Sunday 23 March 2014

Creaming Honey

This is a blog of interest only to beekeepers. For a long time I have been worried about the quality of the honey I've been marketing. Its source is mainly oilseed rape, which is not something I can alter as we are surrounded by fields of it. On extracting I store it in plastic boxes and when the time comes to put it into jars for sale I heat it to 71 degrees centigrade and cool it as rapidly as I can and then mix into it 10 to 15 percent of honey from the last batch. This is called "seeding" and is supposed to ensure  a smooth set. But it doesn't. The honey sets rock hard and is very granular to the palate. Alerted by a stern article in Beecraft and some searching on the web I bought a warming cabinet. You can get these from Thornes but mine was made by a beekeeper in Enstone, Mr Perrin, who is also a cabinet maker. An electrician friend fitted it up with a thermostat. Setting the thermostat at 40-50 degrees centigrade allows the solid honey to be melted much more slowly. It takes about 15 hours. But the slow melting means the honey does not set so hard. I also bought a pestle and mortar and ground up three pounds of honey. I did it about a dessertspoonful at a time and ground it until it was just a sticky jelly. Then I added the three jars (3lbs) to the 25lbs of honey I had melted. To mix them together I bought a corkscrew mixer from Thornes which fits into an electric drill and works  very quickly. Then I put it into jars. It has set soft enough to scrape with a spoon or knife and is beautifully smooth with no trace of granularity on the tongue. So I'll use this method in future unless anyone can suggest improvements. The warming cabinet is heated by just two 40 or 60 watt light bulbs so does not use much electricity.

Book Events

My event with Peter Kemp at the Oxford Literary Festival yesterday (Saturday 22 March) was hugely enjoyable - full house, lovely audience, Peter, as usual, a matchless Master of Ceremonies. On Wednesday evening (26 March) I'll be at Alleyn's School for another Q&A about The Unexpected Professor.

Tuesday 11 March 2014

Bees and Books

Next Friday 14 March I'll be in Keswick for the Words by the Water Festival to talk about my new book The Unexpected Professor which Faber and Faber are publishing on 20 March. It'll be my first time in Keswick and I'm looking forward to it greatly. The book got an enthusiastic review in Saturday's Telegraph by Rupert Christiansen and a slightly sniffy one by Stefan Collini in the Guardian the week before. Bryan Appleyard wrote a profile about me and it in the Sunday Times last week.
The sun shone last weekend and the bees really came alive. They were pouring out of the hives on Sunday and scrambling back in with their pollen sacs crammed with yellow and orange pollen - from crocuses i think and maybe late snowdrops and early flowering shrubs like the Japanese honeysuckle which is full of flower just now in our cottage garden. Good to know all three hives have survived the winter.
Talking of gardening I've just finished reviewing for the Sunday Times a book from Yale University Press called The Gardens of the British Working Class by Margaret Willes. Really wonderful.