You could tell when it was sourwood honey time. The valleys curled listlessly between the ancient mountains, redolent in honeysuckle and black locust blossoms. Everyone in the lowlands lived in a kind of torpor. It was almost July, and you could feel it under your eyelids, the sweat making its way in crevices you didn’t want it to. You’d push the sweat of your brow and look up at the smoke-blue smudge of undulation on the horizon. The mountains! They called to us all.
Back in the day, the highlands were a resort area. Places like Maggie Valley and Blowing Rock drew folks out of their sultry homes from flatter and hotter climes. There weren’t any good interstates up in the mountains back then. So you’d snake your way on twisty mountain roads. And if you were lucky, by God, there’d be a sourwood honey stand on the side of the road.
Dad favored Grandfather Mountain for the honey stands. Up that twisty road of switchbacks, I had to keep swallowing and trying to find the horizon, before the road made me sick. I carried my little headset radio with me, and you could pick up all sorts of stations in the mountains. I was listening to Asheville, North Carolina! They sure had a better selection than East Tennessee, when it came to music.
The farther up the road we went, the foggier it became. The temperature plummeted, but my excitement grew. I could feel it: we were almost there. And then sure enough, the spray of gravel as Dad turned the car off the side of the road and parked next to our quarry.
Ramshackle little roadside markets with rows of deep amber-hued liquid in jars. Sourwood honey! The legend, the only one! Jars clear, jars translucent…Dad went for the latter, because those held honeycomb. He liked to eat the comb. There was really something about seeing those jars that sent a thrill through me. To think that bees that only favored sourwood tree blossoms could make that tangy-sweet elixir…surely that was mountain magic.
Jars purchased, we headed back down the mountain. Then we could open our jars over time, and think back to sourwood honey days. We drizzled the bees’ quarry over our buttered biscuits and waited for the weather in the lowlands to cool down. There is no honey like sourwood honey, the jewel of the highlands.