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Times Columnist Phil Potempa with Natalie Theis and her father Ken Theis at their Kouts Homestead

Times columnist Phil Potempa, left, with Natalie Theis and her father Ken Theis of Kouts learned about the Theis Family honeybee operation during a visit this month.

John Luke, The Times

Our family is celebrating my dad's 86th birthday this week.

After reading a Sunday cover story I wrote earlier this month about beekeepers and honeybees, I've promised my parents a belated birthday gift for my dad with a visit to see the beehives and honey operation described at the homestead of Ken and Mary Theis in Kouts.

Honey is a prized ingredient, long heralded, including historical and biblical prominence.

Spanish cave paintings dating from longer than 9,000 years ago depict brave gatherers scaling trees to secure the sweet reward of honey. Similar paintings have been discovered from the ancient days of Africa and India. The practiced and observed laws of Ancient India even stated if someone were found to have stolen honey from another farmer's hives, the thief was doomed to be reincarnated in "the next life" as a fly.

The first domesticated beehives were in Egypt and India.

Honey is also a key commodity to be worshiped from Ancient Greek mythology.

According to lore, when the great god Zeus was born, he began his infant years hidden, cared for and guarded by a swarm of honeybees. A nymph named Melissa also nourished him with honey, which is why the Greek meaning for the name "Melissa" means "she who makes honey."

Ken, 87, and Mary Theis, his wife of 40 years, might have selected the name "Melissa" for their daughter Natalie, as a perfect preface to her destiny to continue the family bee business. Natalie White, 37, lives with her own family in a house next door to her parents' adjoining property, and she is carrying on the family tradition managing the hives and honey business.

She is also carrying on her mother's kitchen traditions. Mom Mary has previously been featured in my farm recipe column. Now, it's daughter Natalie's turn.

Her dough recipe for a delicious pizza crust includes honey. And since their family farm has plenty of rhubarb this season, she's included a favorite tart and sweet treat dessert recipe from the family file to share with readers.

Remember, baked goods sweetened with honey always stay moister than those made with sugar, because of the water-attracting property of honey.

Honey Wheat Pizza Crust

2 cups warm water (105 to 115 degrees F.)

2 tablespoons active dry yeast

2 tablespoons honey

2 teaspoons salt

4 tablespoons oil (vegetable, Canola, or olive oil)

2 1/2 cups white flour

2 1/2 cups wheat flour (you can use all white or all wheat instead)

DIRECTIONS: Pour the warm water into a bowl and sprinkle the yeast over it. Stir to dissolve. Add the remaining ingredients and mix. Dump onto a floured surface and knead dough for 2 to 5 minutes until smooth and no longer sticky. To bake, roll out and shape onto a greased pizza pan or even two 19-inch pans if a thinner, smaller crust is desired. Add pizza toppings of your choice. Bake at 500 degrees for around 10 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly and crust is golden. This recipe can also be split into two dough balls and frozen for 4-6 weeks. And then to use, thaw in greased bowl for 3-4 hours, then roll out, add toppings, and bake.

Rhubarb Buckle

Buckle layer:

Vegetable-oil cooking spray, for cake pans

2 1/2 pounds rhubarb trimmed and cut 1/2 inch thick

2 cups sugar, divided use

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened

1 teaspoon lemon juice

3 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup sour cream

Crumb topping:

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted

DIRECTIONS: To make buckle layer, preheat oven to 350 degrees, with rack in center position. Coat two 9-inch square cake pans with cooking spray. Stir rhubarb with 1 cup sugar; set aside to macerate. Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Beat together butter, remaining cup sugar, and the lemon juice until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, then beat in vanilla. Beat in flour mixture as two additions, alternating with sour cream, beginning and ending with flour mixture. To make the crumb topping, stir together flour, brown sugar, and salt. Add melted butter; stir to combine. Divide the batter between pans. Top with layer of the rhubarb mixture, and sprinkle with crumb topping. Bake about 1 hour, until golden on top and cooked through. Let cool completely in pans on wire racks. Before serving, cut buckle into 2-inch squares. Can also be wrapped in parchment or wax paper and frozen for later. Makes 2 dozen servings.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at philip.potempa@nwi.com or (219) 852-4327.

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