Fearlessness is a liberating proposition. To look something that scares you square in the eye can lift your confidence to new heights, inspiring you to walk a more courageous path than you ever thought possible. That’s exactly what happened to me last summer when I decided to tackle one of the things that terrified me most in life head on.
My fear of bees started sometime after my sixth birthday, when a nasty sting on my arm left me petrified of all things venomous. Determined not to transfer my bee anxiety to my children, I decided to take my family on the annual honey harvest at Quinn Farm last August. All I wanted was to watch the bees from afar, have a taste of honey, and prove that I was in fact one brave mama, which is exactly what we did.
As I was leaving the harvest, I got more than I bargained for when farmer Phil stopped to as me if I wanted to check out the bee hives first hand. I accepted the challenge, and set off in pursuit of getting up close and personal with my nemesis. Was I scared? Absolutely petrified.
Located in a secluded area of the farm, the hives sat quietly on a patch of grass surrounded by trees. There wasn’t a bee in sight. While my family watched from a distance, Phil handed me a hat and face net. Since I was wearing a strapless floral dress -not the most practical choice of clothing for this occasion – I asked for full body coverage. Phil laughed at my request, and said that the bees will only attack when under threat, “If they attack, they’ll go for the face.” Why thank you Phil, that little piece of information did absolutely nothing to calm my fragile nerves.
With my heart practically leaping out of my chest as we approached the hives, Phil gave me a few words of advice. “No matter what you do, stay as still and as calm as you can,” he warned, adding that bees react negatively to adrenaline.
I watched in silence as the hive was dismantled. Made of a white wooden box with movable chambers (like a drawer set), several frames containing sheets of bees-wax were nestled within. Our task was to put the demonstration frame we observed during the honey harvest back into its proper place. Phil used a “smoker” to render the bees into a calm state, and if you listened closely, you could hear a zen-like hum radiate from the colony.
Once we got to the queen “excluder” at the bottom of the hive, Phil introduced me to the queen bee herself. With a distinct gourmet palate, the queen’s diet consists of royal jelly – she is longer and larger than her hive mates. She lays approximately 1,500 eggs a day at peak production, mating only once in her life, with several different males. The eggs she lays are genderless, with the future of each egg determined by the kind of cell it’s laid in. The drones (males) primary function is to mate with the fertile queen, while worker bees (females) collect pollen and nectar. Watch out for the ladies as only worker bees can sting!
When I ask about what determines the different varieties of honey, Phil explains, “For the most part, crops [on the farm] will bloom in a staggered manner,” melons, sunflowers, buckwheat, etc. “After each flush of flowers, the honey is harvested,” with each crop a distinct color and flavor. “From light to almost black and from mild to really robust.” Each hive produces close to one hundred pounds of honey per year!
“Unfortunately, bees are not immune to endangerment, particularly in large food-producing parts of the world. With bee disease, parasites and pesticides being among some of the reasons.” Phil also explains that contrary to popular belief, organic is not necessarily better, “when used to pollinate some organic crops, (cranberries being one), the bees come back completely decimated. The natural pesticides used on organic crops are non-selective, slightly weaker yet more persistent in the environment. Whereas, chemical pesticides have come forward by leaps and bounds…. More insect specific, so are “bee-ing” less detrimental to non targeted insects.”
So as I stood watching the bees in awe and amazement, practicing my deepest yoga breathing, all my fears disappeared. As the bees swarmed around me, 20,000 – give or take a bee – not a single one so much as brushed my skin. It was amazing, surreal, and completely liberating. Bees are a true source of life! What I found most awe-inspiring about this experience was watching the bees work in unison and in perfect harmony within their world. One thing’s for sure, Mother Nature is a spectacular leader. While I may not be taking up a career in beekeeping any time soon, I want to express gratitude to the people at Quinn farm for giving me a glimpse into the secret life of bees.
Check out my recipe for orange blossom honey Madeleine below, which was inspired by my bee-dazzling experience. You can use a lighter or more robust honey if you like, I just happened to have this variety stocked in my kitchen.
Orange Blossom Honey Madeleines
Makes approximately 24 Madeleines
Equipment: you will need one Madeleine mould, greased with melted butter
- ½ cup butter (you will need extra butter to grease the moulds)
- 1/4 cup orange blossom honey
- 2 teaspoons grated orange zest or a few drops of orange blossom water
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 4 eggs, at room temperature
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
Over low heat, melt the butter in a saucepan without browning. Remove from heat, then add the honey and vanilla. Mix to combine, and set aside to cool.
In another bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
Start beating the eggs, while slowly incorporating the sugar until the eggs start to turn light in color and foam up (about three minutes). Beat in your orange zest.
Slowly mix the dry ingredients into the wet, then add your butter-honey liquid and mix until just combined.
Let the batter rest in the refrigerator for one hour until chilled. You can even make the batter the night before you want to bake them.
When ready to bake, preheat your oven to 400 degrees F (200 Celsius). Place your rack in the center of the oven.
Place your greased Madeleine moulds on a baking tray. Fill the moulds approximately 2/3 full.
Bake for approximately 10 to 12 minutes, or until the edges start to turn a beautiful golden brown, and the Madeleines start to puff up with a little bump on top. Do not over-brown, you are looking for more of a yellow color rather than a deep golden brown.
Remove from oven, and let them sit for a couple of minutes until they’re cool enough to handle. Remove from the moulds and serve immediately. If you are serving when no longer warm, make sure to give them a dusting of powdered sugar before you dive in!