Aug 2, 2011


Lessons from an Accidental Beekeeper 
by C. Marina Marchese

Marchese visited a neighbor one day for a personal tour of his apiary. She was fascinated by the bees and floored by the taste of fresh, raw honey (straight from the hive; she stuck her finger in a comb cell and licked it off). Curious to learn more about bees, she started attending meetings of a local beekeeper's club, then acquired her own hive and eventually left her established job to start a new venture: keeping honeybees, harvesting their honey and marketing products she made from it (candles, skin products and the like as well as honey).

Her charming book introduces the reader to honeybees in both the broad sense- giving a little of their history with mankind, their role in other cultures around the world, and their biology for example- as well as the personal minutiae, describing incidents when she personally worked with bees and honey, and how she learned about them. She even includes recipes for foods and lip balm made with honey. I feel like I learned so much from her. I was particularly intrigued by the descriptions of monofloral or varietal honeys, made from collecting the honey after the bees have been harvesting nectar from one main plant, so that it has the distinct flavor of that flower source. I'm pretty much only familiar with the clover honey you get in the grocery store. Once or twice I've tasted honey with comb in it, or a wildflower honey, but again from the same source, so they're probably mixed to create a standard flavor. I had no idea that honeys could have such a wide range of taste. Marchese describes dandelion honey as having a hint of white pepper. Honey from mangroves, she says, have a "swampy" aroma and are used in pickle brine! Colors and consistencies also vary greatly- purple loostrife honey, for instance, is dark and looks like motor oil; ling-heather honey has the consistency of jelly and cannot be extracted from the comb but must be gently pressed out. With each honey description she also describes the plant and climate/soil it comes from, so it's like reading a little gardening treatise; pairing the land and the food that comes from it. She suggests foods to accompany each honey varietal, which might range from mixing it into a specific kind of dressing or marinade to using in certain types of baked goods, or on exotic cheeses with fine wines.

I am very curious now to try some local (and varietal, if I can find it) honey: I know there's some available at the local farmer's market we frequent on the weekends. So far, this is my favorite of all the bee/honey books I've been reading. I borrowed this one from the public library.

You can visit the author's website here: Red Bee Honey

Rating: 4/5 ........ 256 pages, 2009

more opinions at:
a Life Sustained


bermudaonion said...

It sounds like the book is charming on the inside and out - I adore that cover!

Eva said...

I've been trying to find a good book about bees, so I've really loved seeing all the bee-focused reviews you've been doing! Sounds like I finally found a winner. :D

Dana said...

I see you have been reading a lot about bees. I heard on the radio this morning that the bee population in NA is down about 90% from several years ago and to help the bee population, Fairmount hotels are establishing bee colonies. For example the Fairmount in San Fran has the bee hives in their lobby evidently. How that works I am not sure but it sounds like a really neat green initiative