Beyond Winnie the Pooh

Michal Palti
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Michal Palti

There are at least two people for whom a plate of apples and honey is a rich world of varieties and flavors. One is Netta Lin, marketing and development manager of Lin's Farm, which produces and sells 170 tons of different strains of honey a year. The other is Israel Doron, the Agriculture Ministry's expert on apples and pears.

Doron can tell the type, subtype, flavor and season of an apple simply by looking at it. Lin can distinguish between honey from bees fed on nectar from onion blossoms and those whose nectar comes from eucalyptus flowers. Both of them are experts on the traditional Rosh Hashanah dish of apples and honey, but they are also leaders of a trend.

Just as many Israelis can tell the difference between various types of olive oil and red wine, the staff at Lin's Farm are hoping we will soon be able to distinguish between different strains and aromas of honey. And Doron represents farmers who have been seeking for some time to sharpen awareness of the difference between produce raised for cooking and produce grown to be eaten.

In 2008, Israelis consumed 3,500 tons of honey. About 40 percent of that amount is eaten in September, when Israelis buy about 1,500 tons. Apple statistics are even more encouraging: The average Israeli eats about 125 apples a year.

Most people notice the difference between dark honey, whose source is avocado or eucalyptus nectar, and the lighter kinds, from citrus or wildflower nectar. Dark honey contains more minerals: potassium, iron, phosphorus, sodium and magnesium. It is suited to dishes associated with winter, such as stews, and those made with meat. Lighter honey goes well with summery dishes: vegetables, chicken, fruit and vegetable salads, yogurt.

As for apples, eight varieties are raised in Israel, though not all are obtainable year round. According to Doron, the picking season for most varieties of apples lasts from now until the end of November, but some varieties have a greater tolerance for cold storage, and are therefore available all year.

Now's the time

"An apple should be crunchy, crispy and juicy," he said. "If you run across a floury apple, it has been refrigerated too long and is beginning to decompose." Some apple varieties are picked too early and "are damaged," he added; others are being picked now, at "exactly at the right time."

Israel, he said, does not export any of its apples, though some do reach Syria: Apples raised in Druze villages on the Golan Heights are exported to Syria under a special agreement. The shipments are supervised by Israel's Defense Ministry.

Honey is a slightly more complicated matter.

"Our beehives," Lin said, "are located all over, from the Golan through the Galilee to the Negev and further south, and we gather honey from bees that feed on a variety of flowers. Some areas have alternating crops: one in summer and another in winter. We also pollinate agricultural crops, placing beehives among them, and in this way produce honey from sunflower, onion, clover and avocado fields. There also are seasons. The most common honey is wildflower. Today, aromatic avocado honey, dark and heavy, is rarer. There is also thistle honey, which is a little more bitter, and is also hard to find."

The honey harvest, she said, begins in May and ends in August.