When someone gives you some of the honey from their bees, it’s not just a kind thought, a lick of sweetness, a funky (in this case) earthenware jar; it’s as if they’ve bottled for you all that’s best of their summer. As if they’d mixed together the lazy buzzing of a bee around a mallow bloom, the scent of elderflower, the feel of grass and dandelion and daisy between your toes, the sound (in this case) of the sea…
The honey I’m treating myself today has been stored in my cupboard since Caroline gave it to me, back in the days when summer was a recent memory, not an apparently unattainable concept. It offers a trip in place as well as time (and maybe thyme) as it comes from the village in Cornwall where we have our UK home – Port Isaac.
And I’m not currently in Port Isaac – I’m sitting in that other home of ours huddled by a storage heater in the Balkans, dreaming of things like sunshine. Caroline’s little capsule holds the scents (it’s a fragrant, herbal honey) and tastes (citrussy) her bees gathered painstakingly in droplets of nectar from the wild flowers of Port Isaac valley. Dipping my finger again and again into the complex flavours is sweet but not sickly – just ever so slightly homesickly.
I think of all those bees now huddled, like me – near their version of a storage heater, which is the massed ball of bee bodies that generate a temperature in the hive almost exactly the same as the human body. During winter the bees take turns to be in the cosy middle section, and then do duty on the cold outer layer, so the bee ball is constantly in flux, pulsating like a human heart. They’re also feeding themselves on the stocks of this honey that they had put by for the lean months, and though I’m sorry that some of results of their hard work have been taken from them, I’m happy that through Caroline’s careful harvesting and generous gifting of the honey I can join them, on the opposite side of Europe, in being comforted by these delicious mouthfuls.
For more honey tasting notes, stories behind extraordinary honeys, and recipes, see my recently published Little Book of Honey.