My friend has been enthusiastically telling me about ‘post-crossing’ – a vast international community who send postcards to each other from around the world. I think I’ve just become a ‘honey-crosser.’
Three years ago, when was starting writing my book, Travels in Blood and Honey; becoming a beekeeper in Kosovo, I came across a beekeeper on the other side of the world. Tracey is in Seattle, and not only is she a beekeeper but she is also a writer (that’s three writer-beekeepers I know – her, me and Tolstoy). We exchanged messages, at first through the miniature windows of Facebook, and then in the wider spaces of email. I sent her drafts of some of my first chapters and she sent me thoughtful, gentle feedback. I really wanted to thank her, and racking my vocabulary of gratitude, I decided to send her some honey.
Now my book’s been published and Tracey’s sent me some of her honey to congratulate me. It’s cut comb honey, meaning the pot contains a hunk of wax comb, the fine, elaborate and extremely sturdy structure the bees build to store their honey. They’ve filled each of the tiny hexagonal-sided vats with honey, and there’s been no centrifuging or funny business, no straining or melting – the honey in the little plastic pot which arrived through the US mail is in a form as close as it could be to the honey feasted on by Tracey’s bees themselves.
And I know from what Tracey’s told me that her bees can take even more of the credit for this honeycomb than my bees can for theirs. Like many beekeepers I give the bees a wax starter sheet to get them going in building the honeycomb. It’s a flat beeswax sheet with small ridges marking out hexagons across the entire surface. That’s a hint to the bees, who will then obediently build their honeycomb using these foundations. Tracey argues that forcing the bees into certain dimensions undermines their instincts for building honeycomb to suit the environment, their needs, and the available space. What I’ve been sent in the post to sample is entirely bee-planned and bee-built (and very bee-autiful).
Eating honey from the comb is a different experience from eating strained honey. This is to the supermarket’s fine filtered transparent jars as the village pogace bread is to white crustless loaves. When you’ve swallowed the honey down the wax (entirely edible) stays in your mouth and you find yourself masticating as if it’s high class chewing gum. The consistency of this cut comb honey is jammy. If you spread it on toast or add it to a warm dish like porridge then the texture changes as the wax melts. This feels like real honey.
And it tastes fabulous. The nose is of stone fruits – plum or apricot, with a sting of citrus. The taste is more berries – ripe blackberries or cherries.
Tracy looks after her bees carefully, as demonstrated in her attitude to their comb-building, and takes stunning photographs of them (she calls herself a ‘bee-peeker’!). I guess this honey is their exquisite ‘thank you’.