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What does Van Morrison, Kilgore Trout, Peter Fonda and the waitress from the Lighthouse Cafe in Wewahitchka, Florida have in common? Hint: each are referenced in this story as having something to do with honey. And honey, dear reader, is today’s blog topic…

A raging Memorial Day thunderstorm had chased my traveling companion and me into a local cafe in the small Florida panhandle town of Wewahitchka – noted for its Tupelo honey, Dead Lakes and legendary girl’s softball team, the Gators. We dashed from the truck into the cafe and, instructed to sit anywhere, selected a small table near the enormous window that spanned the front of the restaurant. Apparently the plate glass window had replaced large overhead doors of what was formally a gas station and automobile repair shop.

The Dead Lakes in Wewa

The Dead Lakes in Wewa

Our waitress approached. Her friendly smile showed several teeth were missing. “Whatcha’ll gonna have, honey?”

We placed our orders for fried shrimp baskets with sides of cheese grits and slaw, then sat back and watched the torrent. We were in no hurry to go back out into the rain so were unperturbed when the service was a little slow. Each time the waitress passed our table with someone else’s order, she would stop by and say, “Yours’ll be out in just a few minutes, honey.” When she appeared to be in a rush, she would shorten the endearment to an expeditious: hon.

We had one single purpose for our visit to Wewahitchka on this Memorial Day and that was honey. We were in town to purchase our annual supply of Tupelo honey –– made from the nectar of the white Tupelo tree that grows only alongside the Apalachicola and Chipola Rivers and collected by L.L. Lanier and Son –– a third generation bee keeping family.

Lanier & Son bee hives

Lanier & Son bee hives

For those who haven’t partaken of this sweet treat, Tupelo honey is celebrated as some of the finest honey in the universe. Ostensibly Van Morrison agrees and sums it up in the lyrics to the title track on his 1971 album, Tupelo Honey: “She’s as sweet as Tupelo honey / Just like honey from the bee.”

Evidently, this honey is so seriously good, a film entitled Ulee’s Gold was produced starring Peter Fonda in the role as bee keeper –– a character patterned after old L.L. Lanier himself. During a 1997 interview, Fonda reminisced, “I found a lot [of my character] in my father. He kept a couple of hives and I can see him hop-footing it across the lawn, thinking he had a bee up his pant leg.”

In the Florida panhandle from April to May, the moment the bees begin working the blooms of the Tupelo trees, bee keepers strip the hives of all their stored honey. When Tupelo production is over, the hives are harvested before it can be mixed with additional honey sources to ensure the product can be certifed Tupelo honey. Good white Tupelo, raw, unheated and unmixed with other honey will never granulate. This kind of honest-to-goodness honey is as close to the impenetrable swamps of the wild rivers of northwestern Florida as a human can get.

River swamp with cedar and tupelo trees

River swamp with cedar and tupelo trees

So here we were in Wewa (as it is known by the locals) on a stormy Monday in search of genuine unadulterated Tupelo honey. We knew where to go, we’ve been here many times before. We turned off County Road 71 onto Lake Grove Road and drove until we saw the open gates at L.L. Lanier & Sons’ establishment.

I steered my truck along a sandy drive, dodging puddles deep enough to swallow up the lazy wet hound that ambled from the junk-strewn yard.  I stopped next to the side door of a decrepit house where various-sized jars of Tupelo honey were displayed on an upturned 55-gallon wooden barrel. An old cedar board hand-carved with the word “honey” lay half-buried, along with a collection of broken toys and rusted tools, beside the porch.

I stepped out of the truck to inspect the jars and an elderly woman appeared from the house. I could hear the indistinct sounds from a television in a nearby room. “Kin I hep ya?” she asked.

L.L Lanier's offerings

L.L Lanier's offerings

“I’d like a case of the eight-ounce jars,” I replied. Then, “I wish I had some of those biscuits from the Lighthouse Cafe to go along with this good honey. But anything is good with this honey spread on it.”

The old woman looked puzzled for a moment then came back, “Me? I don’t like honey. I like syrup, but not honey. That’ll be fifty-four dollars.”

I hastily pulled the cash from my wallet and handed it to the woman who thanked me, then stepped barefooted into the house. I loaded the honey into the back seat of the truck and backed out of the yard, pleased that I had scored another year’s supply of Tupelo honey and a few jars to share with friends and family as well.

I know I’ll return again to Wewa to buy up next year’s honey stock… just like Kilgore Trout wrote in his last known poem:

When the tupelo

Goes poop-a-lo

I’ll come back to youp-a-lo.