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Robbing the Bees: A Biography of Honey: The Sweet Liquid Gold That Seduced the Worldby Holley Bishop
Synopses & Reviews
"Honey has been waiting almost ten million years for a good biography," writes Holley Bishop. Bees have been making this food on Earth for hundreds of millennia, but we humans started recording our fascination with it only in the past few thousand years — painting bees and hives on cave and temple walls and papyrus scrolls, revering them in poetry and art, even worshipping these amazing little insects as gods. From the temples of the Nile to the hives behind the author's own house, people have had a long, rapturous love affair with the beehive and the seductive, addictive honey it produces. Combining passionate research, rich detail, and fascinating anecdote, Holley Bishop's Robbing the Bees is an in-depth, sumptuous look at the oldest, most delectable food in the world.
Part biography, part history, Robbing the Bees is also a celebration, a love letter to bees and their magical produce. Honey has played significant and varied roles in civilization: it is so sweet that bacteria can't survive in it, so it was our first food preservative and all-purpose wound salve. Honey wine, or mead, was the intoxicant of choice long before beer or wine existed. Hindus believe honey leads to a long life; Mohammed looked to honey as a remedy for all illness. Virgil; Aristotle; Pythagoras; Gregor Mendel; Sylvia Plath's father, Otto; and Sir Edmund Hillary are among the famous beekeepers and connoisseurs who have figured in honey's past and shaped its present.
To help navigate the worlds and cultures of honey, Holley Bishop — beekeeper, writer, and honey aficionado — apprentices herself to a modern guide and expert, professional beekeeper Donald Smiley, who harvests tupelo honey from hundreds of hives in the remote town of Wewahitchka, Florida. Bishop chronicles Smiley's day-to-day business as he robs his bees in the steamy Florida panhandle and provides an engaging exploration of the lively science, culture, and lore that surround each step of the beekeeping process and each stage of bees' lives.
Interspersed throughout the narrative are the author's lyrical reflections on her own beekeeping experiences, the business and gastronomical world of honey, the myriad varieties of honey (as distinct as the provenance of wine), as well as illustrations, historical quotes, and recipes — ancient, contemporary, and some of the author's own creations.
"When former New York literary agent Bishop bought a Connecticut farmstead, she began keeping bees as a way of savoring her newfound reverence for nature in the edible form of fresh honey, a passion that now yields this engaging study of the history, science and art of beekeeping. She details the biology of the 'always gracious, economical and neat' insects; explores the complex, pheromone-besotted hive society that yokes the proverbially busy insects to the tasks of comb building, nectar gathering and larvae nourishing; and eulogizes their stubborn, self-immolating defense of their honey against human pillagers. And she chronicles humanity's millennia-long expropriation of the bee's gifts of honey, beeswax, pollen and venom to provide food and drink (a chapter of honey-themed recipes is included), nutritional supplements, arthritis remedies and even weapons of war. Tying it all together is a profile of salt-of-the-earth commercial beekeeper Donald Smiley, harvester of specialty honey gathered from tupelo tree blossoms in the drowsy hum of the Florida panhandle, and emblem of the fruitful alliance of two legs with six. Bishop's impulse to visit every flower of bee lore sometimes weighs the book down with quotes from bee enthusiasts of the past, but her combination of engrossing natural history and down-home reportage make this a fitting homage to one of nature's most admirable creatures. Photos. Agent, Mary Evans. (Apr.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Fans of Sue Hubbell and Diane Ackerman will take to this like — well, bees to honey....As golden as its subject." Kirkus Reviews
"Interspersed with...stories of professional beekeeping are looks at the history of honey and how various peoples have robbed bees of their produce, as well as the reminiscences of Bishop the novice beekeeper, the mistakes she made, and what these mistakes taught her about bees. Eminently readable." Booklist
A long overdue (almost ten million years) biography, history, celebration, and love letter to bees and their magical produce. To navigate her narrative, Bishop follows beekeeper Donald Smiley on his daily tasks in the steamy Florida panhandle. Combing passionate research, rich detail, and fascinating anecdotes, Robbing the Bees is a sumptuous look at the oldest and most delectable food in the world.
To navigate her narrative on honey, Bishop follows beekeeper Donald Smiley on his daily tasks in the steamy Florida panhandle. Combing passionate research, rich detail, and fascinating anecdotes, this is a sumptuous look at the oldest and most delectable food in the world.
Table of Contents
1 Swamp Cache
2 The Bee Master
3 Robbing the Bees
5 The Sting
6 Food, Wine, and Fishing
7 Liquid Currency
9 Medicine Ball
10 Some Honey Recipes, Old and New
a final note
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