Often I’ve imagined what it would be like to have my own bee hive.
Dressed in the full regalia, space age white suit, helmet and all, blowing smoke into the buzzing mass and gathering beautiful pure honey.
The reality is that I’m never at home enough to tend to these incredible creatures and invariably would be the worst beekeeper ever.
On the up side, my friends, gardening genius Jilly Dougan and rapeseed oil baroness Leona Kane both keep bees and make this skilled work look easy. Last week, Jilly presented me with a jar of her much prized honey. It was like she had handed over a precious child and the onus now is to honour her tender loving care and do this Co Armagh nectar proud. As she grows lots of herbs and vegetables the honey has floral and herbal notes – unique to her place. That’s the thing I love most about this liquid gold – it soaks up the surrounding landscape and captures the essence of a particular area.
The philosopher Pliny wrote: “Honey comes out of the air….At early dawn the leaves of trees are found bedewed with honey….Whether this is the perspiration of the sky or a sort of saliva of the stars, or the moisture of the air purging itself, nevertheless it brings with it the great pleasure of its heavenly nature. It is always of the best quality when it is stored in the best flowers.”
While this can be a beautiful thing there’s a flip side. A beekeeper told me about an incident in America when the honey from a particular hive was producing a bright blue honey. They couldn’t understand it but eventually discovered that the bees had been feeding at a local M and M factory and had been overdoing the dye used in the production of these much less impressive sweet treats.
I haven’t tried Leona’s honey yet but did sample one from Tyrone that came from hives situated in a rapeseed field. The honey was distinctly yellow in appearance and had a bouquet of intense flowers.
Pure honey from Northern Ireland is rare and because of that is expensive. It is totally worth it though and needs to be cherished. Ideally the honey shouldn’t be tampered with and would be perfect served on toast, made from great bread, with only a smidgen of butter.
Another wonderful thing to do is to drizzle it over good blue or goat’s cheese. The fragrant honey cuts through the sharp saltiness.
Both recipes this week celebrate the versatility of this natural gift. Apples star in both too – one for a dessert and the other with savoury elements. The sweet one is for a honey tart with a hazelnut crust. Warm honey is whipped with cream cheese, cream and eggs and baked gently in a crust. I’ve added apples slightly cooked in honey and cider but you could top with plums, pears or any fruit you wish.
With the delicious autumnal weather we’ve been having, it’s lovely that the cover hasn’t needed to go onto the barbecue yet. My other recipe is for barbecued pork fillet glazed with honey, served with grilled scallions and a scorched apple sauce. Simple - but showcasing great local ingredients in the perfect warm autumn dish.