Getting Buzzed With Martha!- Honey Florentines- 129 eggs, 98 1/4 cups of sugar, 99 1/4 sticks of Butter, and 116 cups of flour used so far- 98 recipes to go!

November 2, 2010

Martha's Honey Florentines


André's Honey Florentines - Photo by Pamela Kelley

I have a friend and co-worker who is a bee-keeper. It’s a hobby she picked up earlier this year and now, with Autumn here and Winter soon on its way, she has harvested the honey for the season. I promised her that if she gave me a bit of her harvest, I would, in turn, bake a cookie from Martha’s book for her. She showed up the very next day with a small, glass container of golden and pure honey and that evening, I went to work baking Honey Florentines.

Florentines are cookies that originated in Florence, Italy. They are delicate, thin and crispy cookies make with butter, honey, and a minimal amount of flour. The measurements are tiny. Most cookies require a cup of this and a cup of that. Florentines are a tablespoon or less of this and a tablespoon or less of that. The entire batter is less than a cup but yields over two dozen cookies. A half of a teaspoon of the batter is scooped onto a parchment-lined sheet and baked at a low temperature for ten minutes. The result is a cookie that’s as thin as paper and almost lace-like in it’s appearance. Martha made the suggestion of adding ribbons of melted chocolate to the cookies for added taste and substance. I also liked that they made these honey cookies slightly resemble bees.

How do they taste? Here’s the email I got from my friend.

Andre!!! I was SO excited to get your cookies! They are the FIRST EVER anything baked from my FIRST EVER honey harvest! I finished harvesting the honey last weekend, so I haven’t had time to clean up the stickiness, much less bake something wonderful. (Honey has cheerfully taken over the house… Our hands still stick to every door knob. Our feet still get glued to the floor when we wander into the kitchen. And don’t get me started about the beeswax and propolis… that stuff is permanent.) So after all the hours of suiting up in my bee suit, coaxing bees away from their honey without getting stung, cutting comb from the upper-most hive boxes, straining and bottling the honey… it was amazing to see that my sweet little bees helped you make cookies to share with lots of people.

The cookies are incredibly delicate and glossy and beautiful… They remind me of bee’s wings! Only they taste better and don’t get stuck in your teeth. (Not that I would eat a bee. They’re endangered, you know.) When those fragile, crispy cookies melted in my mouth, I could taste the honey right away! Honey is distinctive, like wine… every harvest is unique because every floral source and hive are different. (Bees have to visit about 5 million flowers in a 2-mile radius to produce one pint of honey. No wonder they’re called “busy.”)

When I talk to my bees this week—yes, I talk to them—I’ll tell them what you did with their honey. They’ll be proud. Thank you for letting me be a part of your cookie adventure!

So, there you have it. One satisfied customer. As far as difficulty in execution, these cookies were relatively simple, but keep your eye on them while they bake. Because they are so thin and delicate, they can go from golden brown to black and gross in thirty seconds or less. – Yes, I burned a batch.

I thought I’d share a story about a pair of neighbors I had in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I lived on a street just a few short blocks from the Mississippi River levee. It was an old Acadian style home with large green-wooden shutters and a wide, open interior. There was one bath and two bedrooms on it’s East side. Essentially it was an old, tin-roofed shack in a less-than-desirable part of town.

I loved it. I loved the exposed and rotting beams that stretched from room to room. I loved the long, yellow, wooden ladder that stretched up through the living room and onto a ledge that ran the length of the porch. From what I understood from the landlord, that area of the house is where grain was kept back in the turn-of-the-century, when the house was built. It was an area that was well-ventilated keeping the grain dry and the rodents away. I loved that the floors leaned in every room and the window sills were cracked and flaked with decades of old lead paint. I loved being surrounded by thick trees decked in layers of Spanish moss that hung from every green and moldy branch. I loved that in this neighborhood, I was simply referred to as White André, so as not to be confused with the other three Andrés that lived in the surrounding blocks.

I was on a corner lot, and so I had one set of neighbors in the shack, not unlike mine, to the West. It was a couple who had been married for many troubled years, Chuck and Clothea. Both were in their fifties. Clothea was a short, wide and imposing woman who walked with steps so forceful she seemed to pound the ground with frustrated feet everywhere she went. She had a pleasant-enough face but her brow was furrowed in a constant state of anger or disappointment. In the rare moments when she would smile, you could see that her mouth was filled with a bounty of gold usually reserved for bulky man-rings or maybe the occasional pirate’s chest.

Clothea worked evenings as a maintenance worker at Louisiana State University. She worked long and hard hours sweeping, waxing, cleaning, dusting, and vacuuming. Chuck, however, had no job. In fact, he hadn’t worked in the past ten years. His story as to why he remained unemployed was like many of Chuck’s stories, cloudy and filled with anguish.

Chuck was a man of an indiscernible age. Somewhere between fifty and death. His worn and leathery skin was as dark as pitch and his yellowed and cloudy eyes seem to float in the dark puddle of wrinkles and beard that made up his face. His smile, too, sported bits of gold, but mostly consisted of gaps where teeth had been, long since lost to time and neglect.

There was a distinct benefit to having Chuck as a neighbor, though. Since he didn’t have a job, he kept watch on his porch with a beer in one hand and a drunken eye on his neighbor’s property. He was my very own security system, and although not completely reliable, and certainly not on-the-ball 24 hours of the day, he was free of charge.

Chuck did come with a catch. Several to be precise. He loved to drink. His wife, Clothea, was not a big fan of drunk Chuck. This meant that many late evenings I’d receive a knock at the door. It would always be Chuck, reeking of his evening’s exploits. He’d tearfully ask to come in to sober up so that his wife wouldn’t kick his ass. I’d start a pot of coffee and have Chuck take a shower. We’d then spend an hour of two chatting.

Chuck was a kind man but he had his demons. He loved the bottle and he loved his wife but he had trouble getting the two of them to see eye-to-eye. Chuck had little education. In fact, he was almost completely illiterate. I offered to help him improve his reading skills but he embarrassingly refused. Instead, he’d stop by with documents, many about money owed, or back taxes, and I’d sit and explain them to him.

Over the three years I lived in the shack on the banks of the Mississippi, Chuck and I became quite close.

Some of my favorite Chuck quotes: (I apologize for the dialect, but this is how Chuck really spoke.)

  • André, you and I are the same type o’ people. Same type o’ people, man! What I mean is.. I’m black… and well… you is what you is.
  • Now don’t get me wrong, André. I love my wife. God knows I do. But when the hell did her ass get so big?! Did I do that to her?!
  • I love my country. I fought for this here country. Hell, they sprayed me with Agent Ernge! Did I complain? Hell NO!

Chuck was a friend. A whacky, and not terribly reliable one, but he made me smile and that was good enough for me. Chuck and Clothea had a nephew named Brian. He wanted to try his hand at acting. I was able to pull some strings and get him a full scholarship to a Summer theatre workshop I taught. Brian was all of thirteen years old but had a remarkable gift. He could sing. He could act. And with all these gifts, he was very quiet and modest about his ability.

I cast him in the workshop production of Godspell. He played the Jesus character. I received a few not-so-nice notes from parents who thought casting the only black child in the Summer workshop was a strictly political move on my behalf. I wrote them back letting them know that I cast him because he was the only one who could sing a perfect G. It had never occurred to me that folks would be put-out by the notion of a black Jesus. I wonder what would have happened if I had cast a girl?

Chuck and Clothea both came to see their nephew perform that Summer. It was the first live play Chuck had ever seen. Afterwards, I had never seen anyone smile so big or so proudly as these three people. I took all of us to dinner that evening and we sat and talked about the next steps for Brian.

Chuck chimed in, “Hell, Brian. You done played Jesus, anything else would be a step down!” We all laughed.

The Summer ended and Brian went back to school with plans on starting a drama club that year.

Shortly before the following Spring, Chuck and Clothea knocked at my door early on a Saturday morning. They were both looking down at the ground, tears rolling down their faces.

Brian was dead. Gunned down in front of his house at the age of fourteen. The news report that evening simply referred to him as a black youth in North Baton Rouge. In other words, he was one of the expendable ones. Another dark face without a name. He probably had it coming. He was probably in a gang. His life, his dreams, who he was, everything he could have been was worth exactly ten seconds of air time.

At the funeral, I was the only white face in the small wood-paneled church. I sat with Chuck and Clothea and they held my hand through the service. We sang. We cried. We hugged.

Chuck turned to me and asked me if I remembered that song Brian sang in the show.

“You know, the first one.”- he whispered.

“It was called When Wilt Thou Save the People?”- I replied.

“Yeah, that’s the one. Yeah. that sure is it, isn’t it?” – Chuck looked down at his hands folded in front of him. He reached over and he placed his hand in mine.

2 Responses to “Getting Buzzed With Martha!- Honey Florentines- 129 eggs, 98 1/4 cups of sugar, 99 1/4 sticks of Butter, and 116 cups of flour used so far- 98 recipes to go!”

  1. Russ Says:

    Even though it has a sad ending, this might be my favorite story you’ve shared. And I love the quotes.

  2. Danielle Says:

    Oh Andrea’… That was one of the most beautiful, saddest stories – think you’ve shared. I truly hope when you’re done with “Martha”, you won’t be done blogging and writing.

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