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I am in no way expert but I am an enthusiastic backyard beekeeper. I know I am supposed to rob the hive. The whole point is to collect honey but I often think of them like a pasture of cows or goats. I just want them to have a happy home and range to make a healthy hive. I worry that robbing the hive stresses them and causes them to be at risk of pests and disease. Maybe that is why, in some Freudian way, I am ill prepared to rob the hive. I do not have any standard frames in my freezer to replace the honey packed frames I found in the hive this morning.

 

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Apple Honey Challah

I love the recipe from Smitten Kitchen for Honey Apple Challah. I’ve made it a half dozen times, sometimes giving the loaves away to my Jewish friends celebrating the Sabbath or a holiday. I’ve made it with and without the apples. I prefer to make it in a three strand braid instead of the four strand knit that Smitten Kitchen uses. I’ve substituted butter for the oil and it is good, but the oil is best. I’ve used pecan oil and peanut oil as well as the standard vegetable oil. I used whole wheat flour for part of the flour, too. You can grate orange peel into the dough and it adds some depth. But following Smitten Kitchen’s recipe exactly is a sure fire winner. It never fails.

Honey Apple Challah

Apple Honey Challah

 

Bread
2 1/4 teaspoons (1 standard 1/4-ounce packet) active dry yeast
1/3 cup (79 ml) plus 1 teaspoon honey
1/3 cup (79 ml) neutral oil, plus more for the bowl
2 large eggs plus 1 large yolk
1 1/2 teaspoons (8 grams) table salt
4 1/4 cups all-purpose (530 grams) or bread flour (578 grams), plus more for your work surface

 

Apple filling
2 medium baking apples, cut on a mandolin into matchstick pieces

Squeeze of lemon juice, to keep them from browning

 

Egg wash
1 large egg
Coarse or pearl sugar for sprinkling (optional)

 

Make your dough: Whisk yeast and 1 teaspoon honey into 2/3 cup warm water and let stand until foamy, a few minutes.

 

With a stand mixer: In the bowl of a stand mixture, whisk together yeast mixture, oil, remaining honey (1/3 cup), eggs and yolk. Switch to dough hook and add 4 1/4 cups flour and salt. Use dough hook on a moderate speed until it pulls all of the flour and wet ingredients together into a craggy mass. Lower the speed and let the dough hook knead the dough for 5 minutes, until smooth, elastic and a little sticky.

 

Both methods: Transfer dough to large oil-coated bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 1 hour, or until almost doubled in size.

 

Add apples to dough:  Turn dough out onto a floured counter and gently press it down into a flat, oblong shape. Spread apple over the flattened dough. Fold the dough over the apples and knead mixing the apple bits into the dough. Upend your empty bowl over and set it aside for another 30 minutes.

Weave your bread:  Divide dough into 3 pieces. Weave them like a traditional challah. Transfer the dough to a parchment-covered heavy baking sheet or baker’s peel (if you’ll be using a bread stone). Beat egg until smooth and brush over challah. Let challah rise for another hour but 45 minutes into this rise, preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Bake your loaf: Before baking, brush loaf one more time with egg wash and sprinkle with coarse sugar if you’re using it. Bake in middle of oven for 40 to 45 minutes. It should be beautifully bronzed. It is done in 40-45 minutes or when the center of the loaf should be 195 degrees.

 

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Thanksgiving table

Back in the heat of the summer, I arranged to foster a turkey at Laughing Chicken Farms. Robin Popp is at the Alachua County farmers’ market on Saturdays with chickens and eggs. I made my down payment for my Thanksgiving feast. Two nights before Thanksgiving, I drove out to Trenton. The Laughing Chicken Farms is straight west about 13 miles. On Tuesday night it was storming and a squall was coming off the Gulf into Cedar Key. There were tornado warnings. I drove in my little sports cars down limerock roads in pitch darkness to get our turkey.

It was a very good turkey. Freshly slaughtered the night before. 22 lbs. We put it in a brine with apple cider vinegar, garlic, onions, fresh sage, clementine orange rinds, pepper and a stick of cinnamon. I wanted to set a table with as much fresh, local or nearby foods. I bought my yams at the farmers’ market along with peppers. I pulled my own carrots from my garden about an hour before we sat down for dinner. Garlic honey carrots

We made sweet potato biscuits with the yams and flour freshly milled from grains I bought from Breadbeckers in Woodstock, GA. I use honey collected last spring from my own hives. I use pure Vermont maple syrup I recanned from a gallon I was gifted by a patient last year. I ordered cheeses from Nature’s Harmony Farms in Georgia and their Georgia Gold (cheddar) was excellent. The Fortsonia was also yummy, like a hard Swiss. I will order from them again. My niece brought a fresh bottle of Richland Rum, distilled from sorghum grown in Richland, Georgia.

Richland RumEverything set upon the table was made from scratch (except the pie crusts…we cheated on the crusts). I believe in slow food, scratch made food, simplified and real. Real butter. Real cheese. Wheat flour. Farm eggs. Hand made. Home made. Yes, it takes more time. Yes, it cost more money. But….it’s real. It’s fresh. It’s live (or very recently was alive). I believe that these things matter.

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I woke before the sun and set coffee to brew and then headed to the southern property line just as the sun crested the distant eastern horizon. Blackberries destined for my Le Creuset kettle and a fancy half pint Ball jar needed picking. The season for berries is early. For every small cluster of black berries, there was an adjoining cane full of red and ivory berries. The season will be long and if the rains keep coming each afternoon, the berries will get bigger. I put up 7 half pints of pectin free seedless blackberry jam. I bought a Roma food mill two years ago; the hand cranked device makes a quick transformation of 10 cups of berries into seedless juice. I will repeat the berry collection and put the seedless juice in the freezer.

Then off to the farmers’ market I ran to get eggs and a whole organic chicken, orange juice ambrosia and to peruse the other fare. I bought four pints of blueberries, some chevre (not for human consumption), purple onions, agapanthus, sweet shrubs and a few butterfly bushes. The sweet shrubs are a special find and I am so happy to add them to my garden. They will die back in the winter, send out runners and spread out over the years. Evie likes the agapanthus; he calls them fireworks flowers. He has an affinity for blue and indigo flowers in the garden and I will indulge him.

Tomorrow we will rob the hive. I am excited to see what my bees have produced in the last 10 months. I have recipes collected to use with my honey and may start with a honey challah tomorrow to eat with my black and blue berry jams.

Wild blackberries

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I recently read an article on Grist about women farmers and ranchers. I’m not a farmer but I want to grow some of my own food. I am rational, though. I don’t have the time to devote to a large kitchen garden. So, I pared down my goals and focused on a few things. I want to grow tomatoes to can. I am not a fresh tomato eater as much as I am a cook that uses lots of tomatoes, mostly chopped tomatoes. So, I planted tomatoes and basil and peppers. My larger idea of food production is to grow fruit on trees to make jams, pies and cobblers. As fresh as can be from ground to plate (or freezer or water bath).

TomatoAnd so this is a bit of what I have planted: three pears, six pecans, a loquat, six arbequina olives, a Meyer lemon, a peach, eight blueberry bushes and a tended, cultivated, replanted swath of wild blackberry brambles. The blackberry canes grow wild all over my yard and I mow them over. They also grow inside my landscaped beds. So, I dig them up and replant them into a band in the southern side acre. One day, the other 23 lots in Hawk’s Ridge will be built out and the wild,  chest-high blackberry brambles will have gone the way of pine bark mulch and concrete pavers, but I will have a stripe large enough to satisfy my yearly jam making and pie baking.

Blackberry brambleI also grow herbs for cooking: rosemary, oregano, thyme, garlic chives, sage, leeks and dill. The dill is currently serving at food source for the swallowtail butterfly caterpillars. I bought two large seed packets of flower dill just for this purpose. I will plant it in the late summer out in the rear acre far away from my herb garden for the kitchen.

Flowering dillCaterpillarLastly, I have bees. And honey that tastes of wildflowers and berries. The bees have plenty to forage with the lilies, asters, irises, cosmos, zinnias, blackberries, wildflowers and blooming grasses.

Zinnias with blackberriesIt hasn’t been a year. I can envision the house and yard in three years, five, 10. The trees lush and grown, the garden mature, the beds packed with perennials leaving me to weed and transplant.