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Beekeeping, Brood, Food, Honey, Honey Bees, Latin Literature, Queens, Swarms, Varroa etc

Spoiled Honey Made Good

No, not by adding tomatoes! But the tomatoes and the quote reflect a bit of an Italian cooking mania that has gripped me recently. And, reading books on Italian cooking has invariably led to some of the earliest known cook books, especially in Latin a some time theme of this blog. And, a popular ingredient in ancient Roman cooking is honey. And, an ingredient not found in ancient Roman cooking is —- the tomato! See how I did that?

So, first the tomatoes and the unusually good crop I had this year, and then to the honey and my latest bee update.

Solanum Lycopersicum
I think in the last five years or so I have had only two good crops of tomatoes, one of them being this year.  I seem to have more luck with anything from the size of plum on down.  Anything larger either never ripens or gets rot of some kind.

Now, I am the first to admit to being an indifferent gardener at best. In fact, I never thought this would be the kind of blog where I would publish, especially with any degree of pride, produce photos. My tomatoes (indeed, anything I plant), like my bees, labor under a laissez faire regime (and if it actually extended to economics I would be in the poor house). In the Fens climate, it would seem, laissez faire does not work on larger or heritage type tomatoes.  However, the smaller ones flourish, as you can see from the photo of a day’s worth of harvest above.  This year, I planted different colored cherries, and I was happy with the results. I am eating, stewing, freezing and drying all I can pick.

Last year, I experimented with heritage, liking the looks of those big juicy, oddly-colored tomatoes on cooking shows.  I don’t think anything even grew on the plants.  So, I have had to resort to buying them, as with the ones below bought at the Cambridge market this weekend.

Heritage tomatoes 1

These were marked ‘Heritage tomatoes’ at the stall, so I enquired as to the type.  ‘Noir’ came the reply.  Well, I could have told him that. As it turned out, the response was in French not because he was a bi-lingual stall holder, but because the ‘heritage’ was French, not English.  And, I got sold some rather leathery pancetta at one of those Cambridge specialist food shops. I’m just saying beware Cambridge shop keepers selling faddish foods….

At any rate, any Italian heritage associated with the tomato did not extend as far back as ancient Rome. In fact, Italy did not know from tomatoes until medieval times, and then through Spain and its New World connections. Although Christopher Columbus might have brought tomatoes back with him in the 1400s, the first written reference to the fruit in Italy was in 1544, by Pietro Andrea Mattioli in his Discorsi written in Italian, but published in Latin in 1554.

And these are what remain of my monster rhubarb plant, thanks to Jo's help!

And these are what remain of my monster rhubarb plant, thanks to Jo’s help!

Ut Mel Malum Bonum Facias
As I was searching through ancient cooking texts for tomatoes, which I obviously didn’t find, I kept coming across honey as an ingredient for all kinds of things. One of the earliest collection of Roman recipes, Apicius, dates from the 4th or 5th century AD. According to Wikipedia, the language is closer to Vulgar than Classical Latin

Not only do quite a few of the recipes contain honey, but there are others that talk about how to handle honey, specifically spoiled honey:

UT MEL MALUM BONUM FACIAS. Me malum bonum facies ad vendendum, unam partem mali et duas boni si simul miscueris. (See The Latin Library)

SPOILED HONEY MADE GOOD How bad honey may be turned into a saleable article is to mix one part of the spoiled honey with two parts of good honey. (See Project Gutenberg)

It would seem the ancient Romans could give the Cambridge shopkeeps a run for their money.

English: This is a picture from the Apicius ha...

English: This is a picture from the Apicius handwriting (ca. 900 A.C) of the Fulda monastery in Germany, which was acquired in 1929 by the New York Academy of Medicine. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

No Bad Honey Here:  bee inspection 6 August 2013
In fact, no bad bees.  Which is a bit of a shock and we hope not a bad omen for winter. The  bees have been quite active during the past weeks of good weather, collecting quite a bit of pollen still, most noticeably in the ivy blossoms at the end of the drive. They had completed their apiguard varroa treatment by Friday and all seemed well. But we have been conscious that we hadn’t had a really good look at the garage bees especially. They have been starving, swarmy, and grouchy by turns throughout the summer.

So, we approached the hives on Sunday with some trepidation.

Garage bees: full set of stores in brood box; good colony size, health, and temper(!); frames not massively stuck together; two good frames of capped brood.

Main bees: good colony size, health, and temper; at least two good-sized frames of capped brood; masses of pollen being brought in (in fact, two ladies with full pollen pants alighted on my gloved hands at separate points during the inspection)

One little concern is that two new frames we had swapped for old manky frames in the brood box had not really been touched. We moved them a bit closer in and if they have still not been touched, we will move them far out before winter sets in and then make sure some of the super frames with honey are easily accessible (right above winter clump or within brood box)

First super has a few frames of capped honey, not enough to tempt us to deprive them if they need it.

Maybe we have jumped the gun a bit but we have moved the queen excluder to beneath the crown board in both hives.  As we will not be taking any honey, I don’t think it will do too much harm if the queen wanders. We will be putting on mouseguards and starting feeding in a week or so.

I figure we do not get more honey because we do not actively manage or intercede with swarms. So they start off strong in spring, are depeted in strength and honey production due to swarms in early summer. By the time they work themselves up to fighting strength again, we are coming into autumn.  As we are not interested in honey production, except in the interest of the bees themselves, we are happy enough to allow them their natural cycle, and to only intefere in the interests of their health.  We have not lost any colonies nor had any outrageous problems, so we are unlikely to change our approach.

Was that the evil eye just winking?


8 thoughts on “Spoiled Honey Made Good

  1. Love this piece – could be us – tomato crop a disaster though this year with blight eventually on all plants – bees much the same as yours but we put it down to cold late spring and up and down weather. I so agree that the object of keeping them was not for the honey but for us and the planet. Love the latin connection though never studied it.

    Posted by beekeeperwife | October 9, 2013, 8:43 am
    • Thanks so much for taking the time to read and leave a comment. I know your life has been pretty manic of late. With tomatoes, mostly the bigger varieties, I get a type of rot that’s brought from uneven watering. I’ll have to have a word with the clouds then, as I hardly watered at all this summer (I know I shouldn’t admit to that…). Regarding bees, I’m happy if they are happy. And they seem quite happy right now, with the queen still laying to establish a good winter colony.

      Posted by mylatinnotebook | October 9, 2013, 1:33 pm
  2. I’ve found that if you grow tomatoes like a tree by pruning off the lower branches, caging them, so no leaves touch the ground, and NO overhead watering, you can avoid the blight. We got lots of ripe tomatoes this year, BUT the plants died back earlier than usual, so I guess we still don’t have all the answers.
    What is spoiled honey? I didn’t know honey could spoil.
    Glad to hear you’re not driven by maximum honey production. IMHO, that’s part of the problem.

    Posted by solarbeez | October 10, 2013, 5:27 am
    • Yes, my friend keeps threatening to get me an irrigation system. I do stake them after a fashion and prune leaves, but that’s as far as I get.

      Regarding the ‘spoiled honey’, exactly my question! I wonder if ancient writers thought crystallized honey to be spoiled? Nowadays, you’d just heat it up if you wanted it back to its liquid form. Interesting, I will have to research that…Thanks for the comment!

      Posted by mylatinnotebook | October 10, 2013, 1:18 pm
  3. We usually have good luck with tomatoes (In the middle of North Carolina) but this year they were underwhelming. It was a ridiculously rainy summer and I think that was the problem Every thing looked good as the season started and, then, before the fruit had a chance to ripen well, the leaves turned yellow, from the bottom up, and the stems started dying.

    I did manage some sandwiches of Black Russians and German Johnsons and we have some Romas in the freezer, but the grape tomatoes were just pitiful. Last year’s crop was much more lush.

    Just for giggles, you may find this entertaining. http://www.thisgardenisillegal.com/category/tomato-tastings It looks like she got tired of recording tomato varieties after the 2011 season. But, before that, WOW! I hadn’t realized there were so many or that they are so different.

    Posted by Kitty Cunningham | October 10, 2013, 4:50 pm
    • Thanks so much for this comment–you have definitely taught me something new about tomatoes! It does seem that tomatoes are very sensitive to moisture, too much, too little, not the right combination etc Love the link!

      Posted by mylatinnotebook | October 11, 2013, 3:05 pm
      • :-). I’m glad that was useful. I LOVE tomatoes, so I love sharing about them.

        I prefer for there to be a little too little rain than too much. I can water, but I can’t dry out. :-/

        Posted by Kitty Cunningham | October 12, 2013, 1:02 am
      • True enough, if you are the lucky tomato plant tended by a gardener with a conscience, and not an unlucky tomato plant tended by the likes of me!

        Posted by mylatinnotebook | October 14, 2013, 1:08 pm

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