Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Honey in Ethiopia

This morning I listened to Michael Palin on the Today programme, visiting a project that his charity Farm Africa has set up in Ethiopia. They are teaching local farmers all sorts of techniques to make their farming more efficient, and one of the training courses they are offering is bee keeping. Michael Palin got kitted up in white overalls with mask and gloves while one of the beekeepers puffed smoke made from charcoal and cow dung at the bees and lifted the frames out to inspect them.
Honey is a useful cash crop for the local farmers, as it was in Wales in the Middle Ages (some rents were paid in barrels of honey), and in the Greek islands when I was there about ten years ago.

It reminded me of a book by Laurens Van der Post. He's mostly associated with South Africa, but in First Catch Your Eland, he travelled around the whole continent of Africa to look at the food of the different areas.
Before the Second World War, as a young army officer, he travelled through Ethiopia, and in one village he was given a meal that put him in mind of Homeric Greece. It began with tedj, or mead, followed by curds and whey and millet bread in wicker baskets, and then there was the honey:

"I looked at my own slab of honey in amazement; it had a "burnt face" too.* It was Ethiopian dark and yet so strangely translucent that it might have been made out of prehistoric amber....To this day I can recall every nuance of taste of the mead, the curds and whey, tart and fresh on my tongue and above all the subtlety of the honey which made my welcome in the humble hut so royal, and the purple bread that made it so real."

*He explains earlier that Ethiopia is Greek for "burnt face".

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