Robbing the Bee Tree
by Angie Brown, Guest Author
Ken found a bee tree and asked us if we wanted them to cut the tree up for honey. It’s an old tree, gnarled and lying on its side, so Ken felt justified in cutting it and taking some of the honey. This opportunity was too inviting to turn down, so we agreed to go along. We were told to wear warm clothing and heavy shoes. This was November in upstate New York, and the woods are chilly this time of year. Ken’s wife, Doris, had supper ready when we got to our rendezvous, their house. After supper chores were finished, we began to layer our sweats and jackets on, putting on warm mittens too.
The three men walked ahead of us with a large lantern. The two 12-year-old boys also carried a lantern, and the three teenage girls and three women trailed behind, grasping a shared lantern. Watching our footing carefully, we walked through the grazing meadow – about a quarter of a mile – into the dark woods. How quiet the woods were after dark. I remember hearing the sound of a small animal scurrying through the leaves now and then. Once, we were startled by the hoot of an owl. And the pleasant smell of evergreens, moss, and old logs wafted through the air, completing the sensory experience as we walked along.
Reaching the old bee tree, the men prepared to get the sulfur going to calm the bees. When the axe split the hard trunk, opening up the hive, we were amazed at the quantity of honey inside it. This tree must have been home to the bees for many years. Some of the bees moved around in a stupor, even crawling on the men’s clothing, but they were too lethargic to sting. The inside of the tree was carpeted with layers of honey comb, a dark color near the wood and a gradually lighter color near the entrance to the hive. We filled three pails with the combs, enough for each family. And Ken made sure that there was plenty of honey left for the bees to survive the winter.
While the men worked on the cleanup, the girls began to feel cold, so the women decided we would go back to the house. It was slow walking. To make matters worse, the lantern carrier tripped, extinguishing the light. Since we had no way of re-lighting the lantern, Doris said, “We’d better head for the road.” Almost everything was pitch dark, but looking up at the sky, we could distinguish between the tree line and the dim light of the sky. That helped us to get our bearings. While we were making our way to the road, one of the bolder ones mentioned something about animals passing in the dark, inspiring us to walk faster. Before long, we had made it safely back to our rendezvous.
Doris made hot chocolate and brought out some cookies to go with it. Before long, we began to warm up. The men finally came in with the pails of honey. It is amazing how such small honeybees can amass such a bountiful delight. (So it is with us, as we work together, how much we can accomplish.) After our snack, we drove away exhilarated. A walk in the woods at night can be an eventful and memorable experience, indeed!
After we got back home, I strained the honey and filled several jars to use in making cookies, breads, and desserts. Wild honey has a unique taste, much different from clover honey, and stronger too. If you would like to try your hand at making something with wild honey, I recommend the following:
Recipe for Honey Drops:
1 c. soft shortening (partly butter)
1 c. brown sugar
3 Tbsp. wild honey
3 Tbsp. white sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
3-1/2 c. flour
2 tsp. soda
Mix and chill thoroughly. Form into balls the size of walnuts. Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet for 10-12 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. This makes about 40 cookies.
(For more articles by Angie Brown, click HERE)