The Taste of Here

Ames farm revolutionizes the gathering of honey, to flabbergasting effect

Ames Farm Honey

What was it like to live in Minnesota last summer? I mean, not counting the experience of the people, the politics, or the cars. What was it like to live under the sky, with the rain and the flowers?

That wind, you remember it, it came sometimes from the south and was wet, but it usually blew from the west and was clear. Our sky, it was blue and brilliant some days, gray and cold others; why, sometimes it was striped with marshmallow bands, and other days it was piled miles high with majestic mountains of purple-shadowed cumulus. And what of the flowers, the spikes of blue vervain in the marshes, the orchidlike profusion of white faces in the basswoods, the little puffballs of clover in the meadow. Don't forget the rain. Spitty and cold in April; warm, fat, and violent in August, how would you express our rain? What was it like, to live in our world?

Busier than 16 hives of bees? Yep, and Brian Fredericksen has the honey to prove it
Tema Stauffer
Busier than 16 hives of bees? Yep, and Brian Fredericksen has the honey to prove it

If you feel like there's no possible way of answering that question, I have a suggestion: Try some Ames Farm honey. This honey, this honey says our life, says our natural life as only nature can say it, expressed through honeybees.

Sample some of these Ames Farms honeys and you learn: Here is the taste of two weeks in a particular grove of soaring basswood trees digging their roots into the sheltered floodplains of the Minnesota River Valley. Here is the flavor of a month in the life of a stand of gnarled, wind-twisted horse chestnut trees living by the Blue Earth River. Here is the essence of a scrubby and scrappy stand of red sumac soaking up the sun out by Parley Lake, near the town of St. Boni. And the aforementioned are merely three from the six hundred individual bottlings of honey produced at Ames Farm over the course of a spring-to-fall honey vintage.

Yes, I said six hundred. Six hundred different flavors of here. Six hundred different postcards from where. It has often been said of our modern world that it suffers because there is no there there. Here is an antidote, because in this honey, there is nothing but here here.

For example, I am right now looking at six different jars of Ames Farm honey, and each is a different color, comes from a different place, and has a completely different floral origin. The elderberry honey is as clean as mist and tastes of limes and gardens in late spring riot. The boneset tastes like autumn pork, roasting in a pan with mint leaves, raspberry tea, and lemon peels. The precious limited-edition buckwheat tastes like an afternoon in an old library, all gingerbread, port, currants, leather, tobacco, and woodsmoke.

This is the most flabbergasted I've been by a local product in five years. Furthermore, and no kidding, I think these might be some of the best honeys in America. Certainly they are among the most intriguing, and each is unique.

This phenomenal accomplishment is pulled off by a married couple: Brian and Linda Fredericksen. Brian keeps the bees and makes the honey, and Linda does everything else, from packaging-wrangling to holding down the day job that makes all of this possible. (If anyone ever asks you why there are so many more interesting food producers in Europe, tell them: health insurance.)

I went out to visit with Brian while he made honey on one rainy October day, and saw how this remarkable Ames Farm honey is made. Here's the quickest possible overview. Now, honeybees, for the sake of this story, honeybees live in stacks of handmade wooden boxes. Stacks of boxes hidden far from anywhere that man sprays pesticides or herbicides. Now, some of the boxes in a beehive stack are filled with frames that slide in and out, frames that look like thin drawers for storing paper but have a beeswax screen in the middle.

The honeybees find these frames very helpful, because their great hobby is making food for later. Once they come home from a long day of visiting flowers (it takes about a million flower-visits to make a half-pound of honey), make their honey, and crawl down into a frame to put it away, they find that someone has helpfully already built the rear wall of the six-sided cell they needed to build to store their honey. So they finish the cell, fill it with honey, and top it off with wax. Once a box of these frames, called a super, is filled with honey, the bees move on to the next super. Once a super has been filled, or partially filled, all a beekeeper has to do is take this wooden box of frames home. There he can take one of these frames out of its box and he will see something that looks like a hardback book coated with yellow wax. If he scrapes off the top and bottom layers of wax, voilà! The honey cells will be revealed, and all the honey will come dripping out.

And that, that is all that Brian Fredericksen does. Once these booklike frames are scraped, he puts them into a sort of wagon wheel of slots inside a stainless steel drum and sets the wheel to spinning, and centrifugal force spins all the honey out of the cells. Brian then strains out any bits of wax and bottles the honey. He uses a laser printer to add specific information about the specific honey in question to his preprinted honey labels and then sticks the labels on the jars. Because one of these supers, one of these boxes full of frames, only makes 50 or 100 jars of honey, depending on how productive the bees were, it doesn't take too long. Frankly, it's about as much honey as you and your grandma could comfortably bottle up in a long afternoon.

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