There is a long history of honey and beekeeping in Ireland. The earliest legal code in Ireland was known as the Brehon Law, which was recorded on parchment in the 7th century by traveling lawyers. This Brehon Law eventually contained over 20 pages of laws relating to bees, honey and beekeeping. For example, nearly every established household had several beehives. This led to frequent swarms. Under the Brehon Law, if a swarm was spotted in an open area of someone’s land, and the swarm was captured and became a productive beehive, then the man who found the swarm was entitled to one-fourth of the eventual honey crop, while the landowner got the rest. If, however, the swarm was spotted up in a tree, then the finder got half of the honey crop. If the swarm was captured from a common area, then the tribal chief got one-ninth of the honey, while the finder got to keep the rest. Certainly an interesting twist on “finders-keepers.”
A mixture of milk and honey was a frequent drink in Medieval Ireland, and lard mixed with honey was a common condiment. At many meals, a little dish of honey was added to each place setting, and diners would dip meat, fish or bread into the honey as they ate. Honey was often used to baste meat while roasting, and salmon while broiling. And, of course, many a meal was accompanied by mead, a fermented drink made with honey.
To celebrate the Irish fondness for honey on St. Patrick’s day, try this recipe for a traditional Irish honey syrup:
2 tablespoons grated lemon zest
Combine all ingredients in a medium sauce pan and stir over medium heat. Once the syrup reaches a low simmer, turn off the heat and add a quarter cup of fresh lemon juice. You can remove the cinnamon and cloves and serve immediately, or allow it to cool, and place in the refrigerator where it can seep for a day or two. Then remove the spices and warm up the syrup before serving. Serve with buttermilk pancakes or griddle cakes.
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