Food for the Soul
A sweet gathering at the Honey House
Story Jan Swoope | Photographs Luisa Porter
Mississippi’s honeybees have lately been as busy as … well, you know. The official state insects have worked their winged magic, producing that “liquid gold,” that slow-flowing “nectar of the gods.” So, thoughts turn to Mayhew, to the Honey House just a short stroll down a gravel drive behind Bess and Billy Swedenburg’s home. Once used for Stover Apiaries’ honey extraction, it was later transformed into quarters for an ever-growing family coming home for visits. But something else evolved, too. The Honey House has emerged as a testament to roots — and to the bee man who started it all.
David Douglas Stover, Bess’ grandfather, founded the apiaries he ran until his death in 1935. Newspapers called it “the world’s largest queen bee apiary,” shipping queens around the globe from Mayhew. Quite a distinction for the rural hamlet tucked in western Lowndes County. Stover’s hard work helped build a family and a community, and Bess feels it’s was important that her children and grandchildren know their ancestor.
“I really try hard to stress that every family has a story worth preserving,” says Bess. “It doesn’t have to be on the scale of the Honey House, with an existing building, but it’s worth writing down and passing on.”
On a balmy evening in May, a group of active boys is at the Honey House, celebrating completion of their catechism class at Columbus’ Main Street Presbyterian Church. Bess teaches the class. Hosting socials at the Honey House is second nature to the Swedenburgs, be it church groups, their supper club, a baby shower, a garden club meeting or even a reunion fish fry for S.D. Lee High classmates.
On this night, Billy fries chicken on the side porch, on the antique wood stove he’s converted. Bess is inside, sharing history about the house. Billy built it on the foundation of its predecessor, lost in a fire. Both old and new versions were used for extracting honey at the apiaries operated by family members until the late ’80s.
Bess shares the Stover Apiaries history she wrote for the Mississippi Beekeepers Association and scrapbooks kept of Honey House happenings. The boys’ parents explore the surroundings, examining the worn desk from the apiaries, old adding machine and hand-lettered ledgers included. There is memorabilia from the long-closed Mayhew Post Office, which Bess manned for 35 years. Family Bibles lie open on tabletops. Photographs and clippings line walls and surfaces.
Visitors can’t resist whimsical curiosities, like the working phone booth salvaged from a Jackson hotel. It’s a find from an area antique shop, as is the whirring, neon-bright slot machine that fascinates young and old alike.
Outside, a bell clangs at the hands of a laughing boy in shorts and T-shirt. Other children play a bee-themed game of cornhole nearby. The bell was preserved from Mayhew Union Church, a place that was dear to the Swedenburgs.
When Billy brings in mounds of hot, fried chicken, the dinner call goes out. Kids and parents gather round for prayer before filling their plates from fare atop a gleaming countertop Billy made. Its wooden surface — and a dining table, too — are lane sections from the bowling alley once housed in Mississippi State University’s student union. Everywhere are bits and pieces of past and present, of family and local history.
Dessert time, and it’s only fitting that somehow it involves honey. Bess drizzles Canadian Clover honey over vanilla ice cream topped with toasted pecans, paired with “bee” cookies.
David Douglas Stover left his mark on the bee business, on Mayhew and those who came after him. His descendants hope to preserve that slice of heritage, not only for their children and grandchildren, but for the community as well. And they have a honey of a place to do it.
¾ cup shortening
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg, beaten
¼ cup honey
¼ teaspoon salt
2 ¼ cups flour
2 teaspoons soda
½ teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon sugar
• Cream shortening, sugars and honey together and blend in the remaining ingredients. Chill for one hour or longer.
• Shape chilled dough into balls and dip into sugar. Place on cookie sheet and sprinkle a few drops of water on each cookie.
• Bake for 12-15 minutes at 375°F.
CREAMY HONEY SALAD
1 tablespoon lemon juice
¼ cup water
½ cup pineapple juice
⅓ cup honey
1 ½ tablespoons cornstarch
2 cups whipped cream
Peaches (sliced, drained)
• Mix together lemon juice, water, eggs, pineapple juice, honey and cornstarch in a saucepan; cook until thickened. Cool.
• Fold in 2 cups whipped cream. Fold creamy mixture into fruits and nuts.
HONEY-GLAZED LIMA BEANS
2 cups dried lima beans
1 cup chopped onions
¼ cup shortening
¾ cup honey
1 ½ teaspoons salt
• Wash beans and soak about two hours in water; drain. Cover beans with water and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over medium heat for two hours; drain.
• Melt shortening and sauté onions until tender.
• Mix beans, onions, honey and salt together. Pour into casserole. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 F. until beans are glazed and tender, about one hour.
(All recipes from Mississippi Homegrown: Cooking with Honey, Mississippi Beekeepers Association)