A taste of honey sweetens the outlook for our town and country columnists
It’s that time again when everyone and everything is at full throttle, including the garden. I’m longing for the moment when the festive rush is over and holidays begin, when the city has emptied out and there are even empty car parks in the CBD.
Today I had a “window” between work commitments. In the late afternoon I went into the garden and noticed, at eye height, a bee in the purple shag pile of an open artichoke flower. I remembered Ron, my neighbour, telling me once that after a hard day’s work a bee has gathered as much honey as will fit on a pinhead. I felt guilty about taking a break; bees don’t have “windows”.
Finally, the bee took off and I returned to looking at the artichokes. There was one unopened specimen as big as my coffee mug. How nice it will be, I thought, to be sitting at the table under the rose pergola tonight, slowly dipping each artichoke leaflet in a bowl of crème fraiche and coriander, with lemon juice and a swirl of olive oil grown and pressed by Greytown friends.
I fossicked in the kitchen drawer for a sharp knife to slice the artichoke from its pale grey stem. (Why do sons always complain about the knives not being sharp and buy you more and more lethal ones every visit?) Then the doorbell rang, announcing two travel-weary visitors looking forward to dinner. Somehow I’d thought today was Saturday when really it was Sunday. “Sorry we’re late,” said one. “Terrible traffic up the coast. Do you always greet guests with a dagger in your hand?” What to do? One artichoke wouldn’t stretch to three for dinner. Mind in overdrive, I poured wine into three glasses.
“Ah,” they said, “we’d drive a long way for your food.”
Thinks: I have parmesan cheese and pine nuts in the pantry. But there’s not enough basil yet to give me three cupfuls for pesto. I could make a big green salad. But what else? Hmmm.
An hour later, we walked up the road to a crowded cafe. My life would be less chaotic if I were a bee. At least I’d know what I was having for dinner.
Honey bees don’t visit my garden any more. Once, it swarmed with bees that lived in a hive in the sealed-off guest bedroom chimney. Last year, however, the bees didn’t wake with the spring. They had perished over the winter from a varroa mite attack. Now my garden is pollinated by fat, clumsy bumble-bees. I’m sure they sometimes snap the scarlet runner bean flowers off their stems. Bumble-bees are just too heavy to crawl into a fragile bean flower.
If I want honey bees I will have to ask our local beekeeper to park one of his hives close to my garden. Tony Taiaroa keeps hives out the back where he collects honeydew – made by bees collecting nectar exuded by other insects. It’s the best in New Zealand, Harry insists. He will eat nothing else on his morning toast. It is a disaster of epic proportions if I run out – I’m forced to make a panic call to Tony. “Ah ha,” he says. “You wish some honey for the royal toast. I’ll leave some out.” When I drive past the apiary, I drop my kilogram container into the honey box at the back door and collect a full one.
I like to cook with honeydew – toasted muesli, brown bread, nougat and, my latest discovery, honey almond snaps. Yesterday I was wondering how to create a quick, smart dessert for spur-of-the-moment dinner guests. I decided upon affogato, the fraudulent dessert. (Fraudulent because it passes for sophisticated Italian and is often just two scoops of Tip Top vanilla sloshed with coffee.) Using the Edmonds brandy snap recipe, I substituted honeydew for the golden syrup and almond essence for the ginger to make almond honey snap baskets. I filled the baskets with home-made caramel ice cream, dribbled them with strong black coffee and a slosh of amaretto and, in a snap, there was dessert. There are no smart cafes to resort to if you’re out of supplies up the Virginia Road.
PS: I’m pictured above with my cow named Janice.
Story: Janice Marriott; Virginia Pawsey