At Serendipity… honey, honey, we want more!
(above) Vijaya Pastala at the honey workshop to clue up honey consumers (inset) varieties of honey; (top right) participants ask questions; and (right) finally the sale of genuine honey!
BY TARA NARAYAN
CAN’T help it, it is that time of the year again when I’m renewing old resolutions and adding on a few new ones for a more rewarding, stress free, peaceful life…a better New Year when both aam aadmi and khaas aadmi are not at war about to whom the good earth belongs to exploit and torture! I like to think the good earth belongs to us all collectively and the sooner we make up our mind to live what is called a minimalist lifestyle, the better off we will be in the effort to keep Mother Earth alive and kicking in the larger and longer interests of humankind.
A friend from London who’s visiting to catch up with her old memories of life and times in Goa was recounting how they too in the world we call first world have homeless folk — no shelter to call their own, they have to look for places to stay warm and alive in the wintry nights. They live off State welfare and family and friends’ charity, “We call this community of people in London sofa-guests! Allow them to spend the night on our sofa in the living room…sometimes it’s family members who’ve lost their way somewhere, squandered their resources away and when the years catch up with them bitterly they have nowhere to go….”
We have no idea how lucky we are in Goa and much of India vis-à-vis our weather and how much better off our street folk are! Of course not, a country’s parameters of development and progress are determined by material and immaterial values and in this respect we fall far, far below vis-à-vis the countries of first world.
This Christmas/New Year my thoughts are the same as every year. What a world of extremes we still live in India — the colossally super rich minority making a fine art of living in gross king size or queen size ways, making the rest of us envious and comparatively poor while catching up with their shaadi parties and extravagances on social media! Funny, further down the line of economic scales these days I see my maid struggling to earn `3,000 per month to pay off her month rent for the low-down mosquito and rodent-infested accommodation she has rented (she works doing domestic chores at half-a-dozen homes for an hour or two daily)……and then there’s me, more educated, richer but still trying to making ends meet in a most unrewarding journalistic career at the tail end of my life!
Okay, c’est la vie as the French say. To move on I’m feeling a little at a loose end with no festival on currently in town. Even Serendipity is over…although I missed much of it this year; there were long queues outside the culinary arts workshops with those who don’t register ahead of time being the losers — the rigged-up tented venue in a corner of the old GMC complex was too small and it got pretty cramped with too many crowding in for standing space only! I managed to make it only for two of them, the first titled “A Spoonful of Sweetness, A Journey Through India’s Unique Varieties of Honey” presented by Rahul Akerkar and Vijaya Pastala, and the second was tantalizingly titled “The Assamese Pickling Affair,” presented by Odette Mascarenhas and Monalisa Baruah.
Readers of this column must know how hostile I am to refined sugar and sweeteners (industrial products both, and now proved to be carcinogenic the more we consume them); our original traditional sweeteners of gud/jaggery (courtesy palm trees, sugarcane, dates, etc, more naturally processed) or honey are far more honest, nutritious and rewarding if you want to stay fighting fit.
Naturally, honey keeps getting more expensive because there is such a demand for it. And to think at one time the poor ate jaggery while the rich took to processed sugar because the perception was the whiter the ingredient the more superior …now the rich know better, while our middle classes and poor think sugar is a life-saver.
IT WAS an interesting workshop with Vijaya Pastala knowing the inside out and nitty gritty of how honey is collected from beehives in the wild as also courtesy beekeeping farms…the fascinating world of bees is worth understanding, how these little buzzing creatures with a sting, the bees, keep pollination moving along (understand the vital role of bees in life and you will want to adopt a minimalistic lifestyle right away!). It’s a very well organized joint family system in nature (which our mod con civilization us infiltrating and inviting long term disaster).
One of these days read about how vast, swarming, buzzing armies of bees painstakingly collect nectar from flowers, and regurgitate it in beehives located in impossible places to access…it’s really their “vomit” which is enzyme enriched honey! Honey is primarily the food of the bees and secondarily one of our super foods. Wild organic honey is much sought after as a natural sweetener in tea, other beverages, desserts and has umpteen cosmetic and medicinal values.
Honey is big business today. There is honey and honey, wild and raw or cultivated and pasteurized and by-products like beeswax are much sought after for making beeswax candles which I’m told burner brighter and better.
Well, at the Serendipity workshop we tasted some six kinds of honey of various colour, texture, flavour and worked our way through a questionnaire guessing which honey came from where in India…the beautiful colours of honey going from pale sunshine to dark, molten gold; thick or runny; lightly reminiscent of some flower (neem flowers, mahua flowers, saffron flowers…) or jamun/lychee fruit, or eucalyptus.
Honey can last for an eternity, forever, if well stored in cool places, but never, never let wet spoon or finger get into it…water will set in a rot. My problem is ants getting into my honey bottle, I complained and Vijaya laughed, “What’s a few ants, some places they eat fried ants as a delicacy!” All this and much more: Honey is a simple carbohydrate food, but low glycemic in index. It’s mostly fructose and glucose, 18% water content, has minerals, vitamins, pollen, protein…it’s rich in phenolic compounds, it’s anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, full of phytonutrients and antioxidants…helps resolve digestion issues, soothes the throat. It’s a natural sedative.
Hey, drink warm honey water or warm honey lemonade first thing in the morning for all kinds of good things, eat a teaspoon of honey if you’re coughing at night. The American Heart Association says women do well eating 25g or six tsp of honey daily, that’s 100 calories of honey. But don’t overdo it, some folk may be allergic to honey. Try and get freshly filtered wild honey, not pasteurized.
Honey too is being industrialized for big money, business folk without conscience may be recycling honey…if your honey tastes musty and odd, chuck it. More expensive honey is not necessarily better honey. Check out the Khadi emporium honeys.
Last and not least of all, do read about honey, there is any amount of literature on it. You might want to retire as a beekeeper once you become a fan, admirer, lover of bees! Alas, bees are a vanishing species courtesy our mod con civilisation of electronic and wireless technologies which are all around in the air around us and they are very definitely impacting the birds and bees. That is why, hurry up and find out all the ways in which one may live a minimalistic lifestyle (it’s the fastest growing lifestyle with young people in more enlightened countries now). Live more like poor, kind-hearted people than mean, cruel-hearted rich people!
The idea is to find our way back to the womb and bosom of Mother Earth who makes life on earth possible for all creatures big and small. I’m sure Mother Earth just wants us to bow a little, and not crawl, although it may come to that too.
Postscript: Check out Raika honey in Goa, for details see www.raika.co.in. They have raw honey retailing at `900 kg and filtered honey at `850 kg. Try to buy your honey in glass bottles and not plastics!