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In Focus

The Harewood Bees

In this month’s guest blog, Harewood Food and Drink Project take us through the important role that bees have to play in our ecosystem and creating a regenerative environment at Harewood, as well as introducing us to Beekeeper Martyn, who keeps bees on the Estate and produces Harewood honey, which features in many a HF&DP dish.

Why are bees important?

We have a number of schemes in place to encourage a strong presence of bees, which helps to create a healthy, rich ecosystem encouraging biodiversity and a balanced habitat where a wide range of species can thrive alongside one another. Creating incredible food experiences that work in harmony, or to the benefit of, the local environment, has always been one of the key cornerstones of HF & DP.

Bees play a vital role in our food chain, as they pollinate a significant proportion of the food crops that we consume. Many of our everyday favourite food and drink items rely on pollination by bees, including many ingredients that can be found on site at Harewood; tomatoes, strawberries, figs, blackberries, mulberries and raspberries to name a few, all rely on bee’s activity. Other global everyday favourites include avocados, coffee, chocolate, grapes, i.e. wine.

The Harewood Bees  

A couple of years ago we were approached by Martyn, after he’d attended one of our events. He asked if he could keep his hives on Estate land. In exchange, a couple of times a year, he’d drop a box of honey jars off to the estate office for us to use as we wish, usually around 50 jars. For HF & DP there’s nothing that inspires us more than meeting those who are masters of their craft. Martyn’s knowledge, dedication, care and love for his hives acts as a reminder of why we love what we do and how inspiring our surroundings are.

We sell the honey with 100% of proceeds being put towards buying wild flower seeds which we plant close to the hives. Planting a variety of bee friendly wild flowers helps to improve the health of the bee colony, enhances the flavour and yield of the honey and helps to create a richer, more balanced and biodiverse ecosystem here at Harewood.

We have a number of other schemes in place across the estate to encourage a thriving bee population; through the preservation of orchards, planting of 25 hectares of flower rich margins on our arable farms and we’ve adopted a 3-year hedge cutting regime to maximise flowers and blossom.

The Taste of Harewood

Since we set up HF & DP, we’ve been trying to answer the question “What does Harewood taste like?”. It’s possible that Martyn’s honey is the purest representation that we’ve found yet, or indeed, probably ever will.

A honey bee hive requires several hectares of flower rich habitat for it to thrive. The location of Martyn’s hives means that the bee colony will gather pollen from all over Harewood’s landscape, from a wide range of flowers, before returning to the hives.

When Martyn harvests his honey, we end up with 100% pure honey. This means that absolutely nothing is added, exactly as nature intended.

Each batch, even each hive, will have its own unique flavour, never to be replicated, dependent upon what’s flowering and in season and what crops are growing nearby. If you’re one of the lucky few who manage to get a jar, let us know what flavour profiles you can pick out, tell us, what does Harewood taste like?

Whenever a new batch of honey arrives, Josh and our kitchen team will eagerly start writing menus and dishes using Harewood honey, inspired by it’s incredible flavour and provenance.

A big thank you to Martyn for allowing us to tell his story and to Claire McClean for the photos.

Josh Whitehead’s Honeycomb Recipe

Honeycomb is a great addition to many different puddings, giving sweetness and crunchy texture. Break it up and use to garnish ice cream, cake or chocolate. It’s also delicious half dipped in melted chocolate and left to set as a homemade Crunchie bar!

Ingredients

  • 320g Caster Sugar
  • 130g Honey (Ideally Harewood Honey, but a good quality runny or wildflower honey will also be fine)
  • 360g Glucose Syrup
  • 80g Water
  • 50g Bicarbonate of Soda, Sifted

Begin by adding all of the ingredients, bar the bicarb, in to a heavy based tall saucepan with the honey, water and glucose on the base of the pan.

Lightly grease a metal container and put to one side.

Heat the mixture on a low heat, gently stirring with a whisk until combined, then increase to medium high. Cook the mixture until it reaches 148 degrees on a food thermometer.

Take of the heat and vigorously whisk in the bicarbonate of soda for two seconds to mix well, then, being very careful as the mixture will be very hot, pour into the greased container and leave to set. At this point it’s very important not to aggravate the honeycomb as it can collapse, leave it to set at room temperature for one hour, not shaking or moving the tray.

Now you have the perfect addition to enhance any dessert !

 

 

The doors may be closed, but the work continues in the House…

Have you ever wondered what happens behind the scenes whilst the house is closed?

Winter is one of the busiest times of the year for the collections team. Every year when the house is closed to the public we undertake much of our annual deep clean. This year is no exception, as despite only being able to open the house for a short period in 2020, the collections and the house itself still require essential checking and cleaning. As an Accredited Museum with a designated collection we need to constantly monitor for any signs of damage or deterioration.

Each room is cleaned from top to bottom using conservation brushes and special vacuum cleaners; we even have our own scaffold tower so we can reach the ceilings. The collections care team are specially trained to use these and while they are cleaning they check for any signs of deterioration or pest activity. Some areas such as ceilings and curtain pelmets are done on a rolling programme as they don’t get as dusty as the areas lower down and we don’t want to cause damage by over-cleaning. We begin with the East Side of the house before Christmas and once the decorations come down it’s time to start in the rooms on the West Side.

 

The before and after… a half-cleaned mirror !

Each object in the room is also checked and cleaned using specialist equipment. Usually we would undertake this work with the help of a team of skilled volunteers but in order to ensure we are working within Covid guidelines we have had to stand them down this year and the staff are keeping socially distant.

This year we’ve also been undertaking an inventory audit and making sure that all the objects are marked with their own unique number. Each mark is made in a specific way so it doesn’t damage the object. It’s best to do this type of work at the same time as the cleaning so we only handle the object once, reducing the risk of accidental damage.

Here we have been cleaning a pelmet so have taken the opportunity to sew on a label at the same time.

During the lockdown we also need to be on site to keep an eye out for any leaks, monitor the environment and to regularly check for pests throughout the house including the attics.

There are a number insects which would enjoy munching their way through the collections if we let them, woodworm and carpet beetle are the most widespread across museums and historic houses. They like organic materials, particularly wood and textiles which make up most of the collections.

Introduction to The Harewood Food & Drink Project

Since March 2020, our friends the Harewood Food and Drink Project have been running the Courtyard and Terrace Cafés, serving up delicious seasonal and local food. Food is synonymous with Harewood House, a place where a fully working Walled Garden has provided fresh produce to the local community and further afield for hundreds of years, including during two wartimes. In this first blog of a new series, Director Eddy Lascelles takes us through the ethos of HFDP, their work at Harewood House and what you can expect from future blogs from Eddy, Executive Chef Josh Whitehead, and other members of the HFDP team – look out for highlights of the season, foodie facts, cooking tips, recipes and more. 

 

Harewood’s Highland Cattle and Cyril the pig. Photo by Claire McClean

Harewood Food and Drink Project at Harewood House

Harewood Food and Drink Project works closely with Harewood House Trust’s Head Gardener, Trevor Nicholson, and his Walled Garden team, ensuring that we use as much of what’s grown on site as possible. By working closely together, we create circular economies where possible, ensuring that we’re minimising the environmental impact of what you eat when you’re on site. For example, composting raw food waste and repurposing other waste items to enrich the health of the soil, improve Harewood’s habitat and create better growing conditions.  Working with Trevor and his team is one of the great joys of our job. His knowledge and passion can’t help but inspire you. Knowing the thought, skill and work that goes in to growing our fruit and vegetables, is the greatest motivation our team of chefs could have to make sure we do these beautiful products justice when they reach your plates.

The Harewood Walled Garden

It is our commitment to use produce sourced from Harewood wherever possible, this means fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices from the Walled Garden, meat from Harewood’s livestock, wild foods that are foraged on the Estate, and wild game as well. What we can’t source internally, we work with select local independent artisan suppliers who share our ethos on how food & drink should be done.

We took over the running of the Courtyard Café and Terrace Tearoom on behalf of Harewood House Trust in March this year and we base our approach around ‘the Five S’s’, which underpin our approach to food and what you can expect during your visit to Harewood House:

  • Simple
  • Seasonal
  • Sustainable
  • Sourced Locally
  • Specials

 

One of our seasonal Walled Garden Soups of the day. Photo by Claire McClean.

 

Seasonal Eating & Preservation

In a time when people have a heightened awareness of the impact of what we eat, how it is produced and how it is transported, we’re on a mission to show people that great food and drink can be done with a clear conscience.

Seasonal eating” has become a much-overused phrase in the food and drink world, so why is it so important?

By eating what is in season means you’re having it when it’s at it’s very best, it’s freshest. There are a number of benefits to this; Fresher food has greater nutritional value, it tends to support local farmers and the local economy, it’s transported less distance so has an environmental benefit, and, possibly most important of all, it tastes better.

Seasonal eating is not only about eating what’s currently in season, it’s also about preserving the seasons.

When there’s a glut of something there’s a number of traditional techniques that can be used to prolong the usable season of fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices and meats as well as altering and enhancing their flavour profiles. These include drying, curing, smoking, pickling and fermenting, and some more expert techniques such as clamping, ageing in bees wax and dry ageing.

 

Wild Mushrooms from Harewood. Photo by Claire McClean.

 

 At this time of year preservation techniques are particularly valuable when there’s not much growing in the gardens, other than the odd hardy brassica and root vegetable. In the past, the ability to store and preserve food over the fallow, cold winter months was literally a matter of life and death. It ensured supplies of food with enough nutritional value to keep you going until the more productive Spring time came around.

These techniques have become synonymous with contemporary cuisine as they can change and enhance flavour profiles and help to bring dishes together. Scandinavian and Japanese cuisine are both pioneers of these techniques, we put them in to use here at Harewood. Next time you’re able to visit the inside of the Courtyard Café, see the shelf behind the coffee machine. This is “Josh’s Fermentation Station”, and whilst it looks like the experimentation of a mad scientist, it will all taste delicious and be used on our menus throughout the year.

 

 

 

 

Preparing for Winter and Beyond. Sustainability in Harewood’s Gardens.

Photo credit Trevor Nicholson

Harewood’s Head Gardener Trevor Nicholson takes us through new processes and methods being implemented across the Gardens, as Harewood looks to the future and more sustainable ways of caring for its Gardens and Grounds. 

As autumn gives way to winter, the Grounds and Gardens teams have been very busy, ably assisted by our loyal and enthusiastic band of volunteers. For the grounds team this means the removal of a huge quantity of fallen leaves from Harewood’s verdant lawns. The collected leaf litter is a valuable source of leaf mould for the gardens.

Having made the decision a few months earlier to change the way we grow our vegetables in the Walled Garden to something approaching the ‘no-dig’ system, every leaf – in fact, every scrap of green garden waste – has become significantly more precious to us as a renewable source of organic matter to be re-purposed as a growing medium.

Although we’ve been making compost for many years, the real difference is in the way we now apply it – and why. Call it what you will: ‘no dig’, ‘no till’, ‘reduced tillage’ etc, there are numerous labels; but they all mean pretty much the same thing: put away the spade and stop turning over and chopping up the garden soil year after year!

Photo credit Trevor Nicholson

Regularly digging over and breaking up the soil impacts on the soil ecosystem by disturbing complex ‘food webs’ – interrelations between a multitude of soil organisms and mycorrhizal fungi, which live symbiotically with plants. Leaving the soil undisturbed and placing organic matter onto the surface not only prevents stored carbon from the soil being released into the atmosphere through digging, it also provides optimum conditions to enable the community of soil organisms to flourish.

The beneficial effect of these soil organisms includes increasing the fertility of the soil and improving its structure. One of the most important environmental benefits of adopting this method of surface ‘mulching’ is the retention of soil moisture, which not only saves water, but also reduces soil erosion and helps prevent the silting up of rivers and drainage systems.

Another added benefit to the gardener of applying organic matter to the soil as a surface ‘mulch’ is the control of weeds. This method need not be confined to the vegetable garden. We are experimenting in some areas of the Himalayan Garden with the use of waste cardboard re-purposed as a biodegradable ground cover, which is being placed between plants and topped off with sieved leaf mould.

The composting of our green garden waste and the recycling of biodegradable materials really underpins much of what we are doing in the gardens – now and in the future – as we set our focus on working in ever more sustainable ways and having environmentally considered methods at the forefront of our  thinking.

Object in Focus – Harewood’s Dining Room Chairs

 

This chair, part of a set of 20, was made by Thomas Chippendale for the State Dining Room at Harewood House, delivered in around 1771. Its design represents the height of fashion in mid-late 18th century English dining furniture, with a neo-Classical frame decorated with carved ornament such as acanthus leaves, fluting and bell flowers. The seat is upholstered in leather, often utilised on dining furniture for its durability and practical qualities. 

The frame of the chair is made of mahogany – a popular material used for furniture-making in England from the 1720s, highly prized for its naturally rich colouring, fine figuring (graining) and strength. Mahogany is particularly workable, allowing cabinet-makers to carve intricate designs into its surface, lending itself to the highly decorative cabinet-making tradition of the 18th century. 

But the procurement of this versatile and beautiful material came at a human cost, and its history is intertwined with that of the transatlantic slave trade. Following the arrival of the first European colonists in the West Indies and Central Americas in the early 17th century, huge swathes of native timber was felled across the region. Initially this took place to clear land for sugar plantations, but the inevitable recognition of the remarkable qualities of mahogany generated an export market for the raw material itself. 

The significant amount of labour needed to log mahogany trees came from enslaved Africans brought to the West Indies and Central America by European traders. It was dangerous and physically brutal work. Working in groups of between 10-50, enslaved woodcutters would embark upon forest expeditions to cut and log trees, clear roads and transport raw material back to coastal ports via rivers. A description of the logging process of Honduran mahogany written in 1873 by a British cabinet-maker paints a bleak picture of the working conditions for the individuals involved: 

The labour of loading and driving, on account of the intense heat of the sun during the day, must be performed in the night-time, and by torch light…[T]he great number of oxen—the half naked drivers, each bearing a torch—the wildness of the forest scenery—the rattling of the chains, and cracking of the whips—and all of this at the hour of midnight, present…the sober industrial pursuit which has fallen to the lot of the wood-cutters of Honduras. (1)

There were also devastating ecological consequences to the extensive deforestation of the Caribbean region. As a direct result of large-scale sugar production and the systematic exploitation of slave labour, numerous West Indian islands experienced the swift extinction of mahogany and other native trees. Diverse forests were replaced by agricultural monocultures and microclimates that would go on to cause severe problems with drought and erosion. 

When studying Harewood’s history and collection, it is important to consider and reflect upon the devastating socio-economic context that it was a product of. Despite their elegance, Harewood’s dining room chairs – as well as the many other pieces of mahogany furniture designed to sit alongside them – are inseparably linked to Britain’s merciless colonial past. To find out more about the building of Harewood House and its links to the slave trade, visit our Building Harewood digital guide. 

 

(1) Thomson, The Cabinet-maker’s Assistant: A Series of Original Designs for Modern Furniture (London: Blackie and Son, 1873), 28-29.