I just came across an old issue of Mindfood magazine which had a great article on beekeeping in Tassie… with a couple of super recipes – Honey Madeleines and Cinnamon and Honey Swirl Teacake. I think I’m going to give those madeleines a bit of a run myself this weekend.
Below is a transcribed copy of the article. Or you can click on the link below to open a pdf.
Next time you drizzle honey onto your morning toast, spare a thought for Ewan Stephens. Not only did his day start at 4am, he also had to deal with some pretty aggressive passengers riding on the back of his truck. “They were very nasty today,” he says gravely.
“When you unload the hives it’s nice to have sunshine so they can fly around and look around for the leatherwood flowers. But when it’s overcast, they just hang around you and get pretty nasty.” While Stephens has stopped counting the stings, one beekeeper they had in from Germany counted every one. “He worked out it was about 2300 stings for the season,” he says.
Stephens is a third-generation apiarist, and works with his brothers Kenneth and Neal, and their mother, Shirley, whom they affectionately refer to as the queen bee. Stephens was taught beekeeping from age eight by his father and grandfather. It was his grandfather Robert who started R Stephens honey company (leatherwoodhoney.com.au) as a post-World War I hobby in 1920. It is now the second-largest honey producer in Tasmania; its second-biggest export market is New York.
In a secluded clearing in the pristine world-heritage rainforest areas on the beautiful west coast of Tasmania, Stephens has just unloaded about 100 hives. He will do 24 of these loads over 24 nights to various leatherwood locations on the west coast – a total of 2400 hives. It is early February and the leatherwood trees are just starting to flower. Tasmania is the only place the leatherwood tree grows, making this distinctive-tasting honey all the more unique.
“Our leatherwood trees are normally 400 years old,” says Stephens. “It doesn’t yield honey until it’s 80 years old. It’s a very poor generating tree. We tried to replant them 30-40 years ago but it wasn’t successful. If you burn leatherwood forests out, they’re gone forever. It’ll never come back.”
The leatherwood season is very short, so special bees have been bred to suit the unique conditions. “On the mainland you get honey 10-12 months of the year, but here you only get honey for up to eight weeks,” Stephens explains. “In that time, you’ve got to produce a lot of honey. So our bees are bred from an English black and an Italian gold bee. They’re a very high-production bee and they work very hard for us.
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