Saturday, March 19, 2011

Honeybee Part II


You can thank pollinators for one out of every three bites of food you eat!  The bee anatomy is well suited for carrying pollen.  In search of nectar in the flower, the Honeybee brushes against the sticky stigma (female part of the flower) leaving pollen grains (from the male part of the flower) from previously visited blossoms.
Honeybees tend to forage on blooms of the same kind when finding a nectar source and this results in unique flavors of local honey such as clover, tulip popular, sourwood, orange blossom, lavender or whatever is characteristic of a particular area.  Local honey is incredibly good for allergy sufferers because it is made from the flowers (therefore pollen) that are indigenous to their area.

Local honey has many holistic medicinal qualities:
·      Relieves asthma/bronchitis
·      Promotes restful sleep
·      Relieves indigestion
·      Replenishes energy
·      Enhances physical stamina
·      Boosts the immune system
·      Has natural antibiotic properties  (can be spread on skin wound or abrasion and covered with bandage)

About 90 crops in the US depend upon Honeybee pollination, the largest of which is the almond groves in California.  Sixty percent of fruits and vegetables we rely on to feed our families need Honeybee pollination.  The value of Honeybee pollination in the US is more than $14 billion annually.

Honey Production

The Honeybee collects nectar from flowers and converts it into honey, which is then stored in the hive.  Nectar is transported by the Honeybee in her special honey stomach and begins the conversion in flight through the addition of various enzymes.  Nectar/Honey is stored in wax cells on the hive frame and is partially dehydrated through ‘fanning’ by the bees.  (This changes the nectar from 80% moisture to 17%, which is the exact humidity that causes honey to never ‘spoil’.)  When the honey reaches 17% moisture the bees cap the cells with a thin layer of wax, which is produced in special wax glands on their abdomens. In its lifetime, a bee makes less than a small spoonful of honey.  To do this a bee may visit thousands of flowers a day. To make a small jar of honey, bees must visit approximately two million flowers.

Honey provides the energy for Honeybees’ flight muscles and for enabling the bee to shiver, generating heat to keep the cluster of bees warm in the winter months. The brood requires a temperature of 93 degrees F for them to stay alive and grow.  In the summer months the bees fan air throughout the hive to act as air conditioning and in the winter months the bees create a cluster around the brood and queen to keep them warm.  Pollen is also collected and stored which provides protein and fat for the brood to grow. The queen lays eggs in early spring resulting in thousands of worker bees being born and ready in late spring to carry out pollination activities.

Anybody can keep Honeybees; farmers, businessmen and women, homemakers, carpenters, children, doctors, university professors and just about anyone else you can imagine. Honeybees can be kept almost anywhere.  There are beekeepers in deserts, small towns, and rural areas, in suburban areas, in large cities and on beachfront property.  There are bee hives on the Paris Opera House, in Hyde Park in London, England and in the White House garden.  A number of restaurants have hives on their roofs in order to supply their honey needs. Check out this video about a rooftop beekeeper in NYC.

Beekeeping as a hobby is fun and interesting.  The more you read about the Honeybees, the more you respect Mother Nature and how interdependent we are with this planet.  A good book that has all you need to begin beekeeping is “First Lessons in Beekeeping” by Dr. Keith Delaplane.  Another great book is “Beekeeping For Dummies”.

I leave you with this thought from the movie, “Vanishing of the Bee”: 

“The future of the bees is not in one beekeeper with 60,000 hives but with 60,000 people each keeping one hive.”

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Canning Soups and BACON

A head/sinus cold hit me three days ago and has been beating me down more and more each day. While writing this I have a melee of health aids next to me: decongestants, Mucinex, a book, nasal spray, tea, dark chocolate, and Kleenex. My head is stuffy and everything is draining out my nose or collecting in my chest. I. feel. miserable.

The previous night, when I was feeling a bit better, I whipped up several batches of soup, beans, apple butter, and ground bison to can. Everything took a touch longer than anticipated so instead of canning that night I decided to wake up early today and get the jars in the pressure canner. This morning, however, I woke up feeling like a semi hit me. Head stuffed, chest tight and congested, nose running, boy short panties exposing a cheek, face flushed,  hair unruly, eyes watering and tearing down my face. I am sure I would have been a prime candidate for the world's most un-sexy female award.

I couldn't imagine throwing all that food away (or freezing it) so I dragged my pathetic butt out of bed and into the bathroom. I stood staring blearily at the open cupboard while debating for a full five minutes whether or not to stuff tampons up my nose then reluctantly tucked a box of tissues under my arm, adjusted my undies, and plodded downstairs to meet Cowboy in the kitchen.

We love all things bacon-y here, so after reading this article we decided to give canned bacon a try.


We used thick cut bacon and laid it out on baking paper (no wax)

then rolled it up (make sure you put paper in between the fold)

  then slid into a quart jar. 

Canned Bacon
Canning it raw, you don't need any extra broth or liquid.

We also canned ground bison. We prefer the leaner, more flavorful bison (or elk) to ground beef when we have the choice.  You can raw pack this but for convenience of use I chose to saute it up first then used a tsp of beef Better Than Bullion dissolved in hot water for liquid to each pint, or pound, of meat. Next time I think I will try one jar raw packed and the other with hot water instead of broth. With the beef broth in these, I figured once opened and heated I would have the option of adding flour for some delicious gravy.

For soups I made Cowboy's One Pot Meal and a super simple Black Eyed Pea Soup with Sausage. The Black Eyed Pea soup is very healthy and full of flavor for as little ingredients that are in it.

One Pot Meal

and Black Eyed Pea Soup

Black Eyed Pea Soup with Sausage
**if you have a garden and the time you can use fresh greens, homemade stock, dried beans cooked, and fresh diced tomatoes.

4c. chicken broth
2 c. water
8 oz. frozen chopped collard greens
15.5 oz. can black eyed peas, rinsed and drained
14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes (I use San Marzano tomatoes- they make the very best sauce), undrained
optional add ins:
Beef Sausage or Kielbasa, sliced

Combine broth through tomatoes (leave out the 2c. of water if you are putting it in a crock pot).  Bring to a boil then simmer for 1-2 hours. Add in sausage, season then simmer 10-15 minutes. Serve with gnocci (my favorite) or pasta.
* if you are going to can this, leave out the gnocci/pasta.

Cowboy's One Pot Meal

2 cans canned green beans, undrained
2 cans new potatoes, undrained
1 package sliced or chunked smoked sausage

Combine all, add a little chicken broth if canning, then bring to a boil then simmer a few hours.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Back in Town

My beloved KA is now back and on her counter where she belongs. Safe and Sound. Cowboy and I had to verify and approve of the work done on her, so we opened her up. Sure enough there lay a brand new metal housing over the gears. Here are the 'before' pics. And now, the after:

Sexy isn't it? Yeah I thought so.

I haven't mixed anything up yet but I did run her a little and she purred like a kitten.

Everything was in working order, in fact there was grease dripping down the sides from their abundant lubing, but no complaints from me there. One complaint I did have was the flat burnished beater that was returned to me (I was told to pack mine with my mixer for the factory testing) was NOT my original beater! This one was old and worn down to a near nub. It looked like it was at least 30 years old and had been used every day of those thirty years. I was horrified at first but counted to a hundred and ten then politely made a call to the factory sweetly stating, "it must have been a simple mistake but...". The staff member was on it immediately, apologizing profusely and telling me she was shipping out a new one to me ASAP. After everything, I give KitchenAid 4.25/5 stars (5/5 once I dealt with the actual people that were going to fix my mixer): 0.5 lacking star for the fact that I still feel bamboozled about purchasing my mixer in '07 and, unbeknown, received an '06 model. The final lacking 0.25 star is for the frustrations during my initial phone call. 

Personally, I'm just glad to have my mixer back and ready for some serious action.

The Magical Flight of the Honey Bee

With the desire to share my fascination with honey and honeybees, I've decided to do a two-three part series on the basics of beekeeping. In my childhood our family had a constant supply of honey on hand. It went into nearly everything buttered toast, cereal, fruit, chicken, yogurt...but mainly was scooped right from the jar and into our mouths. 

In my early teenage years I somehow found my way into the home of a local beekeeper and volunteered my scrawny pony-tailed self to help him with his bees. His wife was ailing and he was an elderly man, introduced to me by my father, who smelled of pipe tobacco and honey. Still today, the scent of a corn cob pipe burning brings back fond memories especially when paired with the sweet smell of honey. 

He taught me how to spin the honey out of the combs, gently pick out the random casualty, and pour into awaiting jars. Being constantly sticky became standard. I learned how to cut out the wax slabs filled with honey from their wooden frames and package into squares for customers who preferred honeycomb to spread onto their toast. As we worked he would feed me tidbits of information about bees and the health benefits of their honey. We would break for peanut butter and honey sandwiches with a glass of milk, then go back to work in the basement. I am not quite sure what the "contract" was but I know I worked a few hours here and there and came home with a handful of freshly cut honeycomb, jars of warm honey, and even more in knowledge. 

Now into my adulthood, and being incredibly proud of my father who is a beekeeper, I have embraced honey as nearly part of my DNA. I adore honey in all ways. I still put it on my cereal, on my toast, in my tea, and in vinaigrettes, but now I have many other uses for honey. As an ultra runner and endurance athlete I have been experimenting with my nutrition in relation to my training and racing. I am currently using a product called Liquid Gold by Glory Bee Foods which is pure honey mixed with molasses and sea salt. I have several reviews and information on it if you do a search under my sister blog. Similar to GU, it is used to fuel my runs and so far has proved to be very effective not to mention incredibly tasty. 

Lastly, for nearly a year now I have used honey as a face wash (and scrub if the honey crystalizes) followed by either Rosehip Seed Oil, Apricot Kernel Oil, or Unrefined Coconut Oil as a moisturizer. Honey is both a moisturizer and an anti-bacterial, working perfectly for my irritable combination/sensitive skin. I also hand make several of my own spa products such as lip balms, candles, body butters & balms, shaving creams, bath scrubs, face masks, and household cleaning agents. Many of these products have honey in them! 

So from me to you: here's a little bit of knowledge that is "buzz"worthy.

The Honeybee
-written by Victor Lipinski, certified beekeeper located in eastern North Carolina

Touching on History

    Honeybees have been functioning on this planet for millions of years, initially solitary bees eventually evolving into social insects.  Honeybees play such an important role in agriculture that the plant world expends a lot of energy attracting bees and other insects with brilliantly colored flowers and sweet nectar (nectar is produced solely to attract pollinating insects).

     The scientific classification of the Honeybee is Apis Mellifera: meaning “honey bearing bee”.  Honeybees, native to Africa, Asia, and Europe, were brought over to the New World by Spanish and English colonists.  American Indians called the Honeybee, “white man’s flies”.

     Feral, or wild bees, live in hollow spaces found frequently in tree cavities.  Early beekeepers in the Western World kept Honeybees in various containers such as woven skeps, logs or wooden containers and harvested the honey by crushing, then gravity- straining, the wax and honey.  The father of modern beekeeping, Lorenzo Langstroth of Pennsylvania, invented the modern Langsthroth hive in 1851 when he discovered “bee space” (3/8 inch space that bees naturally create in hives) and the present day beekeeping hive design has changed little in the past 150 years.  It features 3/8 inch space between moveable frames, interchangeable parts, hive bodies and supers (where the honey is stored by the Honeybees and then extracted by beekeepers).

Structure of the Hive  

left to right: worker, queen, drone

The Honeybee hive contains three types of bees:  one queen, many female workers and a few male drones.  The queen is the mother of the hive and lays about 1500 eggs a day that metamorphize into adult bees in 16 to 24 days.  The stages of metamorphosis are egg, larvae, pupae and adult bee.  The queen doesn’t actually “rule the hive” but it is her pheromone that is transferred from bee to bee within the hive that creates a sense of calm and security.  When something happens to the queen, thereby disrupting this pheromone, the Honeybees become agitated and dysfunctional.  They must create a new queen quickly in order to propagate the species.  

     The worker bees are all female and they are responsible for keeping the hive functioning.  They take care of the queen, build up the frame cells with wax they produce, clean and guard the hive, remove dead bees, feed the brood (larvae) and eventually forage to collect pollen and nectar and water for the hive.  They never sleep and wear themselves out in about six weeks—a brief but productive lifespan.

     The drone bee, or male of the hive, has mainly one job and that is to mate with a queen.  This sounds like an easy task, but the queen cannot be from his own hive.  Every day in the early afternoon, the drones from various hives fly within a mile of their hives and remain in a ‘drone congregation area’ approximately 50 feet up in the sky awaiting the arrival of a queen to fertilize.  Fertilization by a few lucky drones occurs in flight, after which the drone dies.  The queen mates over several days with many drones as this is her only opportunity to be fertilized for the rest of her life.  (If she returns home not having accomplished enough ‘matings’ her attendants will push her out of the hive for another day of mating.)  The queen flies to a ‘drone congregation area’ further than a mile from her hive to insure that she doesn’t mate with a drone from her own hive.

We beekeepers sometimes think that it is our expertise that keeps the Honeybees alive when actually we must just learn to listen to the bees, watch them function and discover how we may support them in doing what they have done for millions of years – survive.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Pressure Canning 101

First off, good news. My KA mixer is currently on its way back home from the spa. Diagnosis: stripped gears, cracked housing, and a few other maladies. I was promised repairs would be made and a new metal housing placed to protect them all. The chipper KA staffer also wanted to inform me that all models '07 and later automatically came with metal housing. Grrr....I told her I knew that and purchased my mixer in '07 although clearly was hoodwinked as the box contained an '06 model (insert explicit verbalized silently in my head). She quickly skipped on to ask me how I would like to pay the $91 charge for fixing my mixer. Oh well, bright side is it cost less than purchasing a brand new mixer.

This past week Cowboy and I gathered up ingredients to make soup in anticipation of using our All American pressure canner for the first time. Recipes: Black Bean Andouille Soup and Baked Potato Soup, two of our favorites. Big stock pots simmered aromatically on the stove for the day wafting delicious scents throughout the house.

As they were finishing cooking, I brought out the manual for the canner. I had read and re-read the booklet from cover to cover and it was now thoroughly highlighted with reminder notes in the margins. I had owned a few pressure cookers before but never a metal to metal seal heavy duty canner. Cowboy assisted in the process of ladling the soup into hot clean wide mouth quart jars, checking headspace, guiding bubbles out with my trusty "canning" chopstick, wiping rims, and securing warmed lids with bands. I was familiar and confident performing  these initial steps as they are the same for water bath canning.

Next we added 2-3" of hot water to the bottom of the canner and began to load the jars in, staggering the top jars from the bottom to create good air flow between them.

We set the heavy lid on (which we pre lubed contact points with Vaseline) and battened down the hatches. Heat was increased and we set the timer for the "exhaust" period. When the timer beeped at us we applied the weighted regulator at 15 pounds pressure for our high altitude and watched as the canner built up pressure slowly. We watched, fascinated, as the dial climbed and the gauge began to sputter, rock, and hiss. Heat was decreased to maintain 1-3 "sputters/jiggles" per minute and the final timer was set.

When the timer finally rang out we turned off the heat, allowing the canner (untouched) to come down off pressure gradually. Once the gauge read "0" the regulator was removed to allow any excess pressure to escape. Ten minutes later the lid was removed. Or...attempted to remove. The darn thing had sealed shut and I couldn't budge it. I remember reading that if it seals too tight, use a large flat head screwdriver to gently pry it open. One slight twist and the lid loosened without hesitation.

There were little food floaties in the water and I wrinkled my nose in worry. As I pulled out the jars carefully and set them on a towel, out of the way from any disturbance, I peered at the jars. There was grimy food smeared all over the jars and lids. The contents looked slightly separated, especially the potato soup jars. In fact, the potato soup jars looked down right nasty. It was hard to tell if the process had been successful from first look. I gave the jars 24hrs to cool and seal properly before I started messing with them.

I washed off the jars (crud came off easier than I anticipated) and checked their seals. All lids remained intact and perfectly concave. I peered again at the potato soup jars and made the executive decision to open one and take a peek-see. The lid popped open and inside was a congealed, spongy, disgusting mess.

It smelled fine but did not appear appetizing to say the least.

 Time to figure out what went wrong.

Per the internet, manual, and several of the canning books I owned: do not can foods that use any type of thickening agent, mainly flour. Ooops. For these foods, where applicable, cook according to recipe until the point of adding thickening agent. Can product then, just prior to serving, heat and add thickening agent.

Well, I guess this is a learning process.

Just yesterday we popped open the bean soup and dished some out with homemade corn bread. Delish! The bean soup turned out perfect although I felt I pureed this batch a little too much. Next time I would leave a larger portion with chunks, more like a 60(whole)/40(puree) mix.

Yay for canning!! Next up will be canned meats: ground beef, chunked chicken, and bacon!

So, although you can't can this recipe, I've decided to include my Baked Potato Soup recipe for all to enjoy. It is super simple and absolutely delicious. A true comfort soup.

Baked Potato Soup

4 baking potatoes- baked and chopped
2/3   c. all purpose flour
6 c. 2% milk
4 oz. smoked cheddar cheese, shredded
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 c. reduced fat sour cream
1/2 c. green onions, chopped
6 applewood smoked bacon slices, cooked and crumbled

Spoon flour into large Dutch oven, gradually add milk, stirring with a whisk until well blended. Cook over medium heat until thick and bubbly. Add 3/4 c. cheese, sour cream, 1/4 c. onions and potatoes. Mix well and cook over low heat 10 minutes or until thoroughly heated- do not boil.

Ladle into individual bowls and top with cheese,onions, and about 1 Tbs bacon. Garnish with cracked pepper if desired. Oh, and do not pressure can:)