I always knew that bee keeping is an art, but until my friends Patty and Sergei Boyce took my family and I to a filed of beehive colonies and showed us the process of gathering honey, that art seemed very distant.
The couple started beekeeping about 11 years ago when they joined a bee club –The Backyard Beekeepers Association based in Southern Connecticut. The organization has over 450 members – all of them passionate about bee keeping as an art form. In fact, many members cross the line between hobby and business.
Two of those people are Patty and Sergei, who sit on the board as Program Directors. They have been involved with the club for the past 10 years, coordinating all meetings and weekend workshops. “ We have brought some of the top researchers in the honey bee world to speak to our club”, Patty says proudly.
They have been sending us jars of their honey for years and with a little bit of orientation, it didn’t take much to distinguish the difference between the taste of their artisanal honey and that of a supermarket.
Although commercial honey is quite acceptable – most people view it as a common supermarket ingredient such as flour, salt, or sugar – I’ve been spoiled by my beekeeper friends, who produce a product so unique, so pure, and glossy. It has hints of wild flowers, and a strong orange presence. The truth is that if honey is not from Patty and Sergei, I don’t even want it.
The adventure took place in the Trout Brook Valley field, in Easton CT, where I had the chance to get really close to the bee hives, touch honey still from the wax, learn about the fascinating process, and photograph everything up close. It was quite a fun experience!
Wearing protective veils and special clothing, Patty is constantly examineing the bee’s wax along with Leslie Huston, another active and passionate bee keeper.
Each hive contains between 4 and 6 layers of boxes and the most amazing part is that the bees know exactly what to do.
They fly off into the wild, pollinating trees as they go, to collect nectar, pollen, and propolis from flowers, trees, and just about anything that’s in bloom. They then instinctively head back to the hive. Once inside, they handle the nectar to the worker bees, who in turn, search for empty sets of wax cells to mix and store that nectar.
Now listen to this, as bees fly their wings (the buzzing sound we hear), it creates a fan effect, reducing the moisture in the nectar by 85 %, concentrating the flavor, and creating, by nature’s most intriguing alchemy, honey.
“And if that is not magical enough”, Patty explained, “bees know when honey is ready; and when it is, they cap the comb with wax. That’s when the bee keeper know that honey is ready to be harvested”.
As he got ready to transport the frames, my son, Thomas, watched from a distance,
and took a piece of comb in his hands.
In the kitchen, the process of extraction begins. Sergei has to scrape the wax with a hot knife into a piece of cheesecloth that is left hanging over a bowl for a few days, allowing the honey to drip. Then, it is placed into jars.
They certainly mind their own bees wax. Candles, lip balm, hand cream and other cosmetics are just part of the bee products that come out of their kitchen after a nice active summer. Patty and other members of the club sell their products at Double Exposure consignment shop in Darien, CT.
Pure honey never goes bad but it does crystallize over time. That’s not a problem at all. If your honey looks like this
– don’t fret. You can simply place it a warm water bath for a few minutes and you honey will look as rich and viscous as before.
It’s hard to say which is more responsible for the success of their honey: the bees – definitely smart little insects with a mighty goal in life – or Patty and Sergei themselves. Bright and tireless, they believe in the exponential power of knowledge and have been studying bees for quite some time now.
“It took a few years to understand the secret lives of bees. And another few to realize that you can actually manipulate their behavior to make them store more honey than they need to”, she says. Patty and Sergei’s understanding of bee keeping is so vast, that it transcends into life. Our lives. I often find deep comfort in talking to them about all sorts of things.
From cooking to gardening to bee keeping, their connection to the subject is always deeper than it appears. Like their bees, they know what tribe they belong to. And they certainly know what to do with their lives, just like their bees. “ While our lives continue to evolve and we get more depended on technology, the activities of honeybees have continued unchanged and unaffected by social and cultural development”, says Patty. It is as if the actions of the honeybees follow the course that Mother Nature, in her wisdom, has prescribed for them. While we as humans, either individually or as a people, are still looking for a clue.
It’s the complexity of the process, the magic in the making, and the culture that comes away from bee keeping that fascinates Patty and Sergei. I find it’s earnest, innocent, irresistible, therapeutic, and a lot cool. The serenity of their existence, the integrity of their commitment, and their approach to life is admirable. And it’s the sweetness of honey that stuck us all together.
Last summer, Patty and Sergei gave us their best honey ever. First, I had to claim it was mine (to prevent my kids and husband from using before I do). And I couldn’t wait to develop a recipe in my kitchen and share it with you. And guess who is going to receive a batch? Absolutely, as we always trade recipes, honey, cakes, and foods of all kinds to connect the circle, Patty and Sergei were the firsts to receive this drink. With a jar of their honey in my hands, I couldn’t resist to create a Brazilian classic – Licor de Mel (Honey Liquor).
Patty and Sergei also like to explore the uses of honey in their kitchen and they will share will us, right here at The Brazilian Foodie blog, a delicious recipe for Honey Roasted Nuts that you are going to love it. So stick around cause good things are coming up!