I was talking with the Enigmatic Misanthrope recently about the Old BlogDog Homeplace where we kept bees. I would say that we harvested honey but it was much more a case of our keeping bees than actually getting the honey from them. I have great memories of working with the hives and I retain a fair amount of the vocabulary as well (propolis, supers, queen excluders). I could talk bee-keeping. I could talk the hell outta that. But the reality of extracting honey is that it's one of the stickiest, gooiest, messiest things a human could do.
Supers, the "boxes" of which a hive is constructed contain frames which are designed that the bees, who always build their combs a precise distance apart (clever little goobers!), build their combs into an extractable, well, frame. Bees fill each hexagonal cell with honey and then cap off the cell with wax. When the frame is taken out, the cells must be de-capped which is done on a large scale by a special knife with a heated blade. On a smaller scale, a large-bladed knife which is kept warm can be used. Even with the caps off, the viscosity of honey makes getting it out difficult still. It is possible to just cut the comb out of the frame and heat it to the melting point of the wax. The wax and the honey will separate that way but as a processing step, it does not leave the honey raw.
There is much to be said for raw honey.
To get raw honey, an extractor is used. An extractor is a large drum with a spinning interior piece into which frames are put. With enough spin, the honey is flung out of the cells and onto the interior wall of the extractor whence it drains to a collecting container. Filtering the honey at this point is a very good idea. Thus a container of raw honey is now in the hands of the beekeeper. But there is a plethora of honey-sticky equipment and a mass of wax that needs to be cleaned and recycled. The wax recycled, that is. Beeswax candles. Sheets of beeswax that are pressed with hexagonal cells which are designed to be used in frames. Fresh warm beeswax smells very good - sweet from the honey but with a sort of earthiness. Not as good as raw honey but wonderful in its own way.
I still love honey. There's nothing better for sweetening tea. I can't tell you how many fall and winter nights in my young life were spent around the kitchen table with a pot of tea, honey (even our own a few times) and a pitcher of milk. It's the sort of family time that lives in the golden haze of memories of the best times. My mother liked very strong honey - tupelo was her favorite. I like lighter, floral honey with orange blossom being my absolute favorite. To that end, I recently ordered a bottle from a place in Florida and it wasn't terribly good (thus no link). Really good orange blossom honey is deeply flavored, almost perfumey with the scent of orange blossoms. And its a very pale honey - the best I've ever tasted was watery-clear, transparent just tinted with gold. The most beautiful honey I've seen, much less tasted.
The only way to get honey this good is to get it at the end of the orange blossom season. I believe I will have to prevail on Lycurgus to track some down at the right time.
Honey. It's wonderful thing.