Irish Lamb Stew (or, Lamb’s Neck Stew)

Don’t let anyone try to tell you that it’s hard to raise and slaughter your own meat. Nothing could be easier, or more fulfilling.  Suddenly, buying meat from the grocery store feels like paying someone to come into your house to brush your teeth.   It’s absolutely ridiculous.   Raising as much of your own sustenance as possible isn’t a lost skill, as much as it is a lost part of what makes being a human enjoyable.

Above is a photo of Irish Lamb Stew, or as some call it, Lamb’s Neck Stew. It was also last night’s dinner. The stew is a traditional peasant recipe from Great Britain dating back many hundreds of years. Inexpensive and readily available ingredients were key, mainly lamb neck and root vegetables. I used neck of lamb (along with the neck bones for added flavor) and vegetables from the garden including whole young potatoes, carrots, onions, leeks, peas, and parsley.

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Honey Extraction

A few days after checking the hives for honey, I came back and pulled off the top super from my best colony. Inside were ten frames filled with this summer’s honey, the individual cells capped with a thin layer of wax.  A completed frame is a thing of beauty. It glows with a rich golden hue, smells sweet, and is a lot heavier than it looks. You’d think it’d be sticky to the touch but it’s perfectly dry and clean. A piece of art.

 

Before the honey can be extracted the caps have to be removed. We used an inexpensive uncapper, which pretty much looks like a giant fork. It takes some time to expose the honey but otherwise works just fine.

 

After a few frames are ready they’re lowered into the spinning cage inside the centrifuge. Giving the handle a few good cranks spins the cage at a high rate of speed.  The honey flings out of the frames where it sticks to the inside walls of the centrifuge.

 

After spinning all ten frames the honey (along with bits of wax) settles to the bottom of the drum.

 

A valve on the bottom of the centrifuge makes it easy to drain the honey into a five gallon bucket, but not before it passes through a simple filter to remove wax and the occasional bee part.

 

Lifting the filter from the bucket allows you to see the pure, clear honey slowly dripping through. It’s mesmerizing to watch.

 

This is what’s left in the bottom of the filter, loose wax coated with sticky sweet honey.  You can’t resist not dipping into this mess with your fingers, slowly chewing it until all the flavor is gone. It’s Mother Nature’s chewing gum.  I remember once seeing a National Geographic documentary where Amazon tribesmen hacked into a hollow tree to rob a massive wild bee colony. After running to safety with giant slabs of comb the first thing they did was sit down and pull off piece after piece to enjoy their prize.  Chew, spit out the wax, then repeat until they felt sick from too much sugar. It’s a universal reaction when in the presence of such deliciousness.

 

All the clean honey is then poured into Mason jars, we got just over two gallons total.  I’d love to give some wine snob description of the taste but I wouldn’t do it justice.  It’s complex, rich, kind of floral with a hint of wood perhaps? Who knows. The best part is that it came from my own yard.

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Checking for Honey

Our first attempt at beekeeping seemed to be going well.  But last year when we moved from the Georgia Coast to the mountains in the North, the colony foundered and never recovered.  This spring we ordered 3 new colonies and they’ve looked healthy and vibrant all summer long. It’s time to check for a surplus of honey which I intend to rob.

The bottom two boxes are the “brood chambers”. This is where the queen lives and lays her eggs, and where workers store extra honey to feed the rest of the hive. We take nothing from these areas, it all belongs to them. Directly above the second brood chamber is a “queen excluder”.  It’s a thin wire grate through which the queen is unable to pass due to her large body size. Worker bees, however, can easily walk through and deposit honey in the boxes, or “honey supers” above. If the queen were able to access the honey supers, she’d lay eggs and there would be developing larvae mixed in with my honey. Not a good combination.  So will there be excess honey this time?  The only way to know is to open the hive and look.

First, the top cover of the honey super is removed to expose the frames which hold the comb. The dirt-looking substance on top is “propolis”, a glue bees make to seal holes and gaps inside the hive. All the frames in the above photo are glued at the ends with propolis and have to be pried apart with a metal tool. Then they can be individually lifted out for inspection.

In this particular super all but one frame is completely filled with honey and capped with wax, a nice return from such a young hive.  It should yield just over two gallons of local honey once we extract it.

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