24 April, 2011

24 April 2011

Einar did have ideas for separating the wax from the honey, having been contemplating the matter of processing the honey for a good while that morning. “Yep. Only thing that really seems practical for us out here is to put the combs piece by piece into the cooking pots, as much as will fit each time, mash them to get the honey out, heat it just slightly so it’s more fluid and then run it through some sort of filter--piece of cloth or something--to get the waxy bits out. Then we melt down the wax in a little water just to keep if from getting too hot during the process, leave it to cool in the pots until it shrinks, take it out and we’ve got it to use for the future.”

“That ought to work, but…I wonder if we might lose too much honey in the filtering? Maybe we ought to just allow for some waxy bits in our honey. I don’t think they’d hurt anything.”

“No, nothing but the texture, and we don’t really care about that, now do we? Don’t mind having to chew a little, now and then…sure. You’re probably right about losing a good bit, and we’d have an awfully sticky sock or whatever it was to clean out too, after the filtering was done.”

“Oh! I hope you weren’t really thinking about using one of our socks for the filter! What a nasty idea!”

“Well, I would have washed it first…”

“Doesn’t matter! These socks need a good boiling, or perhaps burning would be more effective. Have you smelled them lately?”

“Can’t say I’ve much noticed, but we do have the new ones from Kilgore and Susan, if you’d find them more acceptable…except that I think we’ve agreed not to filter it at all.”

“Yes, let’s try it that way first, and if it’s too clogged with wax bits, we can always go back and use one of the new socks for a filter. Then just add the sock to a pot of simmering tea when we’re all done, to make sure we don’t waste any of the honey.”

At which Einar gave her a strange sideways glance, trying to gauge whether or not she was entirely serious but not quite able to tell, so he did not risk commenting. Had been about to say that even had they used a not new sock, he would have insisted on simmering the honey free for their consumption rather than--the horror!--simply washing it away in the spring, but he wisely kept his mouth shut, ducked into the cabin for the cooking pots. Choosing several large slabs of aspen bark from a pile beneath a spruce where they stored such things he laid them out in the clearing, clean white smooth side up. With a quartz flake he carefully scored each of them in two places, length-wise, taking, when he was confident that he’d got the score deep enough, a granite chunk and giving each several hard raps. The tree-trunk shaped arches of the bark slabs then collapsed, leaving nearly a square yard of the clearing covered with a solid, nearly flat white sheet of bark. A necessary precaution, Einar had decided, should they end up spilling or dripping any significant amount of honey during the processing. Would be an awful lot easier to retrieve the spilled goo from the bark slabs than it would have been from the needle-covered ground, though goodness knew he’d have found a way to do the latter, had it been required of him. Which it certainly would have been, had eh ended up spilling any honey on the ground. Much as it had cost him--and valuable as it was as a food source for the winter; concentrated sugar of that sort could prove absolutely invaluable in bringing a person back from serious hypothermia, or simply giving an energy burst at a critical time--the thought of wasting any of the precious stuff was practically nauseating to him.

Or maybe that was just the lingering result of all those stings acting up again. Difficult to be sure. Despite the swelling in his face having gone down significantly, he was still struggling with a systemic difficulty of some sort, legs painful, swollen and supporting him only with difficulty and his hands at times proving very nearly too puffy and ineffective to be of much use to him at all. Figured his kidneys were still working too hard to try and eliminate the waste products released into his blood in the aftermath of all those stings--hoped they weren’t still being released, because that would mean he was losing muscle, having it break down, and he really couldn’t afford to lose any more, just then--and kept reminding himself to drink frequently as he worked. Wouldn’t have had to remind himself, as Liz was doing the same, having taken it upon herself to make certain that he had a pot of tea always ready and sitting handily beside him. Until, that was, he went and appropriated all of the pots for the honey project, gulping down the remaining tea before carefully scooping portions of honeycomb into each of the pots. Using a clean stick to carefully mash the honeycomb in one of the pots, he broke it up--wasn’t difficult, the thin-walled wax cells being rather fragile vessels, if ingenious and amazing ones--stirring quickly and releasing the honey and ending up with a thick, sticky slurry of wax and honey which did not terribly greatly resemble the honey one finds in jars at the store. Was wonderful stuff nonetheless, its color the rich, dark red-brown that resulted from the numerous wildflower species that had fed the bees, and Einar was quite certain he had never tasted better. Still, the wax bits posed something of a problem. They didn’t appear to be either floating or settling, and he was not at all sure how they were to separate them out for future use, without going through the straining process that they had both tentatively agreed ought to be avoided.

“Would have been better if we’d been able to press the combs somehow, wouldn’t it?” Liz mused, scooping up a big finger full of honey and eating it, wax and all. “That way most of the wax would have been left behind.”

Einar nodded, but he had an idea, took the second pot and set it near the fire, just close enough to begin slightly warming the honey but not, he hoped, close enough to see any serious melting of the wax. Watching it carefully for a full minute--watched pot never boils, so they say, and I sure don’t want this to boil!--he finally decided that the pot had been near the warmth long enough, snatched it away and deposited it back onto his smooth aspen bark work surface. Reaching a hand cautiously into the pot--stirring stick abandoned; it did too much harm to the integrity of the little wax cells, left the honey full of bits of wax that would have to be strained to be removed--he gently took a lump of comb and squeezed it, working it in his hand as he liberated the honey and slowly, trying hard not to end up with a handful of over-crushed wax particles, worked the entire thing into a ball of slightly softened, nearly cohesive wax, free of much of its honey. Success, or something like it, and he moved on to the next pot.

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