Tag Archives: soft set

Jarring honey

Synopsis : Jarring is the final stage in honey production. Done properly it generates a good looking (and great tasting), high quality product for sale or gifting.


For some beekeepers, honey production is the raison d’être for their beekeeping, everything is geared to maximising the crop. For others it is a sticky inconvenience that – indirectly – gives them a bad back and gets in the way of queen rearing.

But for me, it’s one of the very many benefits and pleasures of beekeeping that I periodically curse and wish there was a bit less of.

I love the look of pleasure that an unexpected gifted jar produces or the ’oohing and aahing’ at a dinner party when I produce a bottle of red and a ‘matched brace’ of spring and summer honeys.

A winning combination

I’m a lot less keen on shifting half a ton of supers from the apiary to the car to the warming cabinet to the extractor 1, or the interminable washing up after extracting … or, for that matter, the repetitiveness of jarring and labelling very large amounts of honey.

However, I do welcome selling a bit of honey to offset the cost of new nucs, or DIY bits for my queen cell incubator, or replacing the (many) hive tools I misplace.

And, as the adage goes, ”If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well”.

So I do my best to produce good looking and great tasting honey, sold through local farm shops, organic cafes and similar artisanal outlets. I tend to prepare batches of 24-36 jars to order i.e. about a bucket at a time, 90% of which sells within 20 miles of my apiaries. This approach works for me; not too much repetitive boredom, no need to store large amounts of jarred honey and I can make a virtue of any hive to hive, or apiary to apiary, variation.


I’m a small scale beekeeper. I’ve got ~8-12 production colonies, a 9 frame radial extractor and a slightly dodgy back. In a poor year I might produce 150 kg of honey, in a really good year over three times that amount.

If you’re semi-commercial, own a thermostatically controlled homogenizer/creamer or a filling machine this post isn’t for you 😉 .

Almost all of my honey is produced in Fife where there are spring and summer crops, usually harvested in early June and mid/late August respectively. I also get a (very) limited amount of heather honey on the west coast but am hoping this will increase as I learn more about colony management and good apiary locations. Everything in this post relates to east coast (Fife) honey.

Just imagine the noise and the wonderful smell!

Supers are collected from one apiary at a time and extracted. I try and extract individual supers into single buckets. The extractor is run with the gate open and the honey passes through coarse and medium filters, directly into 15 kg honey buckets. Inevitably there’s a bit of mixing in the extractor, but this can still produce honeys with distinctive flavours.

I’d prefer to try and maintain this variation than produce a single uniform product from everything merged together.


Each bucket is weighed (usually 11-14 kg), the water content measured using a calibrated refractometer, sealed and labelled. The buckets get a two letter code e.g. HN, for spring 2022 (H), bucket N, and are then stacked away in a cool location until needed. Labelled on the side of the bucket, they’re readable without sorting through the stacks … don’t label the lids 😉 .

The accurate way to test the water content of honey

I’ve never needed to use the last few letters of the alphabet for any particular spring or summer harvest.

The weight, water content and code (together with additional notes such as apiary and extraction date) get added to a database so I can easily find any particular bucket wanted when needed for jarring.


Over time almost all honey will crystallise. Glucose-rich spring honey, often rich in OSR nectar, crystallises very fast (weeks, or even days … or in the comb 🙁 ), whereas some summer honey takes months or more. A simple poke of the sidewall of the stacked bucket gives a good indication of the amount of crystallisation.

All of my spring honey is produced as soft set or creamed honey. This is produced using either an abbreviated Dyce method or a honey creamer.

  • in the Dyce method the honey is melted, cooled to 33°C, seeded with a honey of a good crystal structure and allowed to recrystallise at ~12-14°C
  • creamed honey is produced with a Rapido/Rasant creamer and a powerful drill

Neither of these methods require that the honey is filtered again. The medium filter used during extraction removes all but the smallest pieces of wax and – importantly – all the legs, wings and antennae.

Rapido or Rasant honey creamer

In contrast, to produce my clear, runny, summer honey I warm the bucket and filter it through a reasonably fine nylon filter. I don’t want to remove the pollen and other goodies, but I do want to exclude very fine granules of wax, or anything that’s going to make the honey ‘cloudy’.

Remember, I’m producing honey for consumption, not for show … this isn’t a 200 micron filter or anything daft like that.

All of the warming is done in my trusty honey warming cabinet which takes a couple of buckets at a time. I’ve built various filter holders and other things to make this preparation relatively straightforward.

The honey, whether soft set or clear, finally ends up in a bucket with standard 1.5” plastic tap and is then left to settle in the honey warming cabinet set at ~33°C.

Get rid of the ‘scum’

Inevitably all that mixing, filtering, stirring and decanting will have introduced air bubbles into the honey. These rise to the surface, leaving a ‘scummy’ layer floating on top of the honey. In my experience there tends to be more of this on prepared soft set honey and very little on my clear, summer honey.

Whilst you can leave the frothy scum there, it reduces the total number of jars you can fill from a single bucket as it is difficult to stop it from ‘contaminating’ the last few jars 2.

Therefore, the best course of action is to remove the scummy layer before starting to jar the honey.

I simply lay a sheet of clingfilm on top of the scummy layer, excluding as many bubbles as possible and ensuring it reaches the very edges of the bucket. I then confidently lift it off and drop it into an adjacent bowl.

The critical word in that last sentence is ‘confidently’.

Like Radio 4’s Just a minute any hesitation, repetition or deviation is fatal 😉 .

Yes, you ‘lose’ a bit of honey … but the final product will look much better. Do this just before you’re ready to jar the honey.

One fault I often make is not allowing the honey to settle for long enough before jarring it. It’s worth remembering that a temperature of 33°C is about the temperature of the honey in the hive and so it will not be damaged by standing for a day or two before jarring. I’ll return to this later.

Choices, choices, choices

There are a huge range of different type of honey jar to choose from 3; round, square, hex, small, medium, large, gold lids, black lids etc.

Although I don’t think it matters too much which style of honey jar you choose I do think it matters that you use a honey jar as opposed to one more usually associated with jam or chutney or gherkins.

12 oz hex jar

I get all my jars from C Wynne Jones. They only list two ‘traditional’ honey jars  together with squeezy bears (!), but they also list a range of hexagonal, octagonal, square and round jars. Separately they list preserve jars, and some of the round jars are described as pickle, jam or chutney jars.

You, of course, can choose whatever jar you want but it’s worth keeping three points in mind:

  • some shoppers will associate a jar shape with particular types of contents; if you bottle your honey in a chutney jar it might be ignored
  • you can sell any weight you want (as long as it’s labelled appropriately) but customers are often used to 227 g, 340 g and 454 g, both for honey and other types of jams and preserves; if a customer is price conscious an ‘odd’ weight will make comparisons difficult (this might work in your favour, but don’t depend on it)
  • consider the other honey yours might share shelf space with; you want something distinctive and attractive in appearance

Several years ago I settled on square jars with black lids and now use nothing else 4.


The jars I use are only available in 4, 8 and 12 oz (114, 227 and 340 g) sizes. This isn’t a problem as a 1 lb jar (454 g) would now be well over the psychological £10 barrier 5 so I just use the 8 and 12 oz size.

Although the proportional profit margin for 4 oz jars might be larger, the prospect of preparing large numbers of them fills me with dread. I once fulfilled an order for several hundred tiny hex jars and regretted it after the first 50 … and vowed ‘never again’ after a gross.

1 lb jar of honey

1 lb jar of honey …

The choice of jar size should probably be made having looked at what ‘competing’ honey sells in. If they’re all 227 g jars priced around £8-9 your 340 g jars priced at £12 might get overlooked.

None of this is a particularly exact science and I certainly don’t pretend to know much about marketing honey. My aim is to provide a recognisable product, distinctive, attractive and priced accordingly. The shelf price is dictated by the store, but will be influenced by the price you sell them the honey at.

Jars are expensive, heavy and take up a lot of storage space. Buy in bulk and, if you live anywhere vaguely remote, be prepared for a hefty shipping surcharge and factor it in to the cost price of your honey.

The last delivery I received came on a lorry too large to negotiate the very long, steep track to our house. The driver – to his eternal credit – walked up to the house to find me and finally left my pallets of jars by the roadside. It took me three return trips in the 4×4 to collect them.

Jarring honey

I only use brand new and washed jars. I know many beekeepers use the jars directly from the cardboard boxes but I always put them through the dishwasher first 6. Washing the jars is probably unnecessary … however, the jars are stored in my shed (nominally in sealed boxes, but who knows where spiders get) and I’m always concerned of tiny glass chips resulting from the handling of boxes in transit to me (or by me).

Better to be safe than sorry.

Honey that won’t be sold, such as the dregs from a bucket or a reference jar (see later), goes into whatever recycled honey jars I’ve got at home.

If I’m jarring soft set honey I always prewarm the jars as I think it helps prevent frosting. I’m less certain of this than I used to be, but I’ve got into the habit of warming the jars and so still do. I should test this sometime …

Honey with frosting

Honey with frosting

In principle, jarring honey is straightforward … and it is when compared with doing a hip replacement or learning Swahili 7. You put the jar under the tap, zero the scales, open the tap, close the tap once the right amount of honey is in the jar, and repeat … ad nauseam.

In practice of course there are a few tricks that make things even easier.

Honey bucket tipper

As the honey bucket is emptied you need to tilt it at an angle to get the last of the honey out. However, even with the best ‘scum removal’ (see above) you probably want to avoid the surface layer of the honey entering jars for sale.

Again, the way to achieve this is to gradually increase the angle at which the bucket is tipped the more jars you fill.

But there is a problem … some of those residual scummy bubbles cling to the sides of the bucket. Therefore, if you tip the bucket forward, then rest it back level, then tip it forward again, the surface layers of the honey get mixed with the bulk of the bucket.

You could try holding the bucket stably tilted with one hand. However that only leaves one hand for moving jars … and if your honey tap drips at all that’s a certain recipe for madness. You want to be able to remove one jar and replace it immediately with another.

Which is where a honey bucket tipper comes in. I built mine well over a decade ago and there are now commercial versions available. These are £40-55 … don’t bother.

Honey bucket tipper

Mine cost £1.20 and that was only because I had to buy the hinges.

As the bucket is emptied into jars you simply slide in a larger ‘spacer’ to increase the angle of incidence. On a good day I can manage to leave no more than ~300 g of honey in the bucket.

Honey bucket tipper in use

This simple gadget is a game changer.

I won’t suggest it makes jarring honey a pleasure, but it does make the task less of a chore.

The dregs, reference jars and more jarring

If I’m emptying the bucket I usually run the last of the dregs into a recycled jar for home use. If the order is a large one (for me, not on the scale of a commercial beekeeper of course) I might prepare an additional ‘reference’ jar to put aside. It’s very rare there are any issues with properly prepared honey, but it’s sometimes useful to have ’one I prepared earlier’ for comparison.

I usually jar honey every week or two. To save a bit of time preparing soft set honey it’s possible to leave 1-2 kg in the bottom of the bucket and use it as the ‘seed’ for the next batch. If you’re going to do this tip the bucket with the tap up (‘backwards’ if that makes sense) to empty the tap before adding the melted bulk of the next batch. That ensures better and more even mixing right from the first jar. Remember to wrap the tap tightly with clingfilm to keep it clean and avoid any drips making a mess.

More bubbles

When jarring honey you can minimise the amount of mixing and aeration by holding the jar close under the tap until you’re approaching the final weight. Only then place it back on the balance to top the jar off.

However, particularly with clear honey, this still often leaves a few bubbles that mar the lovely golden translucence of the jar.

Recently jarred honey … with bubbles

I therefore put the lids on the jars and return them to the honey warming cabinet (still at 33°C) for a few hours. All the bubbles rise to the surface and … ’pfffft’ … disappear 🙂 .

Honey is a variable product, which is both a good and bad. It means that there is almost certainly batch to batch variation, depending upon its origin and preparation. My clear honey exhibits the most variation in flavour, often depending upon the amount of lime nectar the bees have had access to. To me, and seemingly to customers, this type of variation is welcome.

If they wanted a truly uniform product they’d buy some squeezy bears filled with the ’Produce of EU and non-EU countries’ 🙁 .


However, the variation that causes me problems are the residual micro-bubbles in soft set honey (despite apparently preparing it in an identical manner). In many batches these remain invisible – if they’re present in the first place – in others they ever-so-slowly rise to the surface and get ‘stuck’ on the shoulders of the jar.

The solution is probably to allow the mixed soft set honey to settle for much longer before jarring, but even that doesn’t always solve things. Certain jar shapes are more or less susceptible to these, with hex jars being particularly prone in my experience.


I make my own labels and will discuss them again when I write something on the provenance of honey. Each jar carries two labels. The front label, which has all the important and required 8 information, and a clear anti-tamper label attaching the lid to the jar.

I make sure my labels are placed level and at a standard height on every jar. I expect them to be lined up on the shelves and want them to look good. For square jars (or hex’s) this is a trivial task; I just use a piece of wood (a sample of wood flooring) as a spacer and stand the jar on a non-slip foam surface so it doesn’t slide backwards as I press the label into place.

Makes level labelling of round jars easier

For round jars it helps to have a recess cut into a piece of wood of the right thickness … the photo above is of my, now redundant, ‘spacer’ to help me line up labels in ‘1 lb rounds’.

The one thing I try and avoid is tipping the jar so that the honey contacts the underside of the lid. Yes, it may drip off while standing on the shelf, but why not try and leave the inside of the jar as good looking as the outside? All my labelling is done with the jar horizontal.

There’s little to say about adding the anti-tamper label. If you use black lids make sure there are no greasy fingerprints or dust trapped when you attach the anti-tamper label.

Finally, do make sure the lid is on properly before adding the anti-tamper label … or selling the honey 😉 .

Alternatively, buy one of these


Making soft set honey

Soft set honey was often called creamed honey before that description was effectively outlawed – at least for labelling purposes – under the trade descriptions act because it ‘contains no cream‘. It’s the stuff that’s spoonable and spreadable, it feels like velvet on the tongue because the crystals are so fine (hence creamy) and it remains looking good for a long time. The long shelf life more than compensates for the (relatively small) effort required to produce it … you don’t have to sell it or give it away quickly before granulation takes over and the appearance is spoiled. Winter is a good time to prepare soft set honey as it requires low temperatures.


Granulated honey label

Granulated honey label

All honey granulates. At least, all honey that hasn’t been subjected to the sorts of heating and filtration used by commercial packers to produce a uniform and sometime bland product with a very long shelf life. The rate at which honey granulates is related to its composition. Honey with a relatively high glucose to fructose ratio – such as oil seed rape – granulates faster. Granulation is also influenced by temperature and particulates (e.g. pollen) that acts as a ‘seed’ for granulation. My honey carries a label indicating that granulation is a completely natural process and is a sign of high quality honey.

Soft set honey

Soft set honey is honey in which the granulation has been controlled. A small amount (~10%) of honey with a soft, fine grain, is used as a ‘seed’ for liquid honey. As the latter granulates it takes on the consistency of the seed honey. The principle is straightforward and an industrial process was patented by Elton Dyce in the 1930’s. However, this requires rapid heating and cooling of bulk honey, something most beekeepers are unable to achieve. There are some good descriptions online about making soft set honey, including a useful video by ‘BeekeeperDevon’ on YouTube. There are also a lot of conflicting methods published and some that are, frankly, either nonsense or wrong.

This is how I do it … followed by some details on a few of the critical bits.

  1. Extracted honey should be left to completely crystallise in honey buckets. This might take several weeks. The honey, particularly if it’s OSR, is likely to be spoonbendingly hard. In the following description I’m assuming the honey has only been (at least) coarse filtered on extraction, so will almost inevitably still contain bits of wax and the odd leg or antenna.
  2. Melt a full bucket of crystallised honey completely. For a 30lb bucket I find this takes about 24-36 hours at 50ºC in my honey warming cabinet. Stir it once or twice during this period if you get the chance – this speeds up the process. Honey should not be kept at elevated temperatures for extended periods to avoid the build up of HMF.
  3. Filter the honey into a clean food-grade bucket. I use the double stainless strainer and nylon straining cloth from Thorne’s.
  4. Cool the filtered honey to 35ºC in the honey warming cabinet. At the same time, warm the seed stock (see comments below) to 35ºC in bucket with a tap. By keeping the temperature below about 40ºC the all-important fine crystal structure of the seed stock will not be destroyed.
  5. Add the filtered bulk honey to the seed stock. Mix gently but very thoroughly. The intention is to completely disperse the fine seed stock crystals throughout the mixed honey. You can use a stainless steel corkscrew and drill, or a honey creamer. Of the two I prefer the latter. Try and avoid incorporating air during the mixing (hence ‘gently’) to avoid frosting in the final product.
  6. Cool the honey to less than 14ºC, mixing every 12 hours or so. It’s easy to achieve this temperature in winter in an unheated outhouse, pantry or conservatory. In the summer you can do this by adding a succession of freezer blocks to the warming cabinet (but it’s hard work). The honey will get increasingly hard to mix and will – within a week or less (and possibly within a couple of days) – set. This is soft set honey.
  7. Re-warm the bucket of honey to 35ºC and bottle it. See comments below.

The seed stock

You need about 10% by weight of a suitable seed stock to make soft set honey. You can use more or less, it’s not critical. Much less than 5% and it won’t be enough to ensure even crystallisation, or will take a very long time to finally crystallise. More than 10% is unnecessary and you’d be better saving it for another batch of soft set honey. If you’ve not got a seed stock of a suitable consistency (by which I mean of the consistency you want your final soft set honey to have) you can make, borrow or buy some.

Pestle and mortar

Pestle and mortar …

To make your seed stock grind hard set crystallised honey using a pestle and mortar until it has a wonderful, even consistency. It will start as hard unyielding lumps and end up with the consistency of thick toothpaste. This is hard work but you might only need to do it once, so do it well. You can borrow your seed stock from a neighbouring beekeeper who has something suitable, returning the same amount after you’ve prepared your own soft set honey. Finally, you could even buy your seed stock from a supermarket. If you insist on buying the starter, at least steer clear of the “mix of EU and non-EU” honeys (why don’t they just state “sourced from goodness knows where”?)  which could have just about anything in them. You are aiming to produce a top quality product. The type of honey you use as your seed stock is immaterial; it will only comprise a small amount of the final product, the consistency is what matters.

Bottling soft set honey

At 35ºC the prepared soft set honey will barely flow through the honey tap. However, with a little effort, and a long handled spoon to gently stir it, the thixotropic honey can usually be made to flow sufficiently to get it into jars. Again, to avoid frosting try not to mix air into the honey; hold the jar just under the honey tap with the bucket slightly inclined.

Miscellaneous notes

Spatula spoon

Spatula spoon

Keep about 3lb of your first batch of soft set honey – I use these useful sealable plastic containers – to use as the seed for your next bucket. This might be the following week or the following year – I’ve just used up the last of my 2014-prepared seed stock. If you’re preparing batch after batch of soft set honey on a weekly basis you can simply leave the seed stock in the bottom of the bucket with a tap. I’ve found silicone spatula spoons really useful for mixing honey, for getting the last few ounces out of the honey bucket and for quickly removing all the honey from the last three 1lb jars after you realise you’ve just bottled the seed stock for the next batch 😉


Future promise

Winter-sown OSR

Winter-sown OSR …

With the days getting shorter, the weather worsening and the bees hunkering down until the spring there’s little to do in the apiary. The warm weather, weekly inspections, swarm collection and queen rearing are months away … and it feels like it 🙁  However, things are already happening in the fields that hint at the season to come. The winter-sown oil seed rape (OSR) has been through for at least a month and is now 4-6″ tall. There’s a field just outside the village with acres of the stuff and it will be good to watch it develop into a sea of yellow next spring.

I have a few colonies well within range of this field, as do at least a couple of other beekeepers. Using a Google Maps Area Tool I measured the field at about 17 hectares. Although primarily self-pollinated there’s evidence that the yield and quality (i.e. the percentage that germinates) of OSR seed or its oil content, are all increased if honeybees are present at a density of about 2 colonies per hectare. So, ample to go round for the colonies I’m aware of in the immediate vicinity. Furthermore, if colonies are located close to the OSR field boundaries, honeybees forage for a considerable distance across the field – certainly hundreds of metres. This is in contrast to wild pollinators – like solitary bees and bumble bees – which tend to decline in density away from the field margins (see also this recent paper which reports the same thing; PDF). Whilst this is a compelling argument for wide, species-rich field margins and smaller fields, the reality of modern farming is unfortunately very different. However, the benefits of honeybees (and for honeybees) mean that it might be worth having a chat with the farmer and moving a few colonies onto the field.

OSR honey isn’t to everyones taste and it certainly involves more work for the beekeeper. It must be extracted soon after the supers are collected or it crystallises in the comb. In addition, unless it’s converted into soft-set or ‘creamed’ honey it will inevitably set rock-hard in the jar, resulting in many bent teaspoons. On a more positive note, the availability of large amounts of pollen and nectar relatively early in the season helps colonies build up strongly. With good weather it’s an ideal time to replace comb, getting the bees to use the OSR nectar to build brand new comb – perhaps on foundationless frames – free of diseases for the season ahead. A great way to start the year.

And finally, a reminder of what’s to come …

Early May 2015 OSR ...

Early May 2015 OSR …

Frosting in honey

Honey with frosting

Honey with frosting

Frosting is the name given to small air bubbles that get trapped between honey and the side or shoulder of the jar. It spoils the appearance of the honey, but doesn’t alter the flavour or the quality. Frosting in honey usually starts as a small white streak or crescent on the shoulder of the jar, but gradually spreads during storage, sometimes covering most or all of the inner surface of the jar.  Some buyers don’t mind it, particularly if they’ve tasted your honey before, but I suspect that it puts others off (unsurprisingly, no-one receiving honey as a gift ever murmurs a word of complaint if the jar is frosted … funny that). Because I think set and soft-set honey looks better if the jar isn’t frosted I try and prevent it forming in the first place, or do my best to remove it in jars for sale.


I’ve yet to find a foolproof way of preparing set or soft-set honey that definitely will not develop frosting. Some batches I’ve made have remained ‘frosting-free’ for months, but most do in due course. However, the following things are supposed to work and probably help:

  • Use a settling tank to let the honey stand for a day or two after preparation. I decant honey to be jarred into 30 lb plastic buckets with a tap, and leave it for 24-48 hours in the honey warming cabinet at about 30-37°C.
  • Pre-warm the jars for bottling. I put cleaned jars inverted in the oven at the lowest heat setting to dry, removing them a few minutes before use.
  • Hold the jar immediately below the honey tap so that as little air as possible mixes with the honey during bottling. I run the honey down the sidewall of the jar, only placing the jar onto a zeroed weighing scale as the last ounce or so is added.
  • Do not jar more than you need in one session. It’s better to jar in 30 lb batches, rather than keeping 150 lb of jarred honey for a long time during which frosting is likely to occur. Of course, if you sell it (or give it away) in 150 lb batches then you’re hardly likely to be reading this looking for advice …

Of the four suggestions above, the last one is probably the most dependable. 30 lb buckets of honey are easy to store and take up little space. 30 lb of jarred honey weighs about 43 lb (assuming 1 lb ’rounds’), takes up a lot more space, requires much more handling and will usually develop frosting during extended storage.


Warm jars with set honey to about 37°C for 24 hours. The honey should become less viscous and would pour very slowly from the jar if you inverted it. Don’t 😉 You do not want to melt the honey, but instead just warm it sufficiently so that it can be stirred. Using a clean long-handled teaspoon – both for leverage and to stop getting honey on your fingers – gently stir the honey sufficiently to mix the bubbles in, working carefully round the sidewall of the jar to ensure it’s mixed evenly. The honey should be thick enough to stand the spoon in it, so you need quite strong fingers. Scrape excess honey from the spoon back into the jar using a small flexible spatula. Return the jars to the honey warming cabinet for another 24 hours, then store as usual. This is quite a bit of work and you really should try and avoid having to do it. However, if it makes the jarred honey more attractive and helps sell more jars then it’s a worthwhile investment of time.

Soft set honey

Soft set honey

Honey show (partial) success

Our local association honey show is always held in mid/late October. At the beginning of the season it feels like a lifetime away. With a long, hot summer being anticipated, the short October nights and the preparation required is just about the last thing on my mind. By the second honey harvest it’s a lot closer but there’s still no urgency … and then, suddenly, it’s four days away. How did that happen?

Soft set honey

Soft set honey

Our honey show has friendly rivalry, good natured competition and – usually – sympathetic (verging on the generous with my entries) judging. The good exhibits are often very good but care is taken not to discourage those with less-than-perfect entries. All the usuall classes are represented – light, medium and dark honey, soft set and set honeys, frames ready for extraction, wax, mead, ‘products of the hive’ gifts and photography. One of the most keenly contested classes is the honey cake which uses the relatively simple recipe used – I think – at the National Honey Show.

Honey cake


200g/7oz self-raising flour, 175g/6oz honey, 110g/4oz butter, 175g/6oz sultanas, 2 medium eggs, 110g/4oz. glace cherries (halved).


Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F /gas mark 4. Cream butter and honey together. Beat eggs well and add them alternately with sifted flour then fold in sultanas and cherries. A little milk may be added if necessary. Bake in a buttered circular tin, 16.5 -19.0 cm (61⁄2-71⁄2 inches) in diameter for approximately 11⁄2 hours. Timing is for conventional ovens and is a guide only as appliances vary.

A few years ago I’d competed and won the beginners class (always generously judged) and been placed second in the ‘cottager class’ for those with 5 hives or less (I think this page will generate some disappointment if it turns up on a Google search for certain words in the text). Despite a clashing appointment on the night of the show that meant I missed all the judging I prepared entries for the light and medium honey classes – using the same batch of honey as I had no grading glasses so ‘hedged my bets’ – the soft set, the honey judged on flavour alone (the jars are covered with a tight-fitting sleeve, though the judging isn’t conducted blindfold so a few stray wings or legs in the scummy surface layers might still be offputting), the photography, the ‘products of the hive’ gift and the honey cake.

And the winner is …

Let’s deal with the failures first … I clearly misjudged what was needed for the ‘products of the hive’ class. I entered a jar of delicious lemon honey marmalade. In my view this is better than honey on toast in the mornings. However, almost every other entry was a stunning wax sculpture or a beautifully presented candle. Nil points as they say. Don’t let this put you off honey marmalade though … it’s fantastic and I’ve never had anyone turn it down as a most welcome gift.



The honey cake was a disaster. I cooked three in advance to get the cooking conditions right. The first one was badly burnt and essentially inedible. The recipe above is spectacularly wrong with regard to timings. The second was much better, although still a bit overcooked (shown right). My team at work wolfed it down. The third was better still but by now I’d realised that the diameter of my cake tin was 0.5″ smaller than specified (judges can be both pedants and generous in equal measure). The flavour and texture were very good and it was again scoffed with thanks by work colleagues. The day before the honey show I found a tin of the correct diameter and used it to prepare the – I hoped (Ha!) – winning entry. Big mistake. The cake rose better … but then sank like the Titanic to create a near-doughnut shaped entry. The judge didn’t trouble himself with the tasting. Wisely … it was undercooked.


Waspkeeping …

On a brighter note one of the photography entries got a ‘Very Highly Commended’ though I’m not sure which of the two prints I entered was favoured. I suspect it was “Waspkeeping” (right). In addition, I managed two third places; one for honey judged on flavour alone and one for light honey. I’m particularly pleased with the former as this is the primary reason most people like honey … because it tastes good. Finally, my soft set honey achieved a second place which was also very satisfying. Making soft set honey (or creamed honey as it is sometimes called) is a bit of a palaver but it keeps well. If you can avoid frosting – something I’ll discuss again sometime – it’s well worth the effort and very popular.

If you’ve not previously entered a honey show have a go. At the top level it’s no doubt cut throat with all sorts of trade secrets to produce the perfect jar. I have no trade secrets … use good quality 1 lb ’rounds’ without obvious defects, make sure the thread is scrupulously clean and that there is no honey on the underside of the lid (take clean lids with you ‘just in case’, but try not to open jars to retain the aroma in the headspace), make sure the jar is filled so there is no visible space between the lid and the honey surface. Stick the label on level and at the right height from the bottom of the jar. Avoid using jars containing parts of bees 😉

Then, with a bit of luck and a generous judge, you can prefix the text on your honey advertising with the important words “Prizewinning local” honey and be prepared to be inundated with orders.