Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Beautiful things: Rowan's honey jar

Once upon a time, we made beautiful things in Ireland. Al O'Dea made lovely monastic chairs, stern and strict and stark. Waterford Glass's designers made beautifully clean and subtle designs in glass. Sybil Connolly made sexy, irresistible clothes - my mother had a dress I always wanted, silk, with an aquamarine bodice and skirt - but the skirt unlooped itself from the front and fastened on the back, revealing a reverse of deep sea-green. And that reversible skirt was in such light silk that the hem had to be weighted with lead shot, so that if you whirled around it flickered and spun around you with a faint, lovely whistling. Oh, there were lovely things, but my favourite was   very simple, the Rowan's honey jar. Rowan's were seedsmasters, with a gigantic shop in Westmoreland Street, at the centre of Dublin, where you could browse for your needs: calendula, whose peppery orange petals would give savour to your lamb stew; parsley, the secret ingredient that turns every dish to magic; sweet rocket, whose fragrance rises from the garden like an expensive French scent. But Rowan's also made honey - in those days before the horrifying neonicotinides the First World's pet owners put on their dogs' and cats' necks to keep away fleas, and gardeners put on their earth to kill vine weevils... in those days before the neonicotinoids were implicated in colony collapse disorder, which is killing all our beloved bees; in those days, Rowan's honey was everywhere, in every shop. And Rowan's honey was sold in these jars, the shape of a cell in a beehive, the shape of the joy of bees. The honey was delicious - not "a mixture of EC  and non-EC honeys", but pure Wexford and Clare and Galway and Dublin honey, won from the pollen of local plants, with the wherewithal to help your health and set your taste buds on fire with deliciousness and wonder. I still have one of these jars - somehow I managed to throw out the lid, so its lid doesn't close properly - and I decant the pretend-honeys won from acacia or  robinia or anything but native heathers and wildflowers and suburban flowers into its hexagonal glass, and try to pretend that this is the honey of my childhood, that honey I took so happily for granted, that honey that slipped onto my tongue. It's not hard to keep bees, if you're not allergic, and most people aren't; but beekeeping is not yet fashionable. It will be - in 10 years, it will become deeply trendy to have a hive on your back wall - but for now this is an unusual and slightly offside skill to have. (By the way, the Irish Beekeepers' Association runs courses, should you want to be an early adopter.) For now, all I can do is search out the beekeepers who hide in our midst, who keep their swarms in Rathmines and Greystones and Dalkey and Ranelagh, and edge up to their door to buy and take away a comb in secret. And as I take it out of its wooden structure, I'll drain it into the old Rowan's jar, and look at that lost love. 

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