Beekeeping-at-Camont, Round 2.
A couple summers ago I trapped? caught? coaxed? a wild swarm to move into my waiting hive- la ruche. I savored the summer apiarist antics while discovering the sweet taste of Camont, letting the garden wild up, and learning from my favorite beekeeper- Narcisse Ferronato.
The winter was hard, the swarm was fickle, bee mites attacked and the bees were all gone by the spring. Like many new things I’ve attempted- making charcuterie, growing a garden, and driving an 85 foot barge- you don’t always get it right the first time around. Part of the ‘getting it right’ (or just getting it done) & part of growing up (and older) that I’ve practiced at Camont is learning that once is for dilettantes. Pros work, create, and practice all the time. (Sorry, but cooking once a weekend doesn’t make you a chef!) So at the end of last year, I took my sorry/sad/empty ruche to Narcisse’s small bee farm underneath the Chateau Madaillan and left it with him to over winter for some loving care. Today I picked it up- 3/4 full of fat honey and healthy bees and ready to welcome them back to Camont’s bounty. I am ready to begin again and really learn to keep bees. So what’s bloomin’ at Camont?
When shopping the Le Passage d’Agen market on a Wednesday, I whisper to students and guests that “This man sells the best honey in Gascony!”. I get little patronizing nods, the cameras click away; they love his trim mustaches, the flowing gray locks, his black Stetson hat. He flirts and poses and sells a few more kilos of leeks, garlic, potatoes, persimmons, nefliers and pomegranates. But I wait. I wait patiently for the French ‘central casting’ call to diminish and then announce again.
“THIS MAN SELLS THE BEST HONEY IN GASCONY.”
Now that I have your attention, let me explain. I love honey. I use honey in many of my traditional recipes like pain d’épice, chevre, miel & armagnac tartine or a pan-seared foie gras aux 4-épice. Best of all, I love honey straight from the pot, drizzled over warm toasted bread that has been smeared with fresh salted butter. But I have never, ever had such delicious honey as that Miel de Ronces (bramble honey) from local beekeeper Narcisse Ferranoto.
This year I wished for a bee swarm and got one (see archives here), followed the #Tweehive happening on Twitter and have been planning to integrate more beekeeping in Camont’s resident programs. Only problem was WHO would be our King Bee?
While working on a chapter for my book of French food producers- “Butcher, Baker, Armagnac-maker’, I have long ‘stalked’ this honey man, this beekeeper, this sweet pillar of the market. This week Photographer Xtraordinaire Tim Clinch, fall intern Julia Leach, and I went across the Garonne River and through the woods to discover the sweet secret way of the beekeeper Narcisse Ferranoto at his Ferme de la Chateau Madaillan. After coffee with his smiling new bride, (they have lived together 30 years and just married 5 months ago!), Narcisse told me a few sweet secrets and, at last, I know the answer of just how he makes THE BEST HONEY IN GASCONY.
Want to know how? Then join us this spring in France for the inaugural Apiculture Internship at
La Ruche… outside the Kitchen-at-Camont.
Narcisse Ferranoto by Tim Clinch
French Beekeeper Teacher at Camont
Dear Queen of Gascon Cuisine,
If you could wave your magic bleu doo-rag and teach everyone reading this one very easy recipe, what would it be?
loyal kitchen slave
This is it. A miracle sauce to change your life. Easy, cheap and fun. A sure-fire pantry pleaser. Magic in a jar. my new piggery pantry staple. A cunning condiment.
All this magic in a jar came from a sweet French book called Tisanes et Sirops Delice, one of three that I use for all things herbal, floral and frenchy.
The Miel de Poivre caught my eye flipping through the other day. Huh. Honey? Black Pepper? Hmmm. So I tested and tweaked and added my own touches , of course. This is what I discovered- a perfectly flexible honey-like spicy condiment perfect for glazing a golden Roti de Porc, zigzagging over a sharp Fleuron cheese, or stirring into a cup of mint tea. Magic!
In a medium sized sauce pan, place 2 handfuls of black pepper corners and 20 cl of water. Bring to a boil, cook 5 minutes.
Strain and reserve peppercorns. Add 500 gr sugar to the now dark hot water, plus the juice of one lemon as well as the zested lemon rind (organic please). Bring back to boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved and the sirop is thick. about 5 more minutes. NOW add the peppercorns back to the sirop and cook on a low heat for another 5 minutes. Remove from heat, taste, bottle and then start thinking of all the ways you’ll love this spicy sweet peppery faux honey!
from the Queen of Gascon Cuisine… and thanks to http://cowgirlchef.blogspot.com/ for this delicious pic!
I’m turning sweet on you, my friends, here in my untidy parc sauvage,
my feathered orchard, my alive-with-critters compound.
Honey, you are a busy growing part of my French world
and the food we grow to enjoy here at Camont.
Within one season of changing my garden habits, Camont has transformed from a tidy, neatly edged ‘ Two-acre Park’ to a home forager’s paradise. A dynamic counterpart to the humm & buzz, bird twitter soundtrack of late summer, I now share Camont with chickens, ducks, cat, dog and honey bees as well as hungry students. This is what I did ( or didn’t do…) to transform a tidy and quiet garden to a haven for wildlife and not-so-wild food.
- banished all use of weedkiller like Round-up
- bought a great long handled, open hoe to weed
- left the brush pile from late winter prunings instead of burning them. results: we welcomed a hedgehog into the rose garden.
- created a ‘no-go’ zone around Camont’s border- letting the nettles, dandelions, purslane & wild mint run rampant.
- seeded an old variety of deep red clover in fallow areas of the potager (I’ll do more of this next spring)
- stopped mowing the ‘parc’ area in favor of letting it naturalize. Results were a handful on new wild cherry trees and walnut trees sprouting up.
- bought a scythe- way quieter than a weed-whacker.
- planted a new entrance orchard by the drive with undergrowth of purslane and other ground cover.
- let everything in the garden go to seed in it’s own turn. Results: honey bees on the chives, lettuce and fennel seed heads.
- encouraged small groups of feverfew and borage to spread out.
- created a small pond for the ducks and bees to use. Result: every visitor got involved helping to shore up the banks and outwit the chickens heavy scratching.
- weeded less, enjoyed more.
I learned to see the garden as a process rather than a final outcome. When one of my well-meaning but clueless grown students suggested I might ‘hire’ someone to do it all for me, I just had to shake my head. She just didn’t get that the time I spend mowing, weeding, wandering, smelling, planting, and harvesting comes back to me many fold in my uber-awareness of my home and how I live. Now when I see a patch of wild mint, I look for a working bee, and think of iced mint tea with honey. Before I clear a pile of branches, I make an ‘Andy Goldsworthy’ shrine to a possible nest for teh slug eating hedgehogs. And most of all I look… look hard to see if the bees have enough flowering for food and what I can let go or plant for next year to encourage my first honey efforts.
Fall is a wonderful time to ‘tidy up’ the garden…but not too much, please. For more tips on relaxing your garden…click here and support the #Tweehive swarming this Saturday sept 5th in your own Bee-autiful way on twitter. Tweet me at @katedecamont.