Sunday, May 23, 2010

Visiting Sophie

Do bees interest you? Are you at ease around buzzing things? Curious about all those different flavors of honey? Maybe contemplating having a few hives yourself?

Whenever I visit Sophie this interest deepens. She is so calm, so able, and so welcoming. During our most recent visit (with three lovely clients from Houston) we donned the beekeeper's garb and accompanied her to the box hives (ruches). She calmly filled her smoker -- not to calm the bees as many of us believe, but to make them believe their hive is on fire, at which point they gorge themselves on honey to beat their wings furiously to cool the hive. Hence, they are quite occupied with protecting themselves and don't react to the invasion and disruption of the beekeeper.

Thus armed, with both the smoker and this new knowledge, we watched as Sophie pried open the hive (the top is stuck to the bottom with the most sticky propolis), and removed a frame covered in bees. They buzzed about, moved about their frame, and left us quite alone. I felt just a bit hesitant, but not a one of us was stung.

We then headed over to her mielerie to see her new stainless steel centrifuge for removing the honey from the racks/frames and her extremely simple system of a fine-mesh strainer to catch the bits of beeswax before jarring her honey. She does not heat it, nor sterilize it. She simply jars it pure, ready and ripe from the hives. A gift of the bees.

After learning a bit about the many stages of a bee's life, the nutritional castration of the bees, and all the roles they hold throughout their 35-45 day lives, we were encouraged to taste. Hmmmmm Acacia, Linden Tree, Lavender, Multi-Flower from the Garrigue/Provence, and Chestnut. In a normal year, Sophie harvests Rosemary as well, and a multi-flower from the marshlands of the Camargue.

This year however, after 10 days of rain followed by 4 days of the powerful Mistral winds the Rosemary harvest is not possible, and the Acacia production will also be adversely affected. Ah well, we'll have to wait a bit more for the multi-flowers...


The Sabbatical Chef said...

I am being very, very stingy with my jar of lavender honey I bought from Sophie at the Arles market in March! It has to last me an entire year!

Vagabonde said...

Last year I had a swarm of bees in my azalea bush. A beekeeper came to get them. I made a post with photographs about it, you can see it here: My favorite honey is imported from Italy, it is chestnut honey (miel de marronier (?) It is very tasty.

Roberta said...

I am frugally using my "Gelee Royale" cream from Sophie and hope my daughter Martha can bring me more when she visits this fall!
Greetings to all from Seattle!
Roberta, Dan, Leah and Martha