Saturday, November 22, 2008

Keeping Warm with Thoughts of Happy Bees

There's snow on the ground now. Not much, merely a skimming of the cement, but enough that it's not melting straight away. I find myself traipsing about wearing my big, old wool army socks with layers of long johns and sweats. I'm actually wearing a hat right now, content to be warm even if I look a little ridiculous.

This time of year I find myself naturally pulled towards the heavier, warming foods available to us locally. Squash, sweet potatoes, sweet onions, cabbage, and fresh goose and duck have all been gracing our table. I've been using (and making) a lot of broth for our soups. I think we could eat chicken soup all day, every day. In fact, some times we do. My husband and children have jointly mastered a roasted squash and apple soup that they automatically default to anytime I'm not around to make supper. Luckily, it's pretty tasty and we seem to always have a whack of squash lying around.

Most of all, we enjoy a steaming cup of organic, Earl Grey tea with some wild flower honey drizzled in it. Because I'm staying away from honey for a while, I just use some organic "Zero" in mine, but still, I plan on returning to my lovely honey. Our honey is generously supplied by a local farmer with happy bees. It's interesting to see the colour of the honey change as the season does. The last of the honey, for this year, has been a deep, golden yellow whereas the honey from earlier in the season was lighter and 'quieter' on the palate. Our honey is passed through a filter and then bottled, that's it. It's sweet, but still holds a lot of flavour. I've sampled honey that's sweet, but lacks any real taste other than that bold sweetness. This is not how honey should taste. There should be flavour to it and depending on what the bees have drawn on to make the honey, the colour and taste can vary greatly. 

Raw honey is best.  Pasteurization kills the delicate enzymes within the honey. Also, look for honey that's from an organic farm so chemical residues aren't finding their way into your food. Another thing to note is that it is common practice for beekeepers to feed their bees a sugar solution over the winter. By getting to know your honey farmer, you can find out what practices are used for pest management, processing of the honey, and what they use to winter their bees. Our farmer feeds the bees back their honey over the winter which is more preferable to the sugar solution. 

Beekeeping is actually pretty complex, but if you're interested in learning more about the right way to do it, and all of the wrong things that are presently being done by industrial beekeepers (hence the colony collapse problems), there's some great reading available from Michael Bush of Bush Farms.  Michael, along with many organic beekeepers, are producing honey with no disease or pest problems in their colonies. You may also like to familiarize yourself with the rules for producing organic honey. While organic is definitely preferable, I still opt to find a farmer that I can visit to find out what their practices are regarding winter feeding of the bees. Even organic aviaries can use the sugar solution.

Happy bees that produce honey like they would in the wild make the most delicious honey. I've got nothin' scientific to support that one, it's just a hunch that's proven true on my tongue.

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