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War Was NEVER So Sweet

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Published on: Jan. 2, 1997

Last revision: Oct. 26, 2010

The bee tree is an artifact of Missouri history. Cutting bee trees for honey once was a food gathering exercise in many rural Missouri households.Honey turned the lowly biscuit into manna, Biblical sweetbread (manna is described in Exodus as tasting "like wafers made with honey").

In old rural Missouri, there were no cans that burst open to reveal premixed and precut biscuits inside and few farmers kept hives. Some places, flour still was locally ground, but if not, a peddler came down the road every so often in his rickety Model T truck and sold flour in colorful sacks which later became dresses for the girl children.

On a cold winter morning, farm families ate homemade biscuits from the oven of a Warm Morning wood cookstove, slathered with butter churned from the milk of Ol' Sue, and with honey from a bee tree that had been cut down on the branch.

It was a time that will not come again.

Today, there is no incentive to "line" bees (follow them from water or nectar sources to their hive). Domestic honey is plentiful and cheap and environmentalists frown on cutting down a tree to rob its bees.

Honey as a food is as old as recorded history. The Bible is filled with references to honey. In the book of Joshua, as well as in the old folk song about the blue-tailed fly, there's reference to a "land of milk and honey." The Egyptians put hives on barges to transport bees close to flowering fields.

Honey can range from almost inedible to delicately flavored, depending on the source of the nectar the bees carry back to their hive. John Frye, retired assistant chief of Protection for the Conservation Department, has kept bees and tracked wild ones for years. He once found some honey that tasted exactly like bourbon whiskey, but never could find the source.

Wild honey is a hard-won treat, both for humans and for the bees who make it. A researcher once found bees were flying eight miles each way from their hive to an alfalfa field and estimated it took 300,000 miles of travel to produce a pound of honey.

Each bee carried back up to half its own weight in nectar, flying about 15 miles an hour. It's estimated a worker bee will literally work itself to death in six weeks.

Most don't know that honeybees aren't native. They are a European import, certainly one of the few

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