Food Matters – Honey and James Barber

Babes HoneyBabe’s Honey

It’s a harvest we don’t often get to see, but as nectar sources dry up in the late summer and early fall, beekeepers are bringing their hives home from their summer locations and extracting the honey the bees have been making over the past few months. In springtime beekeepers move their hives from where they have been stored for the winter to areas around the province where they think the bees will have good access to various kinds of flowers and the nectar they contain. They may also ‘contract out’ their bees to orchards and other fruit and vegetable farmers who need the bees to help ensure pollination. The bees don’t necessarily stay in one place over the summer; they may be moved as different kinds of flowers blossom or the weather changes. But in the fall, many of the bee colonies and their hives are brought in from the fields and the honey is extracted from the series of frames inside each hive. There is some filtering and blending and perhaps some pasteurization that takes place before the honey makes its way to consumers.

According to the BC Ministry of Agriculture there are more than 23 hundred beekeepers in the province with 47 thousand colonies of bees, and that includes everyone who is doing it as a commercial venture right down to the growing number of hobbyists who are keeping one or two hives in their back yards. It’s an industry with a history that goes back to 1858 when the first two hives of bees arrived via ship to the Victoria harbour. I was reminded last week at my talk at the Museum that there were no honey bees in North America before European settlement…now I know exactly when bees reached BC.

Many of our food products are made with sweeteners other than honey, and basically it comes down to cost. One of the cheapest sweeteners out there is high-fructose corn syrup, but we also use a lot of cane sugar and beet sugar. But if you are looking for a natural sweetener that involves a very low-level of processing then honey is one of purest substances you can get, and also a way to support your local economy if you start buying your honey from local honey producers, and I’ve found them at almost every Vancouver Island farmer’s market I’ve visited of late.

Honey is taking on a special significance at an upcoming event at Providence Farm. The Cowichan Chefs’ Table is putting on another fundraiser in the name of the late, great James Barber and this year’s theme is savoury, spicy and sweet dishes made with local honey. Providence Farm was one of his favourite charities and as you know a couple of thousand of his cookbooks were just sold off to raise money for the farm, and next Sunday, October 7th, the Sunday of the Thanksgiving weekend, the Cowichan Chefs will be working away in a grazing event at the farm. Tickets are $100, with a $50 receipt issued for a charitable tax deduction.

Chef Bill Jones of Deerholme Farm is one of the chief organizers, and he made me some of the components approximating one of the dishes you might enjoy from the wood-fired oven at the farm that was dedicated to James Barber last year. They’ll be using pizza dough at the event, but Bill made up some grilled flatbread made with honey and sage, topped with Porcini and caramelized honey humus and Spicy honey-pickled mushrooms.

And listen to some of these other dishes you can taste while you’re there:
Marissa Goodwin from Organic Fair is preparing rosemary and fennel pollen honey caramel corn as well as roasted pumpkin honey ice cream with spiced pumpkin seed brittle
with a honey-sweetened chocolate truffle with gold and bee pollen. Frederic Desbiens of Saison is making a European honey nougatine, there will be honey cured sockeye salmon, a honey panna cotta topped with a chili-spice honeycomb. Pat Barber, James’ son, will be working the pizza oven with a sausage-topped pizza with sausages from the Whole Beast Salumeria and local apples with a honey drizzle, another chef is making coils of lamb and honey merguez sausage for the grill, and more and more.

All Points West has two tickets to give away!

James was a big fan of simple recipes. Just tweet them a simple recipe. That means a recipe of 140 characters or less. Deadline is next Tuesday. Here’s an example:
Beer bread: Mix 3c flour, 3t powder, 1½t salt, 3T sugar. Stir in 1 bottle beer at room temp. Bake 375F 1hr in oiled pan

In this recipe a small ‘t’ was used to denote teaspoon and a capital ‘T’ for tablespoon. Just make sure any abbreviations are easy to figure out! Tweet to @allpointswestbc.

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