Yesterday, harvesting our first honey from La Ciotat, I saw a swarm of hornets in one of our abandoned hives. (Listen to Jean-Marc read in French, below.)
Today's Word: le frelon
: hornet, Vespa
Click here to listen to Jean-Marc's sentence:
Hier, en récoltant notre premier miel de La Ciotat, j'ai vu un essaim de frelons dans une de nos ruches abandonnée.
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A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse
This morning I noticed giant wasps flying head-on into the bay window in our living room. Ce sont des kamikazes! I said to Jean-Marc, who was busy warming honeycombs on the stovetop, helping the miel to drip into the pan below. My husband had salvaged the honey from his abandoned ruches in our backyard.
Les frelons asiatique--invading killer hornets (they eat honey bees!) must've smelled something cooking and were desperately trying to reach the honey. We had shut the sliding glass doors moments before, after two hornets dashed inside. Our son Max, who was getting ready for work, grabbed a pair of chaussures began to shoo the wasps away, before swatting them dead.
Whether shoes or spatulas (Mom's preferred method, she regularly kills the giant frelons who live outside her studio, at the side of our house. Jules has watched the hornets gradually kill the bees who live here), it is important to eradicate the bee predators, who made it into the country accidentally (hidden in Chinese pottery destined for the Lot, in southwest France).
Jean-Marc was in for a surprise when he finally opened up one of his hives and found un essaim, or hornet's nest inside! It was time to dismantle the little bee houses, once and for all. As unfortunate as this was, the bees left behind a farewell present: about one liter of golden miel!
Jean-Marc gathered the honeycombs and brought them into the house. Using all our pans he began extracting the honey, using a system he came up with back when he began beekeeping back in 2012. Oh, no! I thought, This is going to be messy! I leave you with a colorful story from when we lived on the vineyard in Saint Cécile-les-Vignes. Enjoy and thank you for reading!
The Control Freak & The Honey Harvest
This is not how I imagined it to be, waking up on what might have been a relaxing samedi. My plan was to stroll into the newly clean and orderly kitchen, make a cup of coffee in the calcaire-free coffee maker, and enjoy the morning ritual from this side of smudge-free windows. The coffee... the view... what more could a reformed slacker wish or do?
So much for four weeks of spring cleaning! And the house had been coming together so nicely... My eyes locked onto the offender, my stubble-faced soul mate. There he stood at the kitchen table, surrounded by every pot and pan in our nicked and handles-bent collection. Even the oven's roasting pan had been brought out...
All in the name of honey!
One of those sticky frames pulled from the ruche.
It appeared to be bottling time. After three years of misses, Jean-Marc now had a hit! The amateur beekeeper had finally struck liquid gold!
"Oui!" he answered, oblivious to the mess. Jean-Marc continued to hum along to a favorite song. As he hummed he scraped the sides of the sticky wooden cadres. For this, he used our biggest kitchen knife which was now encrusted with beeswax!
Le gâteau de miel! There seemed to be more of it than the honey... and whether more or less both conspired to make one great sticky mess! The shambles continued all the way over to the kitchen sink, where a host of jam, pickle, and tomato jars were draining. But were they sterile enough to hold honey? My eyes returned to the suspicious surfaces and to the floor... where golden droplets glistened in the morning sun.
I wasn't the only one staring goggle-eyed at the sticky drops of honey across the kitchen floor: Smokey and Braise, who stood outside, noses-flattened against the kitchen window, were already drawing up a Whose-is-Whose proprietorial map. I could almost hear Braise:
"Son, I'll take the sticky sector beneath the table. You get to lick up the floor by the sink."
"Oh no you don't!" This plan, real or imagined, would not see the light of day... not if I had it my way! I felt the remnants of a stubborn will... as it welled up from within me....
I looked over at the honey maker. Presently he was licking his fingers!
"But you can't do this that way!" I cried. There had to be a more orderly and sterile system for bottling honey!
"Laisse-moi faire!" Jean-Marc was calm, but firm in his suggestion.
"Let me handle this!" he repeated.
I looked over at Braise and Smokey, who by now were drooling beneath their window-smashed noses.
"Laisse-le faire! Laisse-le faire!" The dogs seemed to urge, all the while their eyes shined... as brightly as those glistening honey-drops which fell glop-glop-glop spot after spot.
The next morning I dragged my feet into the kitchen. On the stove were two great casseroles. I lifted the lids...
Just as Jean-Marc had promised, the sticky process had worked itself out, thanks to a little heat! There, in the pan, was a perfect waxen disk. Below it, pure honey!
As I stared at the miracle of miel—and the perfect order that had arisen from chaos—the words from the song that Jean-Marc had hummed the day before came to mind. As I hummed, I thought about the control freak inside of me and how, in order to break free, one might chance to be wild—wild as honey....
You can go there if you please
And if you go there, go with me
You can do just what you please
Yeah, just blowing in the breeze
Wild, wild, wild...
"Mon Coeur"/"My Love" Do you see the big heart in the center?....
Here is that honeycomb-turned-"lid" that I found in the pan, on top of the pure honey.
le samedi = Saturday
calcaire = chalky, hard water deposit
la ruche = bee hive
oui = yes
le cadre = frame
la cire = wax
le gâteau de miel = honeycomb
laisse-moi faire = let me handle this
laisse-le faire = let him handle this
le miel = honey
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Photo of Jean-Marc holding his first pot of 2019 honey was taken this morning, here in our garden in La Ciotat. The honey is delicious and the picture of our last sunflower of the season, is a good souvenir.