Beekeeping isn’t all about honey

The sous-chef has just extracted his summer harvest from the hives.   The trick is detailed preparation and delicate choreography: clearing bees from the honey boxes (known as supers), lifting wooden frames of sealed comb to a special tray for removing the wax cappings; slotting the frames into the extractor; positioning the collecting bucket; placing the empty ‘wet’ frame in a box for eventual return to the hive and for the bees to clean; decanting the collecting bucket through the stack of three filters, testing the honey for its concentration  with a refractometer and collecting samples for analysis and registration by the National Honey Monitoring Service. Every movement risks trails of stickiness on every surface which then need repeated washing down.   This time, the movement arc succeeded with barely a drip on a thick carpet of pristine clean newspaper (at last, a good use for the broadsheets).   A hard day’s work and over 30 kilos of precious honey and the makings for a gallon of mead later, cleaning up was easy.

My role was limited to stabilising the extractor while his energetic rotation emptied the frames with centrifugal force.   Plain cold-water sluices most of the honey from all the equipment and, fingers crossed, by capturing the filtered waste, I have enough to make mead.   It’s specific gravity is about right and gentle heating to 66C should have killed off any wild yeast.   A sachet each of brewing yeast and nutrient plus a little lemon or apple juice should have the demijohn bubbling in no time – fingers crossed.

On the darker side of honey, quite coincidentally, I’m hearing about the unexplained death of an Italian beekeeper whose hives are located amongst the tiny islands scattered across the lagoon surrounding Venice.   The “Earthly remains” audio book features Donna Leone’s delightfully empathetic detective, Commisario Benetti.   Anyone who keeps bees or enjoys honey will relish her descriptions of the bees and, meanwhile, the plot thickens…

As for recipes, we needed freezer space for the empty frames: 48 hours should kill off any wax moth eggs and other pests.   Three large handfuls of frozen raspberries, a generous dash of eau de framboise liqueur, a 390g tin of condensed milk and 300ml double cream all went into a bowl for whizzing with a stick-blender.   The raspberry ice-cream was already thickening before it went into a different freezer to complete solidifying.   Scrumptious taste of summer.   Next time, I’ll replace the fruit and liqueur with honey and whisky.

More summer harvest for the next free on-line cooking demo at 1030 on Monday 8 August using tomatoes, cucumbers, courgettes and aubergines in Mediterranean classics: ratatouille and gazpacho soup.   Register for free at: https://ratatouille_baking_blind.eventbrite.co.uk

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