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How to be a beekeeper


30 June 2011

12:00 AM

30 June 2011

12:00 AM

by James Hamill

Beekeeping isn’t rocket science. A lot of it is common sense and keeping the bees and hive spotlessly clean. You don’t need lots of space; a small garden is fine.

I’ve been running weekend courses at my Surrey farm for would-be beekeepers for 20 years and my most basic advice is: don’t cut the wrong corners. You can scrimp on the peripheral kit such as the smoker but make sure you get good protective clothing and professionally bred bees, not an unknown swarm. And don’t buy a used hive because there can be disease in the wood. You might pay £200 or so for a beehive, another £200 for bees and perhaps £100 for a good beesuit. But the nice thing is you are set for life — they’ll all outlast you.

Nothing can describe the magnificent flavour of your very own honey. A typical urban honey harvest is 70-100 jars, while a countryside harvest is around 50 jars because there are fewer flowers and the bee has to travel to collect the nectar.

Above all, you get the fascination of looking after these wonderful creatures. Being with bees is magical and therapeutic: you feel blessed to have this time with them.

James’s London beekeeping store, The Hive Honey Shop, is abuzz with goodness

… enjoy Burgundy wines by Jasper Morris MW

Burgundy should be easy to understand. You only get one grape variety in the bottle, though the French won’t let you put the name on the label. Pinot noir (for the reds) has been there forever, while Chardonnay is more recent.

Everything else is ridiculously complicated. There are more than 100 appellations, many hundreds of named vineyards and a few thousand individual producers, often with tiny holdings spread across a dozen or more patches of vine, each making a separate wine. The permutations are endless and hard to get a handle on. Even a ‘grand cru’ can be indifferent if made by the wrong hands, while a basic Bourgogne can be delicious from a top producer. On a limited budget, go for a top example of a less famous appellation rather than a low-priced version of a renowned village. These Burgundy wines are subtle but susceptible to mood swings. One bottle may glow, its neighbour from the same case proving less lustrous a week later. Every bottle should be a discovery. Develop a passion for it and only buy from those who can demonstrate that they share the passion. It is not a commodity but a wonderful drink.

Jasper commutes between Basingstoke and Burgundy

… Make mayonnaise by Xanthe Clay

Homemade mayonnaise is as different from the coarse-flavoured stuff in a jar as instant coffee from an espresso pulled in Turin.

You will need: one very fresh yolk from an egg at room temperature; 1 tsp smooth Dijon mustard; juice of half a lemon; up to half a pint of mild flavoured oil.

In a small pudding basin, beat the egg yolk, mustard and a fat pinch of salt with a tablespoonful of the lemon juice. Purists use a wooden spoon, but a whisk is more efficient.

Add a drop of oil, and beat until any oily streaks vanish, then add another, beat again, and so on.

After the first couple of tablespoonfuls of oil have been painstakingly amalgamated like this, the worst is over. Stretch your stiff arm, and start adding the oil a teaspoonful at a time, being scrupulous about beating away any trace of oil before you make the next addition.

After about a third of the oil is in there, trickle in the rest in a thread-like stream (enlist a child or lover to do this if possible) beating all the while. Season with salt. You are done.

When Xanthe grows up, she would like to be Elisabeth Luard

… make non-alcoholic ginger beer by Zdenek Kastanek

Ginger beer is used in many classic and contemporary cocktails such as Dark & Stormy made with Gosling’s Black Rum from Bermuda or this summer’s favourite, Jamaican Mule, made with Appleton Estate Golden Rum.

There are two versions of this really refreshing beverage, non-alcoholic (see below) and alcoholic (see and search for ‘ginger beer’).

For non-alcoholic ginger beer you’ll need 120ml of freshly squeezed ginger juice; make sure that there are no bits of ginger in it by using a cheesecloth or clean tea towel for straining. Once you have the juice, add 80ml of sugar syrup (1:1 water and caster sugar, completely dissolved), 5 drops of Angostura bitters and the peel of one orange and one lemon. Make sure that there is no pith on the orange and lemon peel to ensure there is no bitterness. Mix the ingredients together with 700ml of still water, cover it with clingfilm and leave in a fridge for couple of hours. Then fine strain it into a siphon bottle and charge it with 1 CO2 container. Leave it for an hour to let the liquid to absorb all bubbles. Shake before use!

Zdenek makes cocktails for Quo Vadis; naturally he never drinks… on the job

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