Honey from a drizzler: it’s the languorous teatime way to eat. Watching the faery columns of gold spooling down from a drizzler is like being allowed to play with your food.
I have no idea how this particular design came about for transferring honey; when I tell my Kosovan friends that we have a special implement for moving honey from jar to plate they look incredulous, much as I would look if I were told there was a particular tool for peanut butter, or a carefully curved ‘Marmite knife’. I wonder whether there might be something of the stout body and stripes of apis mellifera in the way the wood is turned; or maybe something borrowed from the skep – the egg-shaped woven hives that bees were kept in traditionally, and which are still in use in Kosovan villages.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the design of drizzlers recently because I went to commission a set of them in Kosovo. I had an exemplar in my pocket as I didn’t believe there was an Albanian word for drizzler, and I didn’t trust either my linguistic or scale-drawing skills to communicate to a woodcarver exactly what was needed. My first stop was to the old guy with a drip at the end of his nose who stands at the market in old Pristina, presiding over a collection of hand carved spoons, cradles and scythe handles. It was from him that I had bought the invaluable wooden tongs I use for retrieving burned bread from a toaster. I hoped he would help kit out the rest of my teatime.
He was quite certain that he couldn’t help me. “You’d need a woodturning machine to make a …” – he paused. It seems there is no word in Albanian for the strange tool I was showing him. “What’s it for?”
“Oh, it’s for honey,” I explained. He didn’t believe me.
I returned us to the main subject. So who might have a woodturning machine? He gave me the name of a woodturner I’d met before in Vranidoll, a village some miles outside Pristina, and I thanked him.
I don’t drive so I got a taxi to take me out to Vranidoll some days later. The taxi driver had his mate in the car with him when I approached them and asked if I minded if he came along for the ride. It was fine by me, but I assured them it wouldn’t be a long trip – I would pop out of the car when we reached the workshop and I’d show Rexhep the … um… I showed them the drizzler and they nodded. Once I’d shown Rexhep what I wanted him to make I’d jump back in the car and we’d return to Pristina.
The journey took longer than I’d expected, and I wasn’t quite sure, especially in the disorienting mist, exactly where Vranidoll was. I could sense some skepticism from the front of the car and I was relieved when we finally found ourselves at the workshop.
I leaped out and went inside. It was empty. Wooden carvings and statues, elegant tables, and chains made out of wood stood rather eerily in silence and a sappy smell of fresh wood. I pushed through the doors at the back of the workshop into Rexhep’s house, calling out ‘hellos’ but there was no answer. Then I heard movement behind me and jumped – but it was the taxi driver and his friend. They were affronted that the craftsman wasn’t here, and at first I thought they were cross with me, bringing them out on a wild goose chase, but as they talked I realised they were in fact cross on my behalf. The dynamics were shifting.
The driver noted a phone number on a business card left on a table and tried calling it, but there was no answer. They went back out onto the road to see if there was anyone who might be able to help, and finally in response to their questions a man was found who went to an outhouse and while we sheltered from the damp, brought Rexhep back.
“We’ve been looking for you because she wants to get one of these made,” my taxi driver began, nudging me, “show him, show him.” I discovered I had been demoted to props-mistress in this unfolding play.
Rexhep took the drizzler carefully, noting how it had been made.
“It’s from England?” he queried.
“Yes,” replied my driver. “You know, for honey.”
Rexhep nodded sagely.
“But I couldn’t make this. My lathe isn’t fine enough – the wood would snap. I use the lathe for much thicker things like chair legs.”
This answer wasn’t enough for the taxi driver’s friend. “So who could do it?”
Rexhep suggested Lavdim, a metalworker with a workshop a few kilometres away. His lathe was used for making metal parts, but it might work on wood too. He gave him a call.
“Yes, he’ll try,” he said as he put the phone back in his pocket, and gave us directions. He led us back through woodshavings and sawdust and even eerier half-finished carvings, and found some lengths of dowel. “Give him these to try it out”.
I asked how much I should pay Rexhep for the dowel, but he brushed me off. “I’m just sorry I couldn’t make them for you myself.”
Back in the car we followed the inaccurate directions, which used as landmarks various companies which were now defunct, but with more phone calls to the metal workshop for details we finally found ourselves in front of Lavdim and a lathe that looked like it could do anything. But everything here was hard edges, black smears of oil and sharp shavings; it didn’t feel like a place to make a drizzler.
Lavdim took one of my pieces of dowel. He fingered it warily. “Wood can snap,” he said, with all the superiority of a man used to working with metal.
“Could you try it for us?” asked the taxi driver. It was ‘us’ now.
Yes, Lavdim would try, but first, the bit had to be fashioned to use on the lathe. He explained his lathe had never been used for anything like this before. In a matter of minutes he had fitted the new piece and put the dowel in place. He set it spinning and I watched, mesmerised.
What it reminded me of most of all was honey being harvested – the way that a spinning centrifuge sends a fine amber weft of honey shuttling out from the comb frames fitted to a machine. Here there was the same blur, a rich piney scent released in a halo of sawdust, and the same sense of something magical being created. Below the lathe a fine powdering of scented sawdust settled on the iron filings. The landscape in the workshop was softening and warming. Lavdim moved the lathe expertly over the dowel and in minutes the rough stick had been whittled down to something beautiful. He stopped the machine, cut loose the new-fashioned wood.
“Like this?” he asked.
Yes, exactly like that.
So now I have 25 drizzlers made by Lavdim (with a little bit of help from Rexhep, my taxi driver and his mate). I’m offering them as part of a gift pack with copies of my book, Travels in Blood and Honey; becoming a beekeeper in Kosovo, for £11.99 plus £2 post and packing in the UK. If you’re interested in buying, drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the book
Sophie Grigson says ‘Enthralling… a wonderful evocation of a place that most of us know so little about. Food, above all honey, is the key that unlocks the doors between cultures.’
Matthew Parris says ‘A wonderful writer about Pristina… interesting and different’
The Times says ‘A sheer delight; a beguiling, bittersweet story of a lively love affair with a traditional world, as ancient as apiculture, in transition to new nationhood’