Islandmomma

Exploring the Stories of the Islands and the Freedoms of Third Age


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A Post Mostly About Food – Again!

I don’t know about you, but I am kind of addicted to new beginnings, new ideas, anything new and novel, in fact, hence the penchant for travel, of course, but I also get really excited about discovering a “new” author, a new flavor, a new singer or type of music.  Probably, it’s a sign of immaturity.  I labored for years under the impression it was a bad thing, and that I should work hard, accumulate “stuff”, buy the best I could afford of whatever (cars, houses, clothes etc), kind of take root and grow.  I stifled my natural curiosity and buried it under the novelty of acquisition of material possessions (still novelties, you see).

This is why, following my “discovery” of a local supplier of the most delicious honey I’ve ever tasted during the week, I reached heights of ecstasy yesterday when I sampled chestnut honey, because I adore chestnuts, so this marvel combined two flavors which turn me on.  It was like coming home!


Me, there somewhere, buying my chestnut honey!  But more important – just look at the setting!

I’d gone up to El Sauzal, after pulling information belatedly off the internet about a Feria de la Miel at the Casa de la Miel.  I hadn’t seen the information until Saturday afternoon, and Saturday was the main day, with instruction and displays of beekeeping and honey production.  El Sauzal is a good hour’s drive in weekend traffic, so I’d no chance of getting there until Sunday.  I should explain that when I make a new discovery I kind of get obsessed for a while, finding out all about it, until I reach some saturation point or other.  Now, of course, I’ve been eating honey all my life.  It isn’t something new, but I’ve never given too much thought as to how it is collected or produced until the other day.

Here’s some information which will tickle the girls: the queen bee flies high, really high so that only the strongest and fittest males can follow her to mate, and she mates with LOTS of them, because she has thousands of eggs, more than just one or two could fertilize!  Also, at the end of the season, when the flowers are dying and there is less pollen about, the males are kicked out of the hive to bum around until they die, and the whole cycle begins again the following springtime.  The downside is that ONLY the queen gets to mate, so……not much fun unless you’re royalty :=(

Since before records, back when we were in loin-cloth-clad nomads, wandering from place to place as food supply and weather dictated, we’ve been eating honey.  The harvesting of honey is actually shown in pre-historic rock paintings.  Oh, just had a thought, all that sweet stuff and no toothbrushes, I wonder if eating honey was the beginning of tooth decay too?!  Back then, of course, wild bee colonies were plundered, and consequences to the bees weren’t even thought about.  We simply moved on to new supplies.

Even when we stopped being hunter-gatherers and began to settle down and cultivate land, bee keeping was still a tale of annihilation and slaughter, because extracting the honey combs inevitably meant destroying the hive.  The evolution of movable combs was gradual, it seems, but nowadays in most countries these are what are used, so that the comb can be removed without loss of the hive, and the bees can move on to the next frame.

Ever wonder how the beekeepers, or apiarists, don’t get stung to death when removing the combs?  Well, we know they wear  those funny suits and veils which make them look like spacemen, but also the bees are subdued with smoke first.  This alerts them to danger and sends them into a feeding frenzy in preparation for having to abandon the hive, which, in turn calms them down – all that honey.  Clever, eh?

The other product for which we should thank bees, of course, is beeswax, which used to be a word heard on the telly every day once advertising was introduced, since it seemed to be in just about every type of furniture polish back when.  It was originally used for making candles though, which is why you hear so many references historically to monks being apiarists.  It was the wax rather than the honey they were after.  Earlier in the year, I’d visited a fiesta in Chirche, where the lady below was demonstrating the ancient way of making candles from beeswax.

Here the wax is drizzled down the string used as a wick, time and time again, until the candle is thick enough to use, and looks like the ones hanging in the other picture, a time-consuming (and, let’s be honest, boring) process!

Told you I get obsessed so to complete your list of useless facts to pull out at the next boring dinner party, I’ll just say that a sealed pot of honey was found in Tutankhamun’s tomb…..told you it was food of the gods!

Back to the chestnut variety then – it might not be everyone’s cup of tea.  The friend with whom I went had the exact opposite reaction to me, and hated it.  Of course, you have to like chestnuts first (OMG now I have my annual craving for marrons glacés – at least we can buy them here these days!), and if you do, you’ll find this honey richer, huskier and a tad less sweet than most, and can only be bought from the producer, Miel de Flores de Tenerife in La Victoria….Tel 922580905.

Lovingly preserved old wine press

La Casa de la Miel is somewhere I’d planned to visit when cloudy, winter days came around.  It is a part of La Casa del Vino in El Sauzal, a small wine museum and information center, based in an old and beautifully restored farmhouse, with the added attraction of breathtaking views over the northern coast of the island.  As well as learning about the old ways of making both wine and honey, you can sample the current offerings (so try to find a friend who doesn’t drink wine to drive, so you can taste!!!).

Samples from every island vineyard

A visit was most definitely a pleasant way to while away a cloudy afternoon.  The restaurant, with terrace taking advantage of that stunning view, has an excellent reputation, for serving traditional, high-quality local cuisine, but sadly we didn’t get to sample it yesterday.

By the time I took this, the clouds and haze were moving in, but if you look closely you can see the curve of the quite spectacular coastline

The other exciting discovery of the week was parma violet ice cream from my favorite, and unhappily too-local, ice cream parlor, Demaestri, just around the corner from my apartment in Plaza Roja.  It tastes just like the little parma violet sweets I used to love when I was little, and it’s subtle and light, and not the least bit guilt-inducing.  The only problem, as I’ve mentioned before is chosing between the best chocolate brownie ever, mango sorbet, passion fruit, fig and cinnamon or the more usual flavors, like English trifle, Ferrero Rocher or strawberry.  And, standing there in agonies of decision-making it occurred to be how great the cinnamon would go with pumpkin pie!  My god I can almost smell it!

In other culinary news, it was great to re-acquaint with Beaujolais Noveau the other night.  A French friend had acquired some, and it slid down most pleasantly along with local and English cheeses (I took Stilton and Wensleydale with Cranberries), and lively conversation.

The warmth of the friendship of that night stood me in good stead the following day, when I discovered that my departure must be delayed.  If I leave in the next 12 months I will lose money, which I can’t afford to do, so Plan B is forming in my brain, now that the disappointment is wearing off.  The very worst thing about leaving a place is the friends you leave behind, and the worst thing about a new place is the lack of friendships with depth.  Making new friends can be easy, but people who know how you feel and think have to be folk who’ve know you for a while.  I’m well aware that there are still a whole lot of places and things to discover about this island, not to mention other islands in the archipelago, so the journey continues, just not picking up the pace yet.

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Food of the Gods?

Sitting here, tapping away, I’m just hoping that my sticky fingers don’t make this computer any worse than it already is (as if that was possible!).  Why are my fingers sticky?  Because breakfast this morning consists of scrumptious fresh bread from the Farmers’ Market, and honey so delicious it might be ambrosia.  It’s certainly producing what some former work colleagues used to call “a mouth orgasm” (I daren’t google that, but you can imagine).  In fact I’m not quite sure how it is I can type and eat at the same time.

My sweet tooth has been a problem for me all my life, but I reserve my right to enjoy honey simply because it’s something natural, even the most commercial ones in the supermarkets seem to have no additives, other than “good” ones like Royal Jelly or Ginseng, and I embrace them all with enthusiasm!  This week, however, I think I found the ultimate in honeyed pleasure, and it came from an apiary only about fifteen minutes from my front door.

I’d tasted their  honey some months ago at the Fiesta del Vino in El Médano, when, as well as vineyards, local farmers, restaurants and other food producers were displaying their goods, and I took a card with the intention of going the next time my jar ran out.  Like lots of good intentions it’s been delayed – how silly was I? – but this week I finally made it.

The address on their card which I’d kept since the feria, was in Aldea Blanca,  a small village, distinguished by two locally famous businesses, the Luther King private school, and El Castillo de San Miguel – not a real castle, but a medieval (k)nights spectacular, which is, incidentally, well worth a visit if you are visiting the island en grupo and want to let your hair down a bit.  Otherwise, when people aren’t arriving or departing either of these places at the appointed hours, it reverts to its other façade – sleepy little pueblo.  So you’d think it would be really easy to find the apiary, wouldn’t you?  I remembered the lady on the stall had said near the Luther King School, but of course, in a place so small, everything is “near the Luther King School”!  Entering from the main road to San Miguel, there was only one choice, right or left, I chose left, which took me to the school, but it turned out that I should have turned right.  A quick phone call to the owner, an about turn, and a half a minute later there he was outside, waiting for us.

We were led through a lovely garden, which broke my heart remembering my last one.  Now, I’m not exactly ok with bees, wasps and such, so I was a bit wary, but there was only one bee in sight, inspecting a gangly poinsettia (it’s coming up Christmas and they are all in flower now).  At the end of the garden was the “shop” , if that’s the right word, with three, large vats of honey, not unlike wine or beer vats.

Taps were turned,spoons were provided and honey was drizzled from each for us to taste.  Right now they have three flavors, depending on what the bees feed on, but as the seasons change so will the flavors, so each visit is going to be a new delight, clearly.  They fell easily into three degrees of sweetness, i.e. very sweet, sweet and not-so-sweet!  The not-so-sweet I can identify as fennel, and this was one of the two I chose.  It turned out that sales were booming on the sweet one, which was current favorite, but  I also chose a jar of the seriously sweet one, because there are times when a craving just has to be indulged!  This came from the malpica, a type of thistle, which grows only above 1,200 meters, and thrives on the lower slopes of Mount Teide, who would have thought that such a mellow and yummy flavor would start with such a prickly and barren looking plant!  Although we were given the name of the plant from which the third one derived flavor, I’m not 100% sure, despite research, as to what it was.  The names weren’t familiar (I had to double-check on malpica, and even then it took a while to pin it down).  All I can tell you is that, at risk of exaggerating, all of them were just heavenly, and the decision wasn’t easy!

For anyone local who wants to buy  (at prices quite comparable with the supermarket prices of ordinary honey – the half  liter jar was €5, one liter is €9 and the 250ml is €3 – but for extra ordinary quality), if you arrive from the San Miguel – Las Chafiras road, turn right and then left into Calle Valeria, there is an open space next to the house, which is number 26.  If you come from Buzanada turn right, obviously.  The family, which hails originally from Ukraine has been there four years.  Everything was spotless, and they were very friendly, showing us pictures of the plants in books when we didn’t recognize the names.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to marinate fresh tuna in my favorite honey marinade ;=))