On one of my first weekends in Kosovo a new friend invited us to come with her on a day trip to a local beauty spot. ‘Everyone loves swimming in Lake Baklava’ (I thought) she said. A lake of baklava – my head span. Doing breast stroke through honeyed waters then beaching on filo pastry shores?
Lake Batllava (you see how the name is an easy mistake to make) is not far from Pristina and is a huge reservoir with an excellent restaurant at the water’s edge, serving delicious grilled fish, freshly caught. It was the setting for the summer’s inaugural Orllan Literary Festival, where I read from my Travels in Blood and Honey; becoming a beekeeper in Kosovo, and where I met enthusiastic beekeeper Milazim. Following our conversation by the lake he joined our writers group in Pristina, and at the next meeting he brought me a pot of his excellent honey from his beehives overlooking the water.
This morning it was his honey that I reached for in the cupboard. I don’t know what instincts guide your hand in its search for honey – perhaps the thaw we’re experiencing after nearly a month of roads and pipes and lake fringes freezing solid, encouraged me to find a spoonful of sunshine. It was a good choice.
Your first impressions are of colour, which is pale: the colour of early primroses. On breathing in the smell of the honey you get a very subtle citrus scent, like an orchard warming up for summer. Then when you taste it you are deep into the tropics; this is a sweet, sharp honey with a taste overlaid with fruit aromas – peach and mango, and I could even persuade myself of pineapple. It’s a sassy honey, and one to be used in moderation – after all, when you’ve been frozen for weeks you should savour summer in small quantities.
Travels in Blood and Honey; becoming a beekeeper in Kosovo, published last year with Signal Books, is available through bookshops and on Amazon.