliciousness like a Tuesday morning hangover. That’s the spirit, Boston bees.
But I have to admit, begrudgingly, that the honey tasted good. Delicious, actually. It doesn’t smack of Storrow Drive car exhaust. Nor rusted shopping cart. Nor leaky subway fuel. Just honey. If I had to guess, I’d say clover with a hint of…dandelion? And it made me proud to be a Bostonian, because we can make delicious honey, too. Except we do it with invisible bees.
[Clarification: Turns out that the honeybee colonies are actually closer to Walden Pond in Concord. That’s about 20 miles from Boston, which means that they have a much better school system.]