A large group was gathered in Kings Hall at the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House and, on a trestle table to the side, was a block of rock.
A fellow standing near me didn't know what it was and I said, "It looks as though it needs a hammer to break it open." Then we noticed a hammer and chisel, nicely wrapped, at the other end of the table. A Canberra geoscientist who saw the photo on this page said, "It looks allochthonous to me."
Then the mystery was solved. Head chef Mark Howard came to the table, unwrapped the hammer and chisel and pieces fell off the rock, chunks and crumbles like regolith (more geology). Chef called the creation Pollie-nation Honeycomb Rocky Road and the most important ingredient was honey from the Australian Parliament House beehives.
"It was wonderful to use a product as rare as the Parliament House honey," Howard said. "I was honoured to have the opportunity to do a tasting with Cormac Farrell and to create a dish that reflected those unique flavours."
There was also yoghurt pannacotta served on individual spoons which was the bees' knees in appearance and taste. Howard has generously reduced his recipe from 100 servings to a quantity and method for the home cook, shared below.
The event was to launch HiveMind - Honeybees, Democracy & Me. Following Welcome to Country by Aboriginal elder Wally Bell, and an introduction by museum director Daryl Karp, the conversation was led by journalist Jan Fran. Both panel guests were lively and entertaining, Peter Yates whose father William Yates was the Liberal Member for Holt who introduced bee hives to Old Parliament House gardens on April 1, 1976.
Peter Yates said, "Mum and dad were mad about honey and dad always wore a rose in his lapel because bees pollinate roses." When invited to the Lodge for dinner during Gough Whitlam's term as Prime Minister, Yates Snr took two hives of bees.
Environmental scientist Cormac Farrell is beekeeper at APH with four hives of European bees and two hives of native Australian bees. The latter have been moved north during our winter. Comparing beehives to parliament, Farrell says bees have the most magnificent chamber in Australian democracy, bees dance in the dark when they are voting to move to a new home to replace the queen bee.
World Bee Day was celebrated on May 20 but, for kitchen gardeners, every day is bee day. Farrell said there were 20,000 species of bees in the world and all flowering plants and that three-quarters of our crops were dependent on bees.
On the Sunday following Bee Day, interstate friends and I went to brunch at the Australian Parliament House cafe. On the menu were waffles with APH honey - irresistible.
Costa Georgiadis was recently at the National Arboretum Canberra where the ABC was filming in the National Bonsai and Penjing Collection. On Mother's Day he had been in conversation with 100 Monaro residents and visitors from Canberra at Bombala Preschool in the "Ngulla" garden (which means plant-based foods). Among highlights were planting suggestions to bring bees into the garden.
Pollie-nation Honeycomb Rocky Road
Honeyed yoghurt pannacotta:
250g Greek yoghurt
1 leaf (titanium) gelatine (add more if you want pannacotta to be firmer)
1/4 vanilla bean pod, scraped out
honey for glaze
In a heavy-bottomed pot add the cream, sugar and vanilla bean and begin to heat until simmering. Soak the gelatine in cold water for five minutes until soft then squeeze out excess water. Add to the cream, stir until combined, remove from heat. Allow to cool and thicken slightly as the gelatine begins to set. (Transferring to a cool container will speed up the process). When the cream has begun to thicken it should taste sweet. Add the yoghurt and mix until all the yoghurt is combined.
Allow to cool for five to 10 minutes then pour into moulds for serving (Howard used silicone moulds but he suggests a wine glass or a plate or bowl - have fun with it). Pour over some honey to glaze. Refrigerate until set.
2 egg whites
250g caster sugar
1/4 tsp cornflour
1-2 drops lavender oil
drop of purple food dye (optional)
In a clean mixing bowl whisk the egg whites until they start to thicken and become peaks. Mix the sugar and cornflour together in a bowl. Slowly add the sugar until mixed in completely. When the meringue has expanded and is shiny, stop whisking and, using a spoon, add the oil (and dye if using). Dry out the meringue by turning oven down as low as possible and keep door ajar with a towel (make sure it will not catch fire). Crumble the meringue over the pannacotta.
Chef also added a honey gel and tiny edible flowers to the top of the super-light spoon treats.