In the Nourish Kitchen: Of Boys & Bees (With Hope That Something Sticks)

Tuesday, Apr 24th, 2012 by

Earlier this month I assembled the boys of Den #3 for a meeting on the porch. In full-on Cub Scout mode, I enthusiastically talked about birds, trying to achieve the perfect balance of learning and fun. My clipped pace was necessary to accomplish our goals before their post-schoolday attention flew away.

Photo by Andreas. on Flickr.Trying in vain to share something which would stick, it became apparent something was driving them to distraction. Not the pleasant breeze of a prematurely balmy spring day, the football lying in the yard, or the typical antics of 2nd grade boys. It was bees.

They seemed to be everywhere, dodging between us, flying high and low then mysteriously disappearing near the heavy arm chair with peeling paint.  In effort to regain control, I stated with the air of calm used when diffusing the panic bees illicit, “If you leave them alone; they’ll leave you alone.” Then, “They are more afraid of you than you are of them.”  Followed by an exasperated, “Just ignore them.” Of course, as is usually the way, the boys heeded none of my advice, and I knew time was not on my side.

My son Henry, seated just to my right said to his friends, “They won’t hurt you.” He turned to look at mem continuing with, “Remember when we put them in the hive and one landed on my finger? He didn’t sting me at all.” And with that, I knew my efforts were worth it.

I have always wanted to be a beekeeper. Long before it was trendy and the equipment available from Williams-Sonoma, it was a dream. Nine years ago, I decided the time had finally come so I enrolled in the class, learned to build a hive, and saved for the equipment. Then I ordered my bees and promptly discovered I was pregnant.

Heavy bee work begins in late summer or early fall. The November arrival of my fourth bundle of joy had me packing my bee veil and digging out the Baby Bjorn.  As mothers so often do, I decided to postpone my project until the baby turned 1 or 2 or … 3? Needless to say, when baby Henry was 5, The Yellow House Apiary came to fruition.

Honey bees are fascinating creatures. Their skills of communication, architecture, democracy, and cooperation put our highly evolved species to shame. After installing the queen and her ladies in waiting, I fed them, checked them, and watched imagining the orderly synchronicity happening within the walls of this stack of glaring white boxes. (I think it appeals to my type-A personality) These bees had their work cut out for them. While the queen laid eggs, worker bees cleaned, tended, protected, and gathered nectar throughout their lifetime spanning only weeks.

Tending to The Yellow House Apiary. Photo provided by Jennifer Downing.My bees made it through a hard year – a year many beekeepers lost their hives. I was very impressed with my newbie skills until my neighbor called to tell me she thought my bees were on her tree. Surely, that wasn’t possible, but I went out to investigate.

Yes, in fact, my bees had gathered low and heavy on a branch of her lilac tree. I’ve learned when keeping bees, most of the trick is observation. If you pay attention you’ll see changes; if there is a struggle. If you really look you might detect too many bees made it through the winter. Too many girls in one space are never a good thing, and this was clearly the case. Conservatively, half had followed the queen to the fragrant branches of my fearful neighbor to plan their next move.

Luckily, I have a farmer friend who willingly collected the bee-encased branch I cut, lowered into a box, and secured with packing tape. They went on to live in Sugar Grove; and I am hopeful generations have done the good work of bees, pollinating crops and producing honey.

By now I’m sure you’ve heard of the plight of the honey bee. Hopefully, you realize the importance of their health, how it relates to ours, and that of our planet. Thirty percent of the world’s crops rely on honey bees to pollinate them. No bees means no apples, kiwi, onions, cotton or clover. Am I telling you to become a beekeeper? No, but I think you should buy the stuff made in your own backyard – literally. It’s real, not a potentially chemically tainted facsimile, and the flavor is heavenly. I promise you’ll never reach for the squeezy bear on the top shelf in the peanut butter aisle again.

In the end what do honey bees have to do with Cub Scouts and birds? Henry’s memory, simple statement, and lack of fear made me realize that’s why every other Monday I attempt the equivalent of nailing Jell-O to a tree. I love to share why nature is so amazing, intertwined with our existence, and in need of respect.

Hopefully, some of it will stick (no pun intended) and they’ll learn to be in awe and not afraid.

If you’d like more information on the importance of supporting your local beekeeper, I suggest you read the article here

Seek out unprocessed honey at your local markets, make these delicious cookies and everybody wins. 

Lemon Chewies with Honey

These are my new favorite cookie. Since honey absorbs moisture from the air, they are good keepers, though I doubt they’ll be around long. This recipe is slightly modified from one in The Cookiepedia by Stacy Adimando.

Ingredients:

  • 2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 t. baking powder
  • 1 t. kosher salt
  • 1/ c. unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ½ c. sugar
  • ½ t. grated lemon zest
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 c. raw local honey

Directions: 

  • Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt into a bowl and set it aside.
  • Cream the butter and sugar until they look like and fluffy Add the lemon zest and mix to incorporate.
  • In a separate bowl, crack in the egg and add the honey. Stir them together until they’re fairly well mixed. Then add it to the butter mixture and beat until combined. Add the flour mixture a third at a tie and let it mix in fully each time before adding the next batch; you’ll see the dough start to come together. Blend just until smooth.
  • Line a cookie sheet with parchment. Then scoop teaspoons of the dough with a trigger (ice cream) scoop placing them about 2” apart. Press lightly to flatten.
  • Bake for 10-12 minutes, until cookies are set and bottoms are golden brown

Yield: 3 dozen

Jennifer lives in the western suburbs of Chicago with her husband, four kids, two dogs, four backyard hens and a newly installed hive of honey bees. In her spare time you may find her in the garden, reading, and writing about her many passions. 

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