Karen Lorence shows off a plate of her honey crinkle cookies made with honey from bee hives which she and her husband Charles maintain. | Judy Buchenot~For Sun-Times Media
1-1/2 cups shortening 2 cups brown sugar
2 eggs 1/2 cup honey
4-1/2 cups flour 4 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon cloves
2 teaspoons cinnamon 2 teaspoons ginger
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix together shortening, brown sugar, eggs and honey. Sift together the dry ingredients. Add dry ingredients to shortening mixture and mix well. Form dough into balls the size of walnuts. Dip tops in sugar and place on greased pan with the sugar side up. Bake in middle of oven for 9 minutes. Cool slightly on baking sheet before removing to cooling rack. Cookies should have soft centers, so be careful not to over bake them.
Bees came buzzing into Karen and Charles Lorence’s life about 42 years ago.
“We were young hippies out of college and ready to look for a way to live off the land,” recalls Karen Lorence, smiling at the memory of her youthful optimism. “My husband was at the dental office, and by chance, he picked up a magazine with an article about bees. He remembered that his father once had bees.”
Charles contacted his father who gave him the empty bee boxes.
“We started two bee colonies and then decided ‘let’s try four,’ then eight, then 16,” says Karen describing their sweet ascent into the honey business.
At the height of their bee keeping, the couple had 150 colonies buzzing at eight locations. Since they were both teachers, the couple had summers free to maintain the hives.
“It got hectic in the fall with the fall extraction, bottling and selling, but our honey business thrived,” Karen says.
The couple retired from teaching 11 years ago, and about four years ago, decided to cut back to 42 hives. They continue to teach beekeeping classes and give honey presentations to community groups.
With a steady supply of honey in her kitchen, Karen often uses it as a sweetener. She recently canned grape juice and used honey to sweeten the juice. She says honey can be used to make delicious popcorn balls and also can be used in place of molasses in recipes.
“Honey can be substituted equally for sugar in almost anything except baked goods,” Karen says. “It is best to use a recipe that was created with honey for most baked things. The exception is bread. Honey can be substituted for sugar in bread recipes. I like baking with honey because it holds moisture, and things don’t dry out as quickly.”
The bee colonies provide Karen and Charles with materials to create many different products such as creamed honey, which is honey that has been allowed to granulate so that it becomes a smooth spread. They also collect bee pollen to sell.
“People believe it gives them energy,” she explains. “I sometimes mix it into a shake. It tastes like honey-toasted wheat germ.”
The beeswax can be used to make lip balm, furniture polish, lotion and soap.
“There is absolutely no waste,” Karen says.
There is even a market for propolis, a resin-like mixture that the bees collect from tree buds and other natural sources. The bees use the substance to seal unwanted gaps in their hives. Karen scrapes off the propolis to sell as an ingredient in face creams.
Customers often ask Karen if her honey is organic.
“There is no such thing as organic honey,” Karen says. “We can’t leash our bees and control where they go for pollen. There is no certification for organic honey in the United States.”
Karen encourages people to buy honey from local beekeepers to promote growth of bee colonies. Colony Collapse Disorder has destroyed many hives in this country. There are several theories about what causes a healthy hive to die, ranging from increased insecticide use to hybridization, but so far, no one has found a way to prevent the syndrome.
Honey undergoes no processing, so it is truly a natural substance.
“If I taste the honey comb right from the hive, it is like tasting flowers,” Karen says.
Her three daughters grew up enjoying Karen’s honey crinkle cookies, and now her six grandkids love them also. Two of the grandchildren have taken an interest in beekeeping, which pleases Karen and Charles.
Karen shares her recipe for a moist, chewy cookie sweetened with honey.