Malcolm’s Topical Tips

Breaking news: member of the High Weald Beekeeping Association wins first prize for their honey at the National Honey Show

Those of you who read my topical tips will be aware that in 2016 Helen Hadley and I took honey up to the National honey show and exhibited our honey there for the very first time. We also took up honey from other members of our association ; in 2016 Helen Searle managed to get a second prize for her lovely Ashdown Forest honey and Helen Hadley managed to get a highly commended for one of her honeys. One of the benefits of showing honey at this level was we were able to ask one of the judges what we should have done to have produced a better entry.
This year I had been as disorganised as usual as I was relying on our chairman, Helen Hadley, to remind me about the National honey show. I had meant to send out an email to everyone at the beginning of September to remind them about the National honey show. When I eventually got online to check about entries I had missed the deadline. However it was possible to make a late entry if one was prepared to pay a fee of £10, which I did. It seemed to me to be important that someone from the Association was entering some of the classes at least.
Armed with the knowledge Helen and I had gleaned last year I decided I would enter class five and several of the other Sussex classes. Class 5 is for honeys from all over the world and the judge tastes and comments on every single entry. This is helpful if you are unsure what it is you should be doing to improve your entry. I had decided to enter runny honey but knew that I would have to use a warming cabinet as my honey in my two buckets had granulated and set hard. I phoned Helen and asked to borrow her warming cabinet. She made this herself and the heat comes from two electric light bulbs.
I took the warming cabinet down to Lesley’s in Saint Leonards and we put my bucket of set honey into the warming cabinet on the Friday night. On the Monday evening we had a look at it and about a quarter of it had started to melt. The rest of the bucket was still fairly solid, so I put it back into the warming cabinet saying to Lesley that I would have to deal with it the next weekend and could she check if it started to melt. The next weekend came and it was still in a fairly solid state. Radical measures were therefore called for. So we took a Pyrex dish and spooned quantities of the honey into that, and then gently microwaved the honey. This made it soft enough (it was still granulated) to put into the settling tank. We were therefore able to get it into jars. Jars, of course, that had been checked for any imperfections. The result certainly wasn’t runny and the granulation was fairly coarse , so I assumed that my entries were going to be a complete fiasco. After all it isn’t very sensible to enter coarsely  granulated honey under the runny honey category! You can imagine the discussion between Lesley and myself: this honey is not runny honey, the granulation is coarse, your honey is cloudy, there are bubbles in the honey, there are fingerprints on the jars and on the lids, have you removed the scum on the top of the honey with clingfilm, is the jar full enough or perhaps is it too full. This is so stressful, why are we bothering to enter the National honey show at all ? However Helen had gone to such trouble last year to get members of the Association to enter, so I felt I really had to at least make the effort of taking my honey up to the show. And at least I had also entered Lesley’s honey so there were going to be at least two members showing their honey in London.
My nine jars and Lesley’s seven jars were put into cardboard boxes and placed into the boot of my car to go back to Crowborough. The warming cabinet also went back to Crowborough as I was unsure when Helen was going to want it next. Once back home in Crowborough I placed the jars on one of the kitchen surfaces and looked despairingly at what we had managed to produce. I thought to myself, to help with this malarkey, I am going to do something really radical. So I placed my nine jars into the warming cabinet and placed them really near the one electric light bulb that was still working. After all by this stage I had nothing to lose. And I went off to work. When I returned that evening the jars were really really warm and the honey had completely cleared. As I said to Lesley over the phone, it now looks like ‘urine’. I knew that this was not going to be sufficient to meet the requirements of the Judge as we had been clearly told that there should be no gap between the honey and the bottom of the lid. This is because this is the only way a judge can guarantee that the right amount of honey has been put into the jar. I could see gaps, so I needed to do something. I opened a jar only to see scum ( a Swedish friend calls this scum the cream as he says it contains more pollen) on the top of my nice runny but warm honey. Of course, I thought to myself, my honey was granulated when it went into the settling tank so any bubbles could not rise to the surface and it was only now that it had been warmed up that the air bubbles had risen to the surface.
So now I also had another problem because I knew that the scum would mark down the honey. This was Tuesday night and I was taking the honey up early on the Thursday morning. So I took a teaspoon and labouriously skimmed off the scum and bubbles and carefully tried to clean the inside edge of the glass. A nightmare! I was sweating by the time I had finished and cursed my rashness in ever having entered the National honey show. Was this going to be a case of hubris before the disastrous nemesis of the actual show? It certainly felt like it! Why is it that I get myself into such scrapes, I muttered to myself?
Now that I had spooned out honey from the top of the jars, they were now even emptier than they had been before. So I carefully spooned three or four teaspoonfuls of honey from one of the jars into the other jars to make sure there was no air gap.  I put an extra jar of coarsely granulated honey into the warming cabinet so that I could have the full number of entries. And the next morning repeated the removal of the bubbles from that extra jar and spooned in some more honey  to top up that jar  to the correct level. I did wonder whether I should put Lesley‘s jars into the warming cabinet but by this stage so much time has been spent titivating my own entries that I just did not have the energy.
The die was cast and the next morning I took the entries up to the National honey show, arriving in Esher at 8:30 in the morning. Judging takes place on Thursday and you know the result sometime during the afternoon. I was most interested by class five because the judge comments on your presentation and on your honey. I took the list and searched for my name among the 48 entries. It took me about 30 seconds to realise that in fact my name was at the top of the list and I had won first prize. It made me inwardly laugh! This particular judge seems to have favoured flavour above everything else because my presentation of the honey was only classed as good and there were several other entries where the presentation was excellent. However the taste was, according to her, beautiful. A lot relies on the tastebuds of an individual judge because I had the same honey entered in several Sussex classes and the honey was not even classed. I did, though, get very highly commended in one of the Sussex classes and, to my satisfaction, beat Harold Cloutt.
Now we have our own honey show on 18 November and it is a much simpler affair. Below are the categories for honey:

  1. CLEAR HONEY    - 1 Jar.   Plain, no labels
  2. SET HONEY         - 1 Jar.   Plain, no labels
  3. CUT COMB         - 1 piece.             Plain pot, no labels
  4. NOVICE CLASS   - 1 Jar of Clear or Set Honey.       Plain, no labels

Novice class is for beekeepers who have never won a 1st or 2nd in a Honey Show.
The Vera Becvar Honey Cup will be presented to the Honey judged to be the overall winner from classes 1, 2 & 3.  To be kept for one year.
If you have honey (congratulations), you should enter. It really is a triumph if you get honey, and it hasn’t been an easy year. If your honey has granulated you can warm it up to get runny honey and that means you will be able to enter one jar of clear honey and one jar of set honey. If you have incipient granulation, a minute or even less in the microwave will get rid of the cloudiness. Or if you prefer, you can warm the honey up carefully in a saucepan surrounded by warm water. Jean Greer does it all completely on taste but smudgy jars and lids and cloudy honey will, I am sure, count against you.
Stuart and Colleen’s husband, Bob, said last year that they were going to enter a honey cake so I have found a recipe that I think may win against them. And of course we no longer have Johannes so anyone who makes candles stands a good chance of winning a prize. Remember also that you can enter the novice class if you have never won a first or second prize in the honey show. We are not even asking for it to be in pound jars. We will be tasting all honeys entered in the novice class. It was such fun last year and I hope you will all enjoy it this year too. Presentation of honey is fairly much like my handling of bees, you never quite know what is going to happen. Look forward to seeing you all!
If in previous years you have been put off by the fact that this is also the AGM, don’t worry. Reports are emailed out to you beforehand and the business of the club only lasts a very short time. This honey show is more like a social event and there is plenty of time to have tea and eat cake.

Malcolm Wilkie - Prize winner!
Malcolm Wilkie - Prize winner!

Malcolm Wilkie 30th October 2017

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