For World Bee Day celebrations on May 19, the weather was perfect and the events put a smile on many faces. Last year I went to the Swedish Embassy for the afternoon, and this year visited Parliament House where honey was the lickable feature in the Great Hall. Visitors were greeted by a team from the Slovenian Embassy who offered free breakfast of a glass of Country Valley milk, bread and butter from the farmers' market topped with Canberra summer honey, and slices of fresh apple.
There was honey from Parliament House bees, from New Zealand, and East Timor and Tualang Honey from the forest of Malaysia. It comes from the towering Tualang (Koompassia excelsa) trees and is a wild multifloral jungle honey produced by the Rock bee (Apis dorsata). Its characteristics are compared to the benefits of Manuka honey. Dark golden in colour, it had a distinctive "kick" or zing on the tongue.
There was honey from the hometown of the Swedish Ambassador His Excellency Par Ahlberger. A resident of Isaacs, who said she was "blessed to have a hive of bees live in our garden for the past four years", thought the best taste of honey was the Alpine Rose from Switzerland. She said a honey from Bern was as lush and caramelised as Dulce de Leche. Later, in the grounds of the Swedish Embassy she took the photograph of a beehive "hotel" which looked like a gingerbread house.
Julie Armstrong, of ACT for Bees, said an important message of the day came from The Wheen Bee Foundation through their message "Food security needs Bee security" and that pollination responsiveness of selected crops as a percentage of yield includes 100 per cent bee dependence for almonds, apple, avocado and blueberry, cucumber, pumpkin and rockmelon and 90 per cent for cherry, macadamia and mango.
On June 1, I visited Rodney's Nursery at Pialligo where small pots of deep purple and yellow violas, also known as Johnny Jump Ups and Heartsease, looked just like the bees they were attracting. I mentioned to a customer, John of Cooma, that female bees collect pollen from violas by vibrating the flowers. He promptly bought four pots to plant under old pine trees in his garden.
In 2017, Dr Peter Bernhardt, Professor of Biology at Saint Louis University and associate at Missouri Botanic Gardens and the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney, released the results of three years research and, "just as a dark coat keeps you warmer on cold but sunny days", hypodermic tissue probes found dark petals of violas are 3C warmer than the surrounding atmosphere. The hind legs and bee butts are warmed by the dark petals as they collect pollen. Viola flowers make a pretty edible addition to winter salads and desserts.
During the 1980s I came across a recipe for Honey Bar or Ontbijtkoek, the Dutch spiced breakfast cake. Raised in Sydney's Eastern Suburbs, I was familiar with European delis and patisseries where honey cake was sold. It is hard to track down in Canberra but tastes better than banana bread.
Wim Den Hartog of L'Orange Patisserie in Manuka has generously shared the traditional recipe from a fourth generation bakery De Keizerskoon in Lopik, Utrecht, where he was raised.
He lived in the Netherlands for 25 years and his mother regularly made Ontbijtkoek. There are various recipes, one includes succade or candied citron peel and a famous version is called Oudewijvenkoek or Old Wives' Cake.
Honey Bar (or Ontbijtkoek)
500g rye flour
500g honey, warmish (keep 100g aside)
15g baking powder (might need more depending on honey and rye - Wim has used 20-25g in the past)
1/2 tsp salt
15g "koek" spices (below)
2 tbsp cinnamon
1/2 tbsp nutmeg
1/2 tbsp black pepper
1/2 tbsp cloves, ground
1/2 tbsp ginger powder
1/2 tbsp star anise
1 - Mix dough by hand or using a mixer. Rest dough in the pantry, wrapped in gladwrap, in a basin for minimum of 24 hours (48 hours preferably) which breaks down the gluten in the rye flour and makes it more like a cake rather than a bread loaf. Add the remaining honey to loosen the dough.
2 - Brush the top of loaf with milk. Bake in loaf tins, two-thirds filled, in 170C oven for approx 25 minutes, keep watch as honey burns quickly. When cool, cut in slices and serve with tea or coffee.