DIY: Do It For the Bees

 Beekeeper and Bull Valley Roadhouse co-proprietor Earl Flewellen surveys the bees’ handiwork in his Port Costa bee yard.

Beekeeper and Bull Valley Roadhouse co-proprietor Earl Flewellen surveys the bees’ handiwork in his Port Costa bee yard. Photo by Eliza van Gerbig

Top: Bee stencil detail. Middle: The morning’s cornbread cools atop the working antique stove in the cafe at Port Costa’s Burlington Hotel. Bottom: Pronounced “honey-AH-muh-ter,” this antique printing press counter is Earl’s barometer of honey sales. With an improvised pull-cord made of baker’s twine, the device gets a cheerful pluck every time a jar of honey goes out the door.

Top: Bee stencil detail. Middle: The morning’s cornbread cools atop the antique stove in the cafe at Port Costa’s Burlington Hotel. Bottom: Pronounced “honey-AH-muh-ter,” this antique printing press counter is Earl’s barometer of honey sales. With an improvised pull-cord made of baker’s twine, the device gets a cheerful pluck every time a jar of honey goes out the door.


The BUZZ around

A DIY guide to holiday cooking
and crafts that benefit the bees


Photography by Erin Scott

A stalwart band of honeybees (Apis mellifera) works the terrain around Port Costa. Peaceful and productive co-inhabitants of this Contra Costa County hamlet on the Carquinez Strait, the bees play a key role in the local web of life via the flowering plants, which run riot over the grassy hills here in spring and summer.

The bees’ largess extends to human beneficiaries, such as the proprietors of the Burlington Hotel and Bull Valley Roadhouse (BVR). One of those entrepreneurs, beekeeper Earl Flewellen, has made a safe haven for the bees in a nearby verdant canyon. In spring and summer, he coaxes the bees into sharing their honey with his establishments’ bartenders and chefs. The staff, in turn, share it with customers at the bar, café, and restaurant via several honey-infused dishes and drinks. Patrons can purchase jars of the sweet, sticky stuff, which serve dual duty as part of the décor. And indeed, honey is exactly what a traveler happening down this road might enjoy drizzled over a slice of cornbread, a specialty of the café, which flings open its doors on weekend mornings.

The gifts of the hive also fuel a creative nexus that hovers around the old Burlington Hotel: farmers, chefs, bartenders, herbalists, and artists, most of them jugglers of many balls. This troupe of collaborators convened one bright fall morning at the café to celebrate their many common interests. Some had risen early to concoct various honey- and propolis-infused dishes and drinks. Others had assembled materials for handmade propolis remedies and beeswax cosmetics and crafts. They all sat down to enjoy and share how-to information around the table. These are the creative people you’ll meet as you travel through these pages. Their recipes are collected here and in the expanded online version of this article.

If you become inspired to create with bee products, or even just purchase items made by artists like those on these pages, you are helping to support the work of your local beekeepers, who in turn are stewarding a healthy environment for Apis mellifera, which is facing dire environmental threats. This means that your holiday gifts to friends and family can also be a gift to the bees.




Photo by Justin Short


EARL’S Honey Cornbread

Beekeeping is what Earl Flewellen would be doing every day, had he not spawned so many other endeavors in Port Costa. Depending on who’s talking, the Louisiana native is either devil or saint in these parts for introducing the outside world to this badly neglected historic California town. Whatever your position, Earl suggests a uniquely Southern remedy to all conflicts: Foes can be made friends and familial fueds laid to rest over some sweet-ass cornbread.

cornbread-skilletServes 8–10

½ cup sugar
1 cup flour
½ cup cornmeal
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
¾ cup unsalted butter
1 cup milk
1 egg
2 California bay laurel leaves (Dried are best. If freshly picked, use only one, since flavor will be quite strong.)
¼ cup dried cranberries
¼ cup chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350°.

Combine sugar, flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt in a mixing bowl. Set aside.

In an 8- or 10-inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat, brown the butter along with the bay leaves, being careful not to overheat. When the foam has subsided and the butter is lightly browned, transfer ½ cup of the butter into a Pyrex glass measuring cup, leaving the rest in the skillet. Pour the ½ cup of butter from the measuring cup into the bowl of mixed dry ingredients.

Beat the egg, add the cup of milk, and stir to combine. Then stir the mixture into the bowl of dry ingredients. Stir swiftly with as few strokes as possible until batter is combined. (Some lumps are OK.) Toss in walnuts and cranberries and give it a few more strokes to disperse.

Heat the skillet with the remaining butter over medium heat. Leaving skillet on the heat, pour batter directly into the hot butter. If butter pools around edges, pull it in from the walls of the skillet toward the center over the surface of the batter. Allow batter to fry on stovetop for about 20 seconds. Remove from the stovetop and place the skillet into the preheated oven. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes.

honey-caramel-suaceWhen cornbread is lightly browned and springs back from a light touch, remove from oven and slice cornbread up in the skillet. Alternatively, allow it to cool just enough to safely handle and turn onto a cake stand or platter. Drizzle with honey-butter caramel sauce.

Honey-Butter Caramel Sauce

This sauce is just as good on cake as it is on cornbread.

1 cup wildflower honey
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup butter, cut into small pieces

Heat honey with salt in a small saucepan over low flame. (Don’t boil. It needs only to be hot enough to melt the butter.) Add butter, stirring it in until it melts and mixture is completely emulsified. Immediately remove from heat and pour over warm cornbread.



DAVID’S Honey Walnut Ribs

David Williams, executive chef at the Bull Valley Roadhouse, has a deep sense for what makes food appealing and heartwarming. It’s the essential ingredient of the restaurant’s stellar success since its opening in 2012. That, paired with the extraordinary contributions of friends, industry colleagues, and Port Costa townsfolk, is what put the place on the map—and makes David’s Honey-Walnut Ribs so damned good. 

Serves 6 as entrée or 12 as appetizer

Photo by Erin Scott

Photo by Erin Scott

2 racks pork ribs, membrane removed
For the rub:
½ cup salt
1 cup ground pepper
1/3 cup chili powder
2 tablespoons paprika or pimentón
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
For the braise:
Honey or maple syrup (optional)
22 ounces dark beer or stout
2 cups stock or apple juice
For grilling:
Honey-Walnut Barbecue Sauce
For garnish:
Chopped cilantro

Combine all rub ingredients in a bowl. Rub this mixture evenly over the ribs, place ribs on a tray, cover loosely, and refrigerate for several hours or overnight. Shortly before you want to cook the ribs, bring them to room temperature.

To braise: Preheat oven to 350°. Place ribs in one layer across the bottom of a braising pan. Coat top of ribs with a small amount of honey or maple syrup (if desired), and then pour the beer and stock (or apple juice) into the pan. Bake, covered, for 2½ hours. The ribs are done braising when they are soft to the touch, but not falling apart. Serve immediately with the following barbecue sauce, or cool, coat with the sauce, and then grill before serving. Garnish with chopped cilantro when serving.

Honey-Walnut Barbecue Sauce

Pick up Full Belly Farm’s pomegranate molasses and Hot, Hot, Hot Sauce from the Berkeley Farmers’ Market to make this a true local treat.

14 ounces organic ketchup
1½ cups brown sugar
1 cup organic cane sugar
¾ cup apple cider vinegar
Juice from ½ lemon
½ cup pomegranate molasses
3 tablespoons hot sauce, or to taste
½ cup honey
½ cup chopped walnuts
1 tablespoon Aleppo pepper
½ bunch cilantro, chopped

Place all ingredients in a non-reactive saucepan and whisk gently over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Lower heat and let simmer to allow flavors to meld, about 20 minutes. Serve warm. Sauce can be made a day ahead and heated as needed.


KARINA’S Winter Chicories Salad

With a passion for cooking with friends and a background including stints at Pizzaiolo and Ramen Shop, Karina Rivera, sous chef at the Bull Valley Roadhouse, brings her own style of sassy camaraderie to the kitchen. Whether running the line, lending a motherly hand to those learning, or standing watch over the restaurant’s standards of excellence, she’s everybody’s friend but nobody’s fool.

chicories-saladServes 8

½ cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
¾ cup finely diced shallots
2 cups walnuts
1–2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
3 apples
2 pomegranates
2 heads fennel
4 heads chicories
½ cup honey
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
Lemon juice to taste
1 cup shaved Manchego cheese

In a small bowl, mix red wine vinegar, sherry vinegar, and diced shallots. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350°. Toss walnuts in 1–2 teaspoons olive oil and ½ teaspoon salt, add a splash of water, then spread across a baking sheet or broad sauté pan. Toast for 20 minutes.

While nuts are toasting, beat pomegranate seeds (arils) out of their shells. You do this by cutting the pomegranates in half horizontally, and lightly tapping on the skin with a wooden spoon so the seeds fall out into a large salad bowl. Set aside a handful of seeds for topping the salad.

Cut chicories horizontally into 1-inch strips (or simply pull off leaves and use whole, if you prefer). Place in same bowl with the pomegranate arils. With a mandolin, shave fennel (to the thickness you desire) into the same bowl.

Peel apples and slice to the same thickness as the shaved fennel. Add half of the apple slices to the bowl with the pomegranate, fennel, and chicories, and set the other half aside to toss on top at the end.

Stir honey into the vinegar-shallot salad dressing mix. Finely chop half of the toasted walnuts (almost into a paste) and add them to the dressing. Stirring the dressing vigorously, drizzle in the olive oil until combined. Dress the ingredients in the salad bowl to taste, adding lemon juice and salt as needed. Shave Manchego over salad, sprinkle with reserved apple slices, walnuts, and pomegranate arils. Serve.

What are chicories?
This wide and varied group of bitter, lettuce-like plants can be loose-leafed or tightly headed, tapered or round, smooth-leaved or frilled, and in colors ranging from white and pale yellow to bright green or maroon. Examples include frisée, escarole, radicchio, and puntarelle.




JUDITH ’S Honey on Toast

Known for her personal warmth and stalwart commitment to promoting sustainable agriculture and affecting regional and national policy, Judith Redmond has spent 31 years helping make Full Belly Farm the famous beacon of organic farming it has become. She was the first person to agree to deliver farm produce directly to the door of Bull Valley Roadhouse when others just asked, “Where the hell is Port Costa?” Her favorite way to enjoy honey? Toast a piece of fresh, homemade bread, spread on a base of Full Belly Farm’s organic almond butter, and then slather honey all over the top. 



TAMIR’S Sweet Libations

tamirs-libationsBVR bar director Tamir Ben-Shalom has a passion for historic American bar culture and all that goes into it. Making his way to Port Costa from Pizzaiolo and Fonda Solano, he’s now quite at home behind the ornate 19th century bar at the Bull Valley Roadhouse. He whips up delicious obscurities all with one prize in mind: to inspire curiosity and wonder over what’s involved in the making of that

drink in front of us—from the ground up.


Bees Knees

Adapted from William “Cocktail Bill” Boothby’s 1934 version of World Drinks and How to Mix Them. His 1930 edition of this book was the earliest known printed recipe for the Bees Knees. The recipe included orange juice, which most bartenders today disregard. Our recipe uses orange curaçao.

1.5 ounces Miller’s Westbourne Strength Gin (or your preferred gin)
1 ounce E.G. Flewellen spring honey solution
.75 ounces lemon juice
.5 ounces of Marian Farmhouse California Style Curaçao
Lemon twist

Place all ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Fill shaker 2/3 full with ice and shake vigorously. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer into a cocktail glass. Twist lemon peel over the glass and drop it into the cocktail.

Honey Solution: Wildflowers lend a unique flavor profile to honey when nectar is collected in spring versus summer. But either way, to make E.G. Flewellen’s honey solution, stir together honey and water (at room temperature) in equal parts by volume until completely mixed. The easiest way to do this is to pour out the entire jar of honey into a container and add water to the emptied jar. Then pour the water into the container with the honey and stir away.


Beekeeper’s Bumble Bee

Adapted from Charles H. Baker Jr.’s The South American Gentleman’s Companion, this variation of the original Bumble Bee subs out half of the rum for Armagnac and uses propolis bitters as an aromatic instead of angostura bitters.

1 ounce Hamilton Jamaican Pot Still Black Rum
1 ounce Tariquet VS Armagnac
1 ounce E.G. Flewellen’s mid-summer honey solution
.75 ounces lime juice
.5 ounces egg white
Kate’s propolis bitters (see below) in a spray bottle for garnish

Place all ingredients except bitters in a cocktail shaker. Shake hard for 5 seconds without ice. Add ice to fill one-third of your shaker. Shake vigorously. Strain through a fine mesh strainer into a cocktail glass. Garnish with three sprays of bitters over the cocktail.

Propolis Bitters Spray: Mix equal parts Hamilton Demerara 151 rum and propolis bitters (below) Pour into a cocktail mister (aka martini mister or martini atomizer).

Honor the bees by misting your propolis bitters over the drink through a handmade bee stencil like the one pictured on the right, which was cut from the lid of a fresh herb container. Download a pdf of this pattern.


KATE’S Propolis Bitters

After years of awakening the magic of spirits in her bartending, Kate August has gone on from the restaurant world to forge a career in herbalism, helping folks raise their personal spirits to new and beneficial heights. Whether behind the counter at Oakland’s Homestead Apothecary or helping her private clients live healthier lives through herbs, she espouses the idea that you are what you drink.

4 ounces clove tincture (recipe below)
4 ounces propolis tincture* (see orange box at right for sources)
Peel of half an orange

Combine ingredients and let macerate for 2 days, then strain off the alcohol and compost the peel.

Clove Tincture: Macerate 2 parts cloves in 3 parts El Dorado 151 Rum for one week. Strain off the alcohol and compost the cloves.

What is propolis?
This sticky combination of collected plant resins and other hive products (such as beeswax, essential oils, and pollen) is sometimes called “bee glue” for the way bees use it to seal holes and cracks in the hive.
*Find propolis tincture at local herb shops like Homestead Apothecary, Five Flavors Herbs, and Lhasa Karnak.



WENDY’S Gilt Beeswax Leaves

When she’s not scouring the countryside for lost treasures of the extinct mercantile age, Wendy Addison can be found in her Port Costa studio and storefront, the Theater of Dreams, where she spins her nostalgic magic with authentic letterpress and vintage-style paper goods. Incorporating a bewildering array of raw materials and found objects, be it wire, clockworks, mushrooms, moss, glass, glitter, porcelain, antique tinsel, or beeswax, whatever she touches literally turns to gold.

1 pound beeswax* (or more, as desired)
Leaves (Pick broad flat leaves with interesting shapes.)
Gold or artificial gold leaf*
Soft bristle brush

Melt beeswax in a small crockpot or double boiler. Dip leaves into the molten wax, then remove, letting excess wax drip off. Allow leaves to cool for 10 to 20 seconds until wax is still warm but no longer runny. Press each leaf down onto a sheet of gold leaf firmly enough to make complete contact. Lift from the gold leaf, and using a large soft-bristle brush, carefully brush off the excess gold leaf, and then burnish the gold with your finger, pressing and rubbing the leaf into the wax. Voila!

*Find beeswax at Bee Healthy Honey Shop in Oakland and MarElla Honey Bees in Concord. Juniper Tree Supplies in Berkeley has beeswax, wicks, molds, and many other candlemaking supplies.

*Find gold leaf at Otto Frei, Oakland; or FLAX Art and Design, Oakland;


DASHAL’S Body Butter and Lip Gloss

As a bartender at Bull Valley Roadhouse and Boot and Shoe Service, Dashal Moore nurtured patrons with good spirits and her warm wit. Fascinated by how folks carry what ails them on their bodies, she put herself through Chinese medicine school and now plies good spirits by applying needles, brewing tinctures, and cooking up healing salves at her new Berkeley accupuncture clinic. That said, this ex-bartender suggests that those more fleeting remedies from the bar will always have their place.

dashas-body-butterBeeswax Body Butter

A little of this luxurious body butter goes a long way.

Makes about 13 ounces
200 grams shea butter
200 grams jojoba, sweet almond oil, or a mix
25 grams shaved beeswax (or beeswax pastilles)
2 teaspoons arrowroot powder
20-40 drops essential oils (I like rosemary and calendula)

In a double boiler or a heatproof bowl sitting on a pan of simmering water, heat all ingredients (except essential oils) until melted, then remove from heat and let mixture cool just until it becomes opaque. Before it has cooled completely, add essential oils and whip mixture with an immersion blender or a stand mixer until it’s light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to small containers and store in a cool place.


dashas-body-butter-and-lip-balmRose & Laurel Lip Gloss

Makes about 6.5 ounces
100 grams coconut oil
50 grams shaved beeswax (or beeswax pastilles)
30 grams castor oil
10 grams beet root powder
3 drops rose essential oil
8 drops laurel essential oil
8 drops peppermint essential oil

Melt together beeswax and coconut oil in a double boiler or in a heat-proof bowl sitting in a pan of simmering water. Remove from heat and stir in castor oil, beet root powder, and essential oils. Pour mixture into small tins and allow to cool completely.
Notes: If you don’t have a kitchen scale, don’t fret. Precision is not at all important here. Also feel free to experiment with any combination of essential oils that smells lovely to you. 


appleJOHANN’S Other Passion

Johann Smit helped transform his family’s Clement, California, dairy farm into orchards in 1986. Since then, he’s applied his ingenuity toward making Hidden Star Orchards a zero-waste success, turning bad apples to good—pretty ones going to market and the bad becoming golden cider. With the old family farm thriving, an orchard coming in Green Valley, and a new production facility in San Leandro, Johann is set to keep turning out good apples! In his free time, he likes to make mead . . .

Johann’s Easy Honey Mead

This proportion of 1 part honey to 2 parts water yields a semi-dry mead. The equipment and yeast can be found at any local brewery supply store. You can use beer, Champagne, or wine yeast. D47 white wine yeast works really well.

Makes approximately 5 wine bottle portions

2 one-gallon glass jugs
1 venting cap
51/3 cups honey
102/3 cups distilled water
1 package yeast (see above)
5 wine bottles
5 cork stoppers

Wash and then sterilize the jug, venting cap, funnels or anything else that will touch the brew with a solution of 1 tablespoon bleach to 1 gallon.
Fill the glass jug with the honey and distilled water. Add the yeast according to package directions. Then attach the venting cap and fill airlock halfway with water. Set the jug in a dark place. Within a day the airlock should start bubbling and within a few days it should be bubbling briskly.

After 2 to 3 weeks the fermentation will slow to less than one bubble every five seconds. The liquid inside should be clear with a thick sediment of trub (sediment) on the bottom. The mead is now ready to be racked.

Wash and sterilize the second jug and the venting cap. Siphon the clear liquid into the sterilized jug, leaving the trub behind. Attach the sterilized venting cap to this jug and fill the airlock halfway with water. Set the jug in a dark place for another five to six months, at which point it should be ready to drink.

Mead takes a long time to age. The longer you wait the better it will be. If you can hold off for a year or even longer you will be surprised at how good it can get. When you are ready to bottle, siphon the mead into sterilized wine bottles and seal with cork stoppers.



EARL’S Tartlet Votives

One of the great joys of beekeeping for Earl Flewellen is having fresh, fragrant beeswax on hand for making candles. Given as gifts, the candles reliably cause the happy recipients to go straight to smelling them. The laborious process of rendering beeswax from raw comb cappings is described in the online version of this magazine so we can go straight to the fun . . .

beeswax-votivesMakes about 8 to 12 candles, depending on size of molds

1-pound brick beeswax*
Small crimped mini tartlet baking cups (Available at Sur La Table)
Premade 1¼- to 1½-inch votive wicks*
Metal steaming pitcher or ladle with spout

Melt beeswax in a double boiler or a crockpot. Heat beeswax to 145–150°. (If heated to 185° it will discolor and at 400° it may ignite.)
While the wax is melting, prepare work area by covering with tin foil or craft paper to protect surfaces from wax spillage. 

Prepare molds (tartlett cups) by lightly brushing the interiors with vegetable oil using a small basting brush or paintbrush to get oil down into the crimps and corners. (If you don’t mind leaving the votives in the cups, you can omit this step.)

Place pre-made wicks in the molds, centering them in the bottom.

Once the wax is completely melted, either gently ladle it directly into the molds or, for less mess, first pour melted wax into a metal steaming-pitcher with a spout and then pour the wax into the molds.

Allow the molds to sit undisturbed for about 20 minutes at room temperature. Once cooled, candles are ready for use. If you want to remove the votives from the molds, wait until the wax has pulled away from the sides of the molds and is completely solid. Then tug on the wicks to pull the candles from their molds. If there is resistance, briefly submerge the bottoms of the molds in a bath of hot tap water for 10 to 15 seconds and tug again. They should easily release.

*Find beeswax at Bee Healthy Honey Shop in Oakland and MarElla Honey Bees in Concord. Juniper Tree Supplies in Berkeley has beeswax, wicks, molds, and many other candlemaking supplies.


Kate’s Winter Wellness Syrup

By Kate August, professional herbalist and bartender at Bull Valley Roadhouse. Purchase ingredients at Homestead Apothecary (where Kate August works) or online at Mountain Rose Herbs.

Take 1 tablespoon a day to keep your immunity strong during the winter. Or add seltzer to make a refreshing drink!

2 cups fresh elderberries or 1 cup dried berries
4 tablespoons echinacea root
4 tablespoons wild cherry bark
2 tablespoons astragalus root
2 tablespoons ginger root
1 tablespoon rose hips
2 teaspoons cinnamon bark chips
1 cup honey

Combine all ingredients except honey in a pot with 6 cups water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes or until liquid is reduced to 2 cups. Remove from heat, let cool, and strain out the herbs.

Over a double boiler or at low warm temperature, add 1 cup honey to the 2 cups reduced “tea.” Stir until ingredients bind and coat the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and let cool, then refrigerate and enjoy.

Even in the fridge, this syrup will not last longer than a week unless it is preserved. There are two ways to do that. One is to add 1 part brandy to 3 parts syrup. For example if you have 500ml liquid add 125 ml brandy to preserve. The other method (if you don’t want to use brandy) is to add 2 parts honey to 1 part syrup.

Food and lifestyle photographer Erin Scott is the author of the Yummy Supper cookbook. She lives in Berkeley with her husband and two kids.