Wednesday, November 25, 2015

BEES, MEAD, AND MEDIEVAL ROMANCE





Today Over Coffee welcomes debut novelist Oberon Wonch. With the “feasting season” beginning, I asked Oberon to talk about something food-related from her medieval romance, Come to Me. Take it away, Oberon!
 
 
Hello, Sia! Thank you for hosting me here today. I enjoy catching up on your blog and love to linger
over your posts of life in the Ozarks, especially the photos of landscapes and wildlife, some of my favorite things to get lost in on the Internet. 

So, it’s not surprising that bees and beekeeping fascinate me, too. Anyone else? I love the imagery of the old-timey wicker skep sitting in a garden. Since the heroine of my first book, Come To Me, is an English noblewoman living in 11 th century England, and we know from writings of the time that mead (fermented honey) was a widespread favorite of the Germanic and Scandinavian peoples of post-Roman Europe, I wanted to include beekeeping and mead-making in my story.  

Here is a fraction of what I learned about bee husbandry. 8,000-year-old cave paintings show that honey-gathering has been taking place since pre-historic times when people risked life and limb to climb trees and rob wild hives of the sweet, gooey liquid. Ancient Sumerian, Greek, and Chinese writings discuss managing bees and providing adequate, manmade habitats. Bee culture became supremely important to the Egyptians, was adopted by Rome, and then spread through all of Europe.  

Even back to our earliest days, we wanted a little sweetener in our cuisine and went to great lengths to procure it, isn’t that something?  
 
By the time of the Norman conquest of England in late 11th century AD, beekeeping was an indispensable industry. An Anglo-Saxon noblewoman’s responsibilities included keeping bees (in those lovely, conical straw or wicker baskets called skeps), extracting honey and beeswax, and overseeing mead production.  

The entire arc of beekeeping, from capturing a swarm, to monitoring hives through the summer, to harvesting the honey and comb in the autumn, is a world of information too broad to address here.   

However, making the mead was incredibly simple and a tribute to the thriftiness of the medieval housekeeper. Throughout the warm months as honey was gathered, comb was squeezed through linen gauze to extract the last drop of honey for household purposes. The comb and the gauze were rinsed with water (the comb then rendered for its wax to make candles), and the water was left in covered vats to ferment via the natural yeasts existing in the honey and surrounding air.  

Variations in this process were practiced (for example, herbs and spices were added for flavor), and later written recipes called for boiling 4-to-1 parts water and honey rather than merely using the strainings.   

So, that’s my little peek into one tiny aspect of life in the Middle Ages.

Are you as fascinated by bees and beekeeping as I am? Would you like to someday try mead made in true medieval fashion?

  
Oberon Wonch’s debut medieval romance novel, Come To Me is available wherever digital books are sold. 

Come To Me  
A maiden’s duty becomes a woman’s desire…  
In this twist on the classic Cyrano story, Bridget of Shyleburgh is ordered to help Count Grégoire FitzHenri, the new Earl of Shyleburgh and the man she secretly loves, court another woman.  

Mortified at first, Bridget soon finds herself completely enthralled by the earl’s whispers of love and desire. His heated wooing tempts a fair maiden to stray down a path filled with forbidden pleasures. But his words are meant for another… aren’t they?  Read More at Amazon
  

Oberon Wonch has engaged in a love affair with books for as long as she can remember. Penning her own stories from an early age, she later earned a degree in World Literature while studying several languages--all in order to learn what makes a tale endure the ages, but really just to read more books. Her very favorite stories--both to read and write--are those that celebrate the happily-ever-after. She enjoys connecting with readers. Contact her through her website at www.oberonwonch.com or follow her on Twitter @OberonWonch and on Facebook. 




32 comments:

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sia and Oberon - great name to have! Your take on beekeeping, honey and mead is fascinating ... and as you say essential to early peoples. Loved reading that and the skeps ... I'm sure your twisted tale will entice too ... good luck - Happy Thanksgiving and with thoughts - Hilary

Kat Sheridan said...

Good morning, Oberon, and welcome to Over Coffee! We're so glad to have you here! I confess to being a bit leery of bees--I was stung this summer and it was NOT fun, but I do love honey in lots of things! I had no idea beekeeping was so ancient! And your novel sounds wonderful! It's been ages since I read a medieval romance. So glad they're making a comeback!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I didn't realize it had been around so long or that so much could be gathered from bee hive. Interesting what we learn when researching a book.
Congratulations on your release, Oberon!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Wait a minute, I was lured here for my serving of Mead (which I have had, btw), so where's my mead, Oberon? Sheesh.

I enjoyed learning more about Beekeeping and who knew the bee baskets were called skeps. I thought the rendering of the wax for candles quite illuminating.

I'm glad you enjoyed reading my blog.

Congraulations on Come To Me! Wishing you much success with this!

Oberon Wonch said...

Good morning, all! Sia, I'm handing you a virtual horn of mead right now. Cheers! Or, as the Saxons said, "Waes hael!"

I've had a taste of the modern rendition of mead and, frankly, I didn't care for it much. :-) In my fantasies, the product of medieval brewing would be much better. After all, it's been drunk for millenia.

Oberon Wonch said...

Hello, Hilary! Thank you for the compliment about my name. It's my real name, too. My mother is an artist (oil painting)and wildly imaginative. She named me after an early 19th century opera called Oberon, which is about Oberon, the king of fairies in long-standing English and Germanic lore.

Wonch is my husband's name, though. No real story there. :-)

Happy Thanksgiving to you!

Saralee said...

Hi, Oberon! Congratulations on your book's launch -- it sounds like a delicious romance!

I tried mead once, a number of years ago. My mother wanted to try it and of course she didn't want to do it alone, so I was pressed into sharing a taste. Mead is not as sweet as you'd think, and it was sharply alcoholic (or at least the stuff we had was). I thought it would be more syrupy, but it wasn't at all. Since I'm all about sweet and mild flavors, it wasn't the stuff for me.

Best of luck with your book, and your bees!

Susan Gee Heino said...

Wow, what an evocative post, Oberon! It makes me want to play with bees and drink a hearty mug of mead! First, though, I want to read your book. Downloaded it already and I can't wait to dive into the wonderful world there. Thanks for sharing all this cool info and have a wonderful, mead-full Thanksgiving!

Oberon Wonch said...

Hello, Kat! Thanks for the welcome!

OOh, sorry about the bee sting. I've been stung a time or two in my life but it barely effected me. As a teen, I brushed a bee off my head (didn't know it was a bee!) and the little bugger zapped me on my ring finger. It burned and itched for a brief spell, but I remember being more amazed and intrigued than bothered by it. Weird kid, right?

I've learned that many beekeepers (historically and even today) don't really bother with all the protective gear. They know how to avoid riling the insects, and a mild sting here and there isn't much graver to them than a bruise from working in a garden.

Now, the guy in a neighboring development here in suburban Indiana keeps a few hives in his back yard. He suits up like an astronaut to work out there, LOL!

Oberon Wonch said...

Thank you for stopping by, Alex!

Everyone's heard of the plight of the humble honeybee, right? Apparently their populations are dropping, and there's all sorts of discussion (aka arguing) over why. If we lose the honeybee, we lose a crucial piece of our ecology, and food production will suffer immensely. Let's hope we can save the honeybee!

Oberon Wonch said...

Hi, Saralee! Thank you for stopping by.

Like you said, the mead I tried wasn't what I expected. I've tasted syrupy-sweet wine before and expected this to be like that. Nope. Drier than I wanted, even though I like good, dry white wines.

I will definitely try making my own someday. Doesn't seem too complicated. (Famous last words!)

Waes hael!

Oberon Wonch said...

Susan, I'm so glad you visited! I know you're a garden-and-bug-lover, like me, too.

Well, I'm not so much a bug-lover inside the house. Can't abide it when I find a spider indoors! But outside, in my herbs or flowers? Yes! I work side-by-side with bees all the time out there. I find they stay out of my way. It muse have been the same way with the medieval chatelaine/housekeeper or her garden churls. (I have to get me one of those, a garden churl. Churls were the peasants who labored for their lord. LOL!)

Thank you for checking out my book. I hope you enjoy it!

Lisa Cooke said...

Hi Obe! I'm afraid I don't share your love of bees. I'm allergic to the little buggers, but I respect their influence on society and on mead LOL! I've already downloaded your story and hope to start on in tomorrow. Major congrats on your release! I hope you sell jillions of them!
Lisa

Oberon Wonch said...

Hi, Lisa! Thank you for dropping in. I know bee stings can be deadly to some people, and I think it's safe to assume that's always been the case, so I was wondering how such an allergy was dealt with in past times. Something new for me to research!

I read a Georgian England-set romance once where the hero intentionally got himself stung, knowing he would have a severe histamine reaction (though he didn't call it that in that setting, LOL!), all just to have a reason to stay over night at the heroine's house. I wonder how much research went into that plot line.

Anyway, from you lips to God's ears on the jillion sales, Lisa. You are too funny!

Donna MacMeans said...

Hi Oberon!

I did a bit of research about bees when I wrote The Seduction of a Duke. The heroine was a beekeeper in that book.

If I recall correctly, honey is the one food that can not spoil. Isn't that amazing? I believe it's also known to have some positive medical benefits. I found the whole organized structure of how does what in a hive fascinating.

I sampled mead long, long ago before my children were born out of curiosity. I think the whole idea of mead is so romantic and steeped in history. Plus the bottle was pretty (grin). But like you, I wasn't fond of the drink. Oh well.

Congratulations on Come to Me. It's on my kindle as we speak. Wishing you great, great success in this endeavor!

Caroline Warfield said...

My husband, his father, and his grandfather all kept bees. At one point my father in law was in charge of bee inspection for the entire state of Ohio. Bees are (or at least were...what with cut backs I'm not sure) inspected because of their importance to agriculture. We once had four stands of bees in our back yard and when the kids were small they would kit out in keeper gear to help their dad. SIGN You brought back memories.

Oberon Wonch said...

Hi, Donna! Glad you could drop by. I forgot one of your lovely heroines was a beekeeper! How cool is that? Victorian era, right?

I got all excited about featuring honey in my fiction when I discovered it was used in antiquity and the Middle Ages for helping to heal wounds. In Come To Me, my heroine applies some to her hero's arrow wound.

Thanks for the congrats! And good luck to you with your latest endeavor as well!

Oberon Wonch said...

Oh Caroline, I didn't know that about you and your hubby! Fascinating. But no bees any longer?

I dream about setting up a hive or two, but I'm not sure how well that will go over with my Home Owners Association. :-) Maybe if I promised the board a portion of the harvest...

Oh, and then there's my hubs. Not sure he'd appreciate bees everywhere.

I will be picking your brain one of these days, as I expect bee husbandry to be a feature in more of my medieval tales.

Thanks for saying hi!

Kathryn Maeglin said...

Fascinating stuff, Oberon. I've always enjoyed the Oliver Mead. Do you suppose they add sugar to some of the modern meads?

Congrats on your debut! I'll be reading it this weekend. :-)

Oberon Wonch said...

Hi, Kathryn! Thanks for stopping in.

My guess is they probably do add sugar to today's mead. Sugar is put into just about everything these days.

Thank you for the congrats on the debut and giving it a read this weekend!

Shari Held said...

I'm allergic to bee stings, so, for me, bees are something to avoid! But I do appreciate your informative piece about bees and their importance to medieval life! Very interesting!

Oberon Wonch said...

Hi, Shari! Thank you for stopping by, even if you usually avoid bees, LOL! I do wonder if the number of human bee allergies has grown since medieval times. I'll have to research that.

Have a good Thanksgiving!

Mark Koopmans said...

Congrats on the book Oberon, and I'm going to hang out with the people who don't like bees (but I will be tempted with some mead!! I'm definitely curious about trying that :)

Oberon Wonch said...

Hi, Mark! Thanks for chiming in. Aw, another one on the other side. :-)

I hope you get to try mead some day. I've got some heather ale from Scotland sitting in my auxiliary fridge that I just might break into tomorrow on Thanksgiving. We'll see what that's like!

Waes hael!

Oberon Wonch said...

Happy Thanksgiving, all who celebrate it tomorrow!

I'll check back here later tonight and tomorrow for any additional commenters, so feel free to chime in, anyone and everyone.

Otherwise, have a good holiday, everybody! It's been wonderful chatting with you all.

dolorah said...

An interesting lesson. Thanks Oberon.

Hey Sia. Have a good weekend.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Delorah--Thank you, hope yours is relaxing and creative. Happy Thanksgiving!

Oberon Wonch said...

Hi, Delorah! Thank you for chiming in. Happy Thanksgiving!

And Sia, thank you again for allowing me this opportunity to share some of what I love in life. You are a wonderful person and have a lovely blog. My best to you!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Oberon--It was my pleasure to have you visit. I've been looking forward to your book. I'm so glad that Kat was able to host you here on the blog to showcase Come To Me and some of history behind the story.

Thank you for the kind words on my blog and for me.

Looking forward to your next book and visit.

(of course you don't have to wait for the next book to do another guest post. Love to have another one in a couple of months with more tidbits from your research.) :-)

Deniz Bevan said...

Hi Sia and Oberon, thanks for the great post! I'm always interested in bees. We have a garden for the first time and I'd like to plant bee-friendly plants!

M Pax said...

How fascinating. I love history. Will have to check out this book.

Thanks for the blitz, and a very Merry Christmas to you and your family.

Tyrean Martinson said...

Thanks for the peek into bee-keeping!