Honey bees make honey of course, but they also make other things that are essential to the colony. Along with honey, bees also produce beeswax. Beeswax is a very complex material that makes up the foundation of the hive. It is where the queen lays her eggs, it is where the brood is reared, it is where the food (honey and pollen) is stored and it is where the bees spend the majority of their time. It is on the beeswax that the scout bees do their dance to direct the foragers to ripe flowers, and is said to resonate certain frequencies for communication. The beeswax really is the essence of the bee hive.
Beeswax is also precious. The honey bees must consume about 20 pounds of honey to produce 1 pound of beeswax! That is why a bee colony in it's early years rarely produces much surplus honey, because much of the available honey goes right into wax making.
When a beekeeper harvests honey, he or she must also harvest a certain amount of beeswax. The idea is to leave as much wax as possible for the bees to reuse, but it is unavoidable that some wax must be cut off the frames in order to let the honey flow. The wax that is cut off the frame to free the honey, is called capping wax. This is because when a cell of beeswax (honey comb) is filled with honey, it gets capped with wax. What beekeepers do with the capping wax depends on the beekeeper, but in my mind it is a crime not to put it to good use after all the effort the bees put into making it. Early on, Whitney and I decided we wanted to try making lip balm with our capping wax, so when we extracted honey last fall (Blog Post: The first honey), we saved all of the beeswax.
Our capping wax with the other stuff to make lip balm!
One weekend this winter, we decided the time was right for lip balm making. Whitney did the research and found the all natural and organic ingredients for our custom lip balm. After cleaning the wax thoroughly we assembled the other ingredients.
Natural lip balm consists of four main categories of ingredients: 1. Beeswax (top) 2. natural butters (left) 3. carrier oils (right) and 4. essential oils and flavors (bottom). We measured everything out and heated a double boiler to combine the ingredients, since the beeswax must be liquid for mixing.
Melting beeswax in a double boiler.
Once the wax is melted and the ingredients well mixed, it's time to fill the tubes. This got a little exciting as neither of us wanted hot wax on our hands, but with a small funnel, and Whitney's good idea of creating a tube holder from a cardboard box, we got it done.
Filled lip balm tubes cooling.
Once the tubes are filled, they must cool for 24 hours. Whit's cardboard box with holes cut in it held the tubes upright while the wax was cooling. Finally, after the lip balms cooled we each took one and used it for several weeks to make sure we liked them and that they worked well.
Let me add here that I am a harsh judge of balms. Since I have very dry skin and work outdoors, my lips and fingers tend to crack and bleed if I don't use balm regularly - especially in the harsh northern winter. I am proud to say that our hand made lip balm passed my tests with flying colors, and did it while smelling great!
Lip Balms with labels on and ready to go!
When we were satisified that the lip balms were just the way we wanted them, it was time to add the labels! These all natural Honey Vanilla lip balms are now available on Whitney's etsy site:
Tonight, Whitney prepared a stew featuring our venison, our potatoes and carrots, garlic we traded honey for and many dried spices from our garden. I smelled the amazing aroma all day from the crockpot, and when I finally tasted the stew, it was wonderful. Full of rich flavor, hot and steaming, and the meat was perfectly tender. It was the perfect meal after working outside today, doing chores and mucking out the chicken coop in the gently falling snow. As I sat and enjoyed the stew, I was thankful yet again for the ability to grow our own food, and harvest our own meat. And that thought led me to think how much it bothers me when people talk poorly about game meat. The animals we hunt are beautiful, and the meals they provide should be just as amazing.
Venison Tenderloin Wellington
For me, eating the meat that we harvest is a reward, but there seems to be a large number of people out there who think that eating game is the price you pay for hunting. As in the saying: "you shoot it, you eat it" - like it's a punishment. Even here locally, where it seems like everybody hunts and the first day of hunting season is something of a holiday, this seems to be true.
Most people who say they don't like venison, claim it's because it tastes bad. But what they don't seem to realize is that the flavor of meat reflects what the meat has been subjected to. Blaming the meat for tasting bad after you don't treat it properly is unforgivable in my mind. Game should be treated no differently than beef or any other fine meat. It should be kept clean and cool, properly aged and butchered with care. Finally, it should be cooked according to a recipe intended to showcase the cut's natural qualities and texture.
Can you imagine if a professional butcher shot an old cow in the field, left it dirty for hours while he drove around showing all his buddies and then chopped it up without aging it? If he then took a coarse grained cut from that beef and tried to cook it as a steak, I guarantee that would not taste like a choice steak from the grocery store. Venison is no different.
Here in our house, Whitney and I take great effort with our venison. Starting with the shot and following through all the way to the meal, we try our very best to make certain that the meat is clean, and well cared for. The other trick is matching the cut to the meal. Tender cuts are steaks, coarser cuts are stews or roasts, and the coarsest are burger or sausage. Younger animals provide more tender meat while older ones are more coarse. As a result it is not uncommon for people who come over for dinner to remark "That wasn't beef"?
As I said earlier, for me eating the meal is the final reward of the hunt. Months after hunting season is over when we unwrap a package of meat and prepare a meal with it, often I find my self recollecting that day in the field. It really is the culmination of the hunting experience, and I am always grateful for the opportunity to hunt and thankful of the animals that we harvest.