Idaho photographer Ilona McCarty has a thing for honey and honey bees. She received an education on both while photographing her book, A Short History of the Honey Bee, in Hawaii, California, Georgia, Florida and her hometown of Salmon, Idaho. She learned to stay calm close to bees; learned, after getting stung on her legs, that it’s smart to tuck your pants into your socks; and, most importantly, learned to appreciate the infinite varieties of flavors expressed in honey.
“Honey is the truest taste of a landscape,” she said, paraphrasing her partner in the book, writer E. Readicker-Henderson. He describes single-source honey this way:
“Forget the wine snobs who tell you that what they drink is the essence of the country. Honey is more than that: it is the truest distillation of the landscape, as specific to a place as the way sunlight hits flowers in the morning.”
McCarty admits being predisposed to the honey harvested close to home, but after traveling around the country, she thinks the honey produced near Salmon stands out. “Salmon honey is my favorite,” she said, attributing its flavor to the town’s isolation from environmental pollutants, its biological diversity, and its sheer beauty. She said that the clear, golden liquid captures it all. “There’s an honesty about that honey. It’s clean. it’s light.”
Aristotle believed honey precipitated through the air under rainbows, but scientists now know it’s the complex biological result of bees collecting nectar from specific flowers, evaporating excess water from that nectar in their hives and, finally, secreting an enzyme that converts the nectar’s sucrose into fructose or glucose. according to readicker-henderson, “in a good, productive area, it takes over 50,000 miles of flying and the bees visiting more than two million flowers to make a single pound of honey.”
It may not drift from the sky via rainbows, but honey is certainly miraculous. Ilona McCarty knows that now—and her stunning photographs prove it.