Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Local bees making local honey

Earlier this week, I was lucky enough to observe a few hundred of my favourite fine food producers hard at work. Stephen, who supplies "Windsor honey" to Tastes Deli, was kind enough to take me on a tour of his hives, situated on the edge of Windsor Great Park. I'd been looking forward to the trip all winter, and it did not disappoint. I could quite happily have settled down on the grass and watched them work until sunset. It was fascinating.

As Stephen carefully removed the frames to inspect the bees and their activities, I didn't know what to look at first. Should I watch the bee colony as a group and their amazing comb construction, or focus on an individual bee and follow them and if so which one; the bee with the huge balls of pollen attached to her legs, the bee releasing scent and wafting it into the air, the bee on guard duty patrolling back and forth, the bee dancing on the hive to tell the other bees where to go for nectar, the Queen? I snapped away with my camera so I could inspect what I was seeing more thoroughly later. Here is what I saw (and what I learned from Stephen whilst I was there):

First we watched the worker bees coming in and out of the hive via the small entrance hole at the bottom. In the summer the entrance will be far larger than this to avoid congestion as thousands of bees move to and fro. We could see workers with baskets on their back legs filled with pollen; a very good sign. The pollen is collected to feed the brood. If there was no brood, the workers would not be collecting the pollen. So even before opening the hive Stephen new the colony was alive and growing.

Once the lid and crown board were removed I could see all the frames, into which the bees build their honeycomb, and a cluster of worker bees around the centre where the queen and brood were. Stephen pointed out some of the different workers. The bees start as cleaners and progress through the ranks including nursing the young, gathering pollen (for food), nectar (to turn into honey) or water (to cool the hive), producing wax, building the comb, attending the the queen, removing the dead, guarding the hive etc.

Stephen carefully removed the frames, one at a time, inspecting the bees and comb as he went. The bees are currently only occupying a spherical space at the centre of the hive. Right on the edge of this area some tiny ants had crept in to pilfer the honey. Guard bees were on duty to see them off.

As Stephen approached the centre of the hive the frames got heavier (with honey) and busier (with bees).

The photograph below shows many different stages in the bee life cycle. The adult bees are the female workers, working away looking after the brood and comb.

The bees start life as tiny eggs, one laid in each cell. You can see the eggs most clearly in the cell at the bottom right of the photograph, after three days these become lava, and you can see lava of various sizes in the cells in the middle and top left of the photo. They are fed by the worker (nurse) bees and grow rapidly. The biggest lava in the photo are on the right in the middle. Once they pupate the workers seal the cells with wax, as you can see at the bottom centre of the photograph. Two weeks later the new bees emerge from their cell and are set to work.

I spotted the Queen, right in the middle of the photograph on the left (marked with a circle by Stephen). She's the biggest bee, but you can't really see that in the photos as she is busy checking out the comb with her antennae. She will check it is clean and lay a different sized egg depending on the size of the chamber. Small chamber = worker bee, large chamber = drone bee. And who chooses how big the chambers are? The workers. Sounds to me like they are the ones in charge!

And just to prove I was there, Stephen's wife kindly took a photo of me, all protected and ready for my bee encounter. Honestly, I tucked my trousers into my socks for protection, not as a fashion statement! But I have to say the bees were pretty friendly. Stephen is very careful with them and they seem to trust him and weren't aggressive at all. Though it was nice to be covered up, just in case.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

There's Hummus and there's Houmous

I've never made a chickpea hummus that I've been happy with. Nowadays, if called upon to make hummus I follow Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's recipe for Roasted Carrot Hummus (from Veg Everyday). It's delicious, and works every time. It does, however, require the carrots to be roasted with delicious honey and cumin seeds for 40 minutes. So it isn't a recipe which lends itself to dip emergencies.

Luckily for me Jay has been working on his hummus technique and can rustle up a delicious dip in a matter of minutes with store cupboard staples. It is quite a personal thing, everyone has their own way and like it just that way (except me!). But since my blog post about adding Sweet and Hot Sauce to hummus people have been asking for Jay's recipe. So here it is, this is how Jay makes hummus.

Put all of this into a blender:
A glug of olive oil,
1 clove garlic finely chopped,
Sprinkle of Cornish sea salt
1 can chick peas,
1 tablespoon Meridian light tahini,
100ml Water,
Juice half a lemon and add a bit at a time until you are happy with the result. 
It makes about 400 ml.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

New Scores on the Doors

Today the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead switch from the Scores on the Doors rating system (under which  Tastes was awarded five stars in 2010) to the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme. As with the Scores on the Doors scheme, food outlets, such as restaurants, takeaways and pubs, are inspected by food safety officers to check that their hygiene standards meet legal requirements. The businesses are rated on a scale from zero (urgent improvement necessary) to five (very good) and the results of the inspection are visible on the Food Standards Agency web site.

Cllr Carwyn Cox, cabinet member for environmental services, said: Although we have run our own successful food hygiene scheme, we have opted to change to the national FHRS as we can see the benefits for local food businesses and the people that eat or shop in them.

Having a single scheme which is consistent nationwide means that the ratings have the same significance wherever people are buying food or eating out.

Residents and visitors will be able to use the information when deciding which food outlets to choose and we hope that food companies will recognise that displaying a
good hygiene rating is good for business.

We received our new sticker last week, and have it on display in the shop window. Now we a can add the new widget to our web site as well.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Caribbean Fish Coconut Curry

I haven't shared any recipes for a while. Here is something we eat quite often. The recipe is from the Seasoned Pioneers Poudre de Colombo curry powder and is very quick and simple.