When I buzzed by Garfield Park Conservatory this week, I took in some sweet edu-tainment programming that was its beekeepers’ (and beekeeping supporters’) Sixth Annual Bee Forum.

There is always lots going on at GPC year-round, especially low-cost events for folks whose aim is to be green, and then greener.  All proceeds for these kinds of things fund the Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance, which is another good reason for going.

So, this week, back in a large room named after Jens Jensen, the famous landscape architect who created the Conservatory, it was an opportunity for apiary “wannabes” like me to hear and share in this season’s’ bounty… the stories of their hives and, of course, honey!

You see,  I’m not a beekeeper…yet.  But many of my gardening friends are, especially here in Oak Park.

However, the big pull for me was learning how to make my own mead and use honey in my holiday baking.  

From Heidi Hedeker, who is a full-time pastry instructor and Master Baker (one of only 169 in the U.S.) at Kendall College Chicago, I absorbed how wholesome and easy it is to use honey in pastry and cookie making, which in every way involves the principles of kitchen science.  I must say, this baker’s daughter is quite a pro and totally entertaining to watch.

In her repertoire were centuries-old recipes that used honey, mostly from her travels and collaborations in the Middle East.

In particular, she walked us through assembling a somewhat simple fruit and nut brittle dessert she tends to freeze prior to serving it called Nougat Glace (from France) and several varieties of Baklava, including White Kunafeh, from Syria, as well as a variety of honey-drenched and sumptuous Baklavas (flat and layered, or bird’s nest style) from Southern Turkey/Northern Syria and Greece.

And she passed around samples of Florentine Cookies from Italy, that were relatively easy to make, crisp and chocolatey.

However, as tempting as it was to only stay sweet on her teachings, I was there to see Greg Fisher, the instructor at, and owner of Chicago-based Wild Blossom Meadery & Winery.

From his location in the Beverly neighborhood in Chicago, he is an award-winning honey fermentor who for a fee will teach honey enthusiasts how to make mead, too. 

Now, that is in my sites soon, since the science and art of fermentation is a hot topic nowadays, and I find it all extremely intriguing.

Fisher says making mead is making a big comeback now, although it never really left:

1.     Mead is an alcoholic beverage that is made by fermenting honey and yeast.

2.     Mead is in its own class of alcohol, so it is not a wine, beer or spirit in the traditional sense.

3.     Mead has been around for 8,000 years, Fisher says, in a cross section of cultures.

At the end of his brief history and how-to session, I accepted small pours of five or six varieties of the meads he makes, with the Chocolate Honey Buzz and Chocolate Cherry being my favorite, and Pirates Blood, a chili pepper mead (served in a pirate skull bottle) being a close second.

Other tastes of mead crossing my palate were a Blanc De Fleur, which was crisp and dry;  Hop Stinger, which was closest to beer;  And a Blueberry Nectar, which was refreshing

Now I’m thinking that  a bottle of mead could be this year’s holiday hostess gift.  

Still, until I start making mead myself, I’ll head over to Binny’s Beverage Depot in Elmwood Park for a bottle of mead that runs from about $10, and can go as high as the mid-$30 range.

It’s a honey of a seasonal idea, and no doubt a festive gesture that will be sure to start a small buzz, even before the first sip.

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Deb Quantock McCarey

Deb Quantock McCarey is an Illinois Press Association (IPA) award-winning freelance writer who has worked with Wednesday Journal Inc. since 1995, writing features and special sections for all its publications....