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A bee in my bonnet

Tasting

LOCAL IS BETTER Most cheap honey sold in supermarkets has been heat-treated and can be devoid of nutrients and flavour.

Food
Redmond Cabot

A few weeks ago, an English newspaper ran a story, ‘Like sending bees to war: the deadly truth behind your almond milk obsession’. It was the paper’s most shared story for most of the week. The following weekend, The Irish Times picked up on it. It’s a story worth knowing.
For many years, there’s been a lot of talk of dairy intolerance. For health and allergy reasons, many people have replaced cow’s milk with various alternatives – soy, almond, oat to name a few. But there’s a problem. Most of the world’s almonds come from California, an increasingly arid state in the grip of successive year-long droughts. And almonds are one of the most water-hungry crops in existence.
The original news story features an Arizona beekeeper called Arp. He no longer makes enough money from honey to make ends meet, so every February, he transports around 1,500 beehives – at $200 a pop – to California to pollinate the almond crop (one of the most pesticide-doused crops in the US). Afterwards, about one third of his bees die.
Annually, two thirds of America’s bees are sent to California on the same mission. Nate Daly, a senior scientist for biodiversity told the newspaper: “It’s like sending the bees to war, many won’t come back.”
Maybe Irish dairy milk is not so bad!

Keeping sweet
If you want a dairy-free milk alternative, you can make your own from oats, a crop that does well in Ireland and accounts for 9 percent of our cereal crops. You just need oats, water, a blender and a clean cloth for straining. I haven’t done this yet, but I’m going to experiment and will let you know.
I do like a bowl of porridge in the morning, especially on these wintery days, and what better topping than a dollop of honey. But which honey should we be buying?
There are loads of cheap jars of honey in the supermarkets, but steer clear. Most cheap honey has been heat-treated and can be devoid of nutrients and flavour. Honey is worth investing in; remember, it should be a treat and less is more.
Don’t buy imported honey. Westport has a thriving Beekeepers’ Association, and there are many more around the county – check out irishbeekeeping.ie to find one near you.
Try to buy local honey. It is more expensive than the cheap stuff in supermarkets, but you get what you pay for. And, if you have a garden, be kind to the bees. Mow the lawn less often, raise the level of your blades and let the dandelions bloom – they are one of the most important foods for bees emerging from hibernation.

Sticky honey bread
This lovely recipe incorporates local honey with our love of bread – win, win!

What you need
> 225g plain flour,
> 115g caster sugar
> 115g local honey
> 1 tbsp bicarbonate of soda
> Zest of one lemon
 
What you do
Preheat your oven to 160°C. Grease a 450g loaf tin with butter and line it with baking parchment. Sieve the flour into a large bowl, add the caster sugar and mix. Gently melt the honey and water in a small saucepan. When melted, sprinkle the bicarbonate of soda over the liquid. Pour onto the dry ingredients, add the lemon zest and mix gently.
Spoon the mixture into the tin and bake for 50 to 60 minutes. Remove from the tin while still warm and brush a spoonful of honey over the top for a delicious, sticky finish.
Slice thinly, spread with butter and enjoy.

> Red Cabot is interested in food, nature and small things. He sells his food at Westport Country Markets in St Anne’s Boxing Club, James’s Street car park, Westport, every Thursday, from 8am to 1pm.