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The Honey Bus, Big Sur Honey, and Honey Baked Brie #FoodieReads


I recently saw an invitation to a virtual book club hosted by one of my favorite local organizations Big Sur Land Trust. You can read the invitation: on their website. And you still have plenty of time to join in; the meeting is on July 23rd and I devoured this book - The Honey Bus by Meredith May* - in just two sittings. So, if you are inclined, get your hands on a copy. I can't wait to hear what the other readers thought...and, virtually, meet the author.

Back in 2013, I had a piece published in Edible Monterey Bay entitled "Bee Yourself: Honey, Anarchy, and Saving the World, One Hive at a Time." You can read it in their archives or on my blog. And it was also my first cover!


"Bee Yourself" was one of the first feature pieces I wrote, versus smaller sidebars, and it required copious amounts of research, numerous visits with beekeepers, and - my family's favorite part - a bunch of honey tastings. Furthermore it cemented my love of all things bees and all things honey! So I was excited to have the chance to read a memoir about a girl saved by bees. I didn't really know what else to expect.

The Honey Bus

This is May's memoir about growing up in the 1970s in Carmel Valley after her parents divorce. I generally avoid memoirs that involve emotional upheaval and trauma during childhood. But I relished the redemptive relationship May has with her grandfather, Franklin Peace, who takes her to his honey bus in Big Sur and initiates her into the art of keeping bees.

May’s mother never recovered from the split from her husband. Instead she relocates with her children to California, moves in with her parents, and allows them to raise her children while she spirals downward into a quagmire of depression and dysfunction. 

May admits, "I felt stuck. Granny, Mom and Dad were locked in a war that was bigger and stronger than me. My family was the opposite of a beehive. Instead of working for one another, all they did was conspire to make each other miserable" (pg. 181).

With an inaccessible mother and a granny who treats Meredith and Matthew as nuisances, it's the grandfather who steals May's heart...and my own. He dons a bolo tie and shows up for May's father-daughter night at Tularcitos Elementary School, regaling her classmates beekeeping tales. He teaches her about the hive life; he loves her and nurtures her. His lessons are positive, empowering, and offer her stability that she desperately craves.

"I could have never guessed that a beehive is a female place, a castle with a queen but no king. All the worker bees inside are female; around sixty thousand daughters that look after their mother by feeding her, bringing her water droplets and keeping her warm at night. The colony would wither and die without a queen laying eggs. Yet without her daughters taking care of her, the queen would either starve or freeze to death. Their need for one another was what kept them strong" (pg. 75).

"He reminded us that bees live for a purpose far grander than themselves, each of their small contributions combining to create collective strength. Rather than withdrawing from the daunting task of living, as our mother had done, honeybees make themselves essential through their generosity. By giving more than they took, bees ensured their survival and reached what might be considered a state of grace" (pg. 273).


"Bees had enough brainpower to envision a better life, and then go out and get it. Even if it involved the risk of living out in the open, defenseless, until they decided together where to relocate. Bees had guts" (pg. 279).

May seems to have embraced this tenet wholeheartedly "...beautiful things don’t come to those who simply wish for them. You have to work hard and take risks to be rewarded" (pg. 172).

And, to further, bee conservation, she writes, "There’s a growing consensus that we each have to do our own small act, whether it’s seeding the roadsides with flowering plants, starting backyard hives of our own, or breaking up the food desert by planting flowering borders around mono-crops. It’s the principle of the hive—if each of us does our small part, it could add up to a bigger whole" (pg. 329).

These are all fabulous life lessons. I love that May pays it forward by giving kids bee experiences in a community garden in San Francisco.

Of course it was also a treat to be familiar with so many of the locations May mentions. My friends' kids went to Tulacitos and, now, Carmel High School. The Wagon Wheel Coffee Shop is one of our favorites for breakfast...well, before the world shut-down, anyway. And though May's memory is cringe-worthy, I clearly pictured the entire scene of May fleeing from her mother at the bowling alley right there at Monterey Lanes.

Big Sur Honey

"Grandpa was inspired to build a portable honey house after reading a story in his beekeeping magazine about beekeepers who installed honey spinners on the flatbeds of their Ford Model A trucks, so they could drive up to their apiaries and harvest right on the spot. But Grandpa thought that was silly because if you harvest outdoors, the bees will find the honey and go into a robbing frenzy over it. With a bus, he could drive to his bee yards and extract honey in a closed environment, without getting stung" (pg. 160).

Though Peace's Honey Bus is long gone, there are plenty of local hives and I was able to get my hands on some sage honey from Big Sur! When May is talking to her grandfather about pollen, he tells her "'Pollen. From flowers. The color tells you which flower they came from. Tan is from the almond tree. Gray is the blackberries. Orange is poppy. Yellow is mustard, most likely'" (pg. 73). This sage honey did have a light greyish-green cast to it. It's not quite the color of a sage leaf, but the aroma is distinctive and detectable!


*Updated on July 23, 2020, after the book club meeting with the author.* It turns out that Peter Eikhorn inherited his bees from May's grandfather! So, the jar above is actually more connected to this story than I thought. During the Zoom meeting with the Big Sur Land Trust, May told a story about rescuing the bees with Peter during a rainstorm.


Describing where the hives were located on Garrapata Creek, May explains that her grandfather "wanted pure sage honey. Because it didn't crystallize and it was delicious." She said that in the whole gamut of honey, the three most unique is sage, tupelo - in the bayou -, and manuka - in New Zealand. I have to agree on all counts.

Honeyed Baked Brie

I decided to make an appetizer that had the honey front and center. This is one of my favorite appetizers to showcase a local honey.

Ingredients
  • one 6- to 8-ounce brie, slightly chilled (I used a goat milk brie)
  • 1/3 cup chopped cashews
  • 1/3 cup chopped dried apricots
  • 2 Tablespoons honey plus more for serving
  • crackers or baguette slices for serving
  • also needed: parchment paper and a rimmed baking sheet

Procedure
In a small bowl, mix the cashews, apricots, and 2 Tablespoons honey together. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Using a sharp knife, slice the brie in half. Place one half of the brie, cut-side up, on a piece of parchment paper on a rimmed board. Spoon half of the cashew mixture onto the brief and cover it with the other half, cut-side down. Press down firmly and spoon the remaining cashew mixture on top of the brie.

Bake until the cheese is oozy and runny, approximately 10 to 15 minutes. A word of warning: this dish looks a little messy, but the taste trumps any lack of beauty.


Serve immediately with a side of honey.  And let diners drizzle more honey on their own bites, if desired.

*This blog currently has a partnership with Amazon.com in their affiliate program, which gives me a small percentage of sales if you buy a product through a link on my blog. It doesn't cost you anything more, but it helps support my culinary adventures in a small way. If you are uncomfortable with this, feel free to go directly to Amazon.com and search for the item of your choice.


Click to see what everyone else read in July 2020: here.

Comments

  1. I've read that and enjoyed it. I even considered it for CTB. We have kept bees in the past and my garden was much better for it. I wish we had time to do that again.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I would like it to be a CTB choice. I think I would enjoy reading this book.

      Delete

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