Busy as a Bee

In quite possibly the busiest week yet, we had not one, not two, but three outings, beginning with the long-awaited beekeeping course on Sunday.

Sunday

img_4888Beekeeper Brian Poole taught us the ins and outs of keeping a hive, as well as a comprehensive and fascinating guide to the lifespan/biology/functions etc. of the honeybee.

Interesting tidbits included learning that majority of the hive is comprised of female worker bees, with a very small minority of male drone bees that only serve as a necessary part of reproduction and die immediately after serving its purpose… those who don’t mate with the queen, are ruthlessly killed by worker bees before winter (they really don’t mess around).

img_4800When the worker bees aren’t killing useless male drones, they spend half of their much too short 6-week life performing a variety of tasks in the hive including tending to the young, building honeycomb and guarding the hive from invaders. Their last three weeks are spent foraging for pollen (their source of protein), nectar, water and propolis (the glue that literally keeps the hive together). If you aren’t obsessed with these amazing food producers after reading this, something is very wrong with you.

Now, I knew about the importance of bees beforehand, but this course has made me into their biggest fan. (I could just drone on and on about them.)

Monday

img_4889On Monday, we took a trip into Edinburgh, more specifcially, Leith, where a blossoming and thriving migrant population is setting up shop.

We ate lunch at The Percy.pl, a Polish restaurant attached to The Persevere Pub on Easter Road. Being three-quarters Polish, I was particularly excited to eat some traditional food.

Our feast (and I mean feast) included herring salad, sour rye soup (zurek), dumplings (pierogi); one of my favorite Polish dishes, hunter’s stew (bigos), as well as several delicious preparations of pork and potatoes (Polish staples).

img_4848After the meal, we went to Valvona & Crolla, an old-school Italian deli with a long and storied history in Edinburgh.

One of the owners, Mary Contini, told us about her and her husband’s (Philip) family histories beginning with his grandfather, Alfonso Crolla, who founded the family business back in 1934.

She spoke of the hardships, including the treatment of Italians in the UK during WWII, and their successes, including opening a cafe, and writing three books: Dear Francesca, Dear Olivia and A Year at an Italian Table (she’s currently working on a forth dedicated to her grandson). After the talk, Mary kindly provided us with a selection of Italian goodies to taste.

And if that wasn’t enough, we were invited to the caffé bar, to enjoy some coffee and an array of cakes.

Suffice it to say, no one went hungry that day (or ate dinner that night).

Tuesday

After a morning of lecture, we took a mini-bus to Colstoun for the first in a series of three class sessions focused on cooking transformations. There, we met with Scott Fraser, a graduate of the program and development chef at Dawnfresh, a UK seafood and fish producer.

We discussed the methods and basics of cooking; temperature, physical alteration, chemical reactions, etc. We then put those processes to the test.

img_4890In the kitchen, we were split into groups and examined the taste, colour and texture of brussels sprouts, onion, salmon, and beef cooked and treated in a myriad of ways.

First, the sprouts and onion were boiled, sautéed and broiled (or grilled as it’s called here). After tasting and taking a closer look at each preparation, we had to decide which one was the most appealing to us and our reasons behind that choice. Scott then explained how certain cooking methods like boiling don’t allow any of the natural sugars in the vegetable to develop and caramelize… thus making insipid and unappealing veg.

For the salmon and beef, we focused on the texture and tenderness of the protein. The salmon was prepared five ways: raw, cured, roasted, with acid (ceviche), and poached. Thinking that much like the boiled vegetables, the poached salmon would be lacking in texture and flavour, our group was pleasantly surprised at how tender and buttery the poached piece of fish tasted. We were also intrigued by the cured salmon, and decided to conduct our own experiment and cook it, which really transformed it into an even more delectable piece of fish.

As for the beef, we were given un-marinated, soy marinated, and baking soda marinated pieces. As one would expect, the soy was our top choice, being both flavorful and tender. The baking soda piece was too soft, almost completely textureless and severely lacking in flavour.

Our series on food transformation continues next week, when we tour the Dawnfresh facilities outside of Glasgow.

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