Please come in. I hope you’re ready to discuss bees, sweeteners, and whatever else may come to mind on this chilly day!
I love bees, which some may find ironic considering our painful past. As a child, summer meant a vacation to my grandparents’ farm in the Midwest. Humidity, snakes, bugs, and bees were all included, free of charge. Somehow, out of the fifteen or so grandchildren gathered each year, these buzzers attacked only me. I became the victim of any number of varieties, from tiny pests, referred to as sweat bees, to hornets, wasps, and everything in between. Grandmother, a product of the 1800s and just five feet tall, never allowed these things to vex her. I’d observe her resting on the front porch, seated in her favorite yellow metal chair from the 1940s, on any given hot afternoon. She didn’t bother to notice that several flying bushwhackers had alighted on her bare arms or legs. My grandma didn’t own a pair of long pants, and the sight of her in a calico dress, with a bonnet she’d sewn herself from flour sacks, always warmed my heart.
I looked forward to seeing my grandparents, but dread of the assault that would invariably come from the bee quarter caused me quite a bit of worry and stress. I recall cousins rolling me on the ground, then picking stingers out of my stomach, and other such frightful experiences.
But, Grandma knew how to make things better. She had a magic box, or treasure chest of concoctions the likes of which I’ve never seen anywhere before or since. Mounted on the wall, right in the entrance hall (Grandmother was a practical woman, after all), the enormous medicine cabinet measured what seemed to be three by three feet. Only one jar deep, the case’s dimensions allowed her to view the entire archive of remedies at a glance.
In the days before all-powerful pharmaceutical companies and strict government regulations, she accumulated these cures from a man known as The Peddler. I don’t remember him, but I’ve seen home movies of my siblings running down the hill to meet his old, beat up bus, full of merchandise. He traveled the rural area with a wide array of products, allowing farm people to stay put and not waste valuable daylight with a trip to town in search of a sudden necessity.
My grandmother had a treatment for anything and everything in that cabinet. She’d swab my abdomen down with a dark brown elixir that smelled repugnant but drew the pain from the stings, or rub a pasty ointment on my neck where another pest left a welt. These antidotes worked, and they worked fast!
I often think how I’d love to have those old bottles and cures in my home today, along with an enormous, but shallow, medicine cabinet so I wouldn’t have to peruse the kitchen and multiple bathrooms in search of an ibuprofen every time my head ached!
Grandma and Grandpa moved into town when I was eleven, and didn’t bring the case or its contents. However, she still possessed the curative powers of a beautiful, gentle spirit. That much never changed.
At some point I lost my fear of bees, and when I planned my garden included plants designed to attract the creatures, along with hummingbirds and butterflies. I haven’t been stung since a child, and now enjoy having them buzz by. I became friendly with a huge black bumble for a few years. He visited each spring. Once, I hosed him down by accident when watering my flowers, and he chased me for a few yards. The old boy had quite a personality. Sadly, there just aren’t that many around nowadays, and I haven’t seen a pesky sweat bee in decades.
Please, enjoy the special treats I’ve prepared for my tribute to the busy bee!
Many ways to sweeten tea exist. Of course, there’s white sugar, sugar in the raw, and dainty sugar cubes. Imitation sweeteners work for diabetics or those counting calories. The Russians favor placing jam in their cup before adding the steaming liquid. I’ve yet to attempt this, but look forward to trying. My favorite choice comes from bees. An artificial powder is my norm, but every so often I switch things up and treat myself. Did you know that there are many different types of honey, each suited to different kinds of tea? I love what the little buzzers make from cactus, wildflowers, orange blossoms, and sage. These all have their own subtle flavor. There’s even a deep, rich nectar available in March and April from the avocado tree! A vendor at a local farmers’ market provides my stash. I recommend this strong flavor paired with a chai or another sturdy brew.
Today I’ve chosen a delicate sage honey to accompany a mango Ceylon black leaf tea. Do sample the Parmesan crisps topped with sautéed diced mushrooms and the fig crackers with goat cheese and guava preserves. Each provides an explosion of flavor in your mouth!
Grab a pizzelle, the delicate low calorie Italian waffle cookie, some tasty black currant wafers imported from the Dolomites, and a rich cinnamon roll. These will satisfy your sweet tooth after our savory bites.
Have a comfortable chair, another cup with lemon and honey, and share some of your childhood memories. I’ll bet you had a few run-ins with creepy crawlies, too.
What do you think of my flower cups and saucers? Will they attract any bees?
Don’t forget to take a few Chimes with you for the trip home. I discovered these orange and ginger chews at a local museum.
I just had to share these gorgeous saucers with you!
The most time consuming part of this consisted of setting up the tea table and making the mushroom topping for the cheese crisps. I’d hoped to add fig jam to the Parmesan rounds, but my local market didn’t have any, so I improvised with the delicious guava and was not disappointed. For those not wanting jelly, I topped some with halved pear tomatoes. To bring the goat cheese to a good spreading consistency, I recommend combining a quarter cup of room temperature cheese with a teaspoon of cream, using an electric mixer. You can increase the amounts, based upon how many people you plan to serve.
To make the mushroom topping, dice three or four large brown mushrooms. Be sure they are thoroughly rinsed, as dirt tends to cling to the caps. Melt two tablespoons of butter in a small skillet (I prefer salted butter in this case). Finely chop one tablespoon of fresh parsley. Sauté the mushrooms, adding salt and pepper to taste. Just before the butter seems completely absorbed (this only takes a few minutes) and bubbly, turn off heat, add parsley and cover until ready to serve. This is a very simple recipe and could be jazzed up with shallots, a splash of wine, or more herbs. My teenage boys, who don’t favor mushrooms, admitted they liked this!
Fresh flowers, a gift from a friend, add to the cheerful ambiance.
Terracotta napkin rings enhance the garden theme.
Thank you for coming, and I hope you’ll venture to try some of the more unique honeys on the market. Do stop by again soon!
“Like trains of cars on tracks of plush
I hear the level bee:
A jar across the flowers goes,
Their velvet masonry.
Withstands until the sweet assault
Their chivalry consumes,
While he, victorious, tilts away
To vanquish other blooms.
His feet are shod with gauze,
His helmet is of gold;
His breast, a single onyx
With chrysoprase, inlaid.
His labor is a chant,
His idleness a tune;
Oh, for a bee’s experience
Of clovers and of noon!”
COPYRIGHT 2016. VICTORIA BENCHLEY ALL RIGHTS RESERVED