The Bee’s Knees

This is a guest contribution to Illuminations for The Great Rare Books Bake Off by Mila Turner, FSU’s Social Science Data & Research Librarian 

Today I’m sharing a recipe for a Bee’s Knees cocktail with a delicious taste and an even richer history.  It’s simple and easy to make yourself, or to enjoy at your favorite cocktail bar. 

I’m an unlikely cocktail contributor because I have never been much of a drinker. In fact, when I was younger I hated the taste of ALL alcohol–beer, wine, everything! Yuck! Every time I was offered a drink, I was both disgusted and bewildered by people’s love of different spirits. 

Ugh! Why do y’all drink this stuff?!

This didn’t change until I was served my first Bee’s Knees cocktail. The concoction is the go-to drink of my favorite bartender–my dad. For my Dad there’s a familiarity with this cocktail that, in true Dad style, has nothing to do with looking cool while making this prohibition-era cocktail. 

In Black American families like mine, as with many families in the South, it isn’t uncommon to treat a sore throat or illness with a quick stovetop concoction of water, honey, and lemon. This would have been something my grandmother would have made my Dad when he was little, likely inheriting the tradition from her parents. While the Bee’s Knees cocktail is usually made with gin, it is the ingredients shared with this home remedy that lend all of the healing, nostalgic, and delicious vibes. 

The Bees Knees Recipe

1-2 ounces gin*

½ ounce honey

½ ounces of lime or lemon juice

Garnish with the skin of the citrus of your choice**

* I prefer one ounce, but my dad prefers two.

** For example, try lemon, lime, or orange skin.

To make it, you’re going to shake 1-2 ounces of gin (depending how strong you prefer) with a half of an ounce of both honey and lemon juice. In our family, we also like to swap the lemon for lime, orange, or even sorrel juice depending on what we have at the time. Before you go crazy squeezing your citrus, remember to reserve some of the fragrant skin to garnish your cocktail. Shake all of your ingredients together with a good amount of ice, then use a strainer to filter out any last chunks of ice. The most important tip is to use a quality honey — especially if you have local honey available. 

Honey has appeared as an ingredient in recipes and remedies for many years. The FSU collection of Cookbooks and Herbals includes texts with a range of honey uses from simply a sweetener for gruel (p. 114) to a detailed breakdown of honey from the year 1704 with characteristics of various types (e.g., taste, color, smell, season of production) and its history as a “Divine Nectar” (pp. 220-224). After tasting the Bee’s Knees, I’m inclined to agree that divine nectar is an accurate description! 

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