Growers fight to preserve North Florida’s precious tupelo honey.

By Craig Pittman

Start with the golden liquid itself.

Hold a jar of it up to the light and examine its beauty. Experts describe it as a light amber with a slight greenish cast.

Open the top and inhale. Some call its aroma “pear-like,” and “hoppy.”

Now take a taste of tupelo honey, the most magical—and most endangered—of Florida’s homegrown culinary treats. Marvel at its floral, buttery flavor. Marvel that there’s no aftertaste, no bitterness.

Marvel, too, that it exists at all these days.

“There are some things in this world that you can’t mass produce, and tupelo honey is one of them,” says Glynnis Lanier, whose family owned business in Gulf County has been selling tupelo honey since 1898. Her husband, Ben, started off “in the bee yard” at age 6 and is now 65—and he’s getting ready to hand it off to their son Heath, age 19.

As a concept in pop culture, tupelo honey is available all over. Turn on an oldies radio station and there’s the Van Morrison hit titled “Tupelo Honey” from the 1971 album of the same name. In it the Irish singer-songwriter raves about how sweet his wife is.

The song itself is so sweet that on a 1994 episode of the TV show “Friends,” one of the characters proclaims it the most romantic song of all time. (His on-again, off-again girlfriend disagrees.)

Then there’s the 1997 movie, “Ulee’s Gold,” starring Peter Fonda as a Florida beekeeper whose specialty is tupelo honey. Fonda’s performance won him a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination. The Van Morrison song plays at the end.

There’s even a chain of restaurants called Tupelo Honey Southern Kitchen, the name suggesting both regional authenticity and quality ingredients. The chain has locations in the South, Midwest and West, but there’s not a single Tupelo Honey Southern Kitchen in Florida. That’s even though tupelo honey is the official honey of the state of Florida, so declared by the legislature in 2016.

Florida is the best place to find real tupelo honey, not some weak mixture with an inferior honey that falsely claims to be tupelo. You can taste it straight from the jar, drip it on some biscuits or drizzle it over whatever you’re cooking and make it taste better.

The only problem with real tupelo honey is that when you find it, you’re liable to find it’s all sold out.

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Craig Pittman

A Florida native, Craig Pittman is an award-winning journalist, podcaster and author of six books, including the New York Times bestseller Oh, Florida! How America’s Weirdest State Influences the Rest of the Country. In 2020, the Florida Heritage Book Festival named him a Florida Literary Legend, and in 2022 the Sierra Club honored his 20 years of covering Florida’s environmental issues with their Rachel Carson Award. He wrote “Lift Every Voice and Sing” in our Spring 2022 issue. Three of his presentations about Florida’s quirkiness are part of Florida Humanities’ Florida Talks speakers program.

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2023 Issue of FORUM Magazine. Visit our collection at the USFSP Digital Archive by clicking here.