Thursday, June 24, 2010

New Video: Sam Kass, Charlie Brandts Buzz About The White House Beehive

"Wonderful," says Kass; "Cool," says Brandts...
Food Initiative Coordinator Sam Kass and official White House Beekeeper Charlie Brandts co-narrate a terrific new video about the first-ever White House Beehive.

It contains footage from the installation of the beehive in March 2009 through the first harvest, as well as scenes of the honey being processed in the kitchen. (Above: Kass, behind green boxes and Brandts, in blue pants, with another beekeeper, during the harvest)

Brandts has been a carpenter at the White House for more than three decades, and became Beekeeper In Chief when Kass discovered his home beekeeping hobby, and urged him to bring his skills to the Executive Mansion. There's never been a beehive at the White House before the Obamas took up residence, according to curators.

"It's pretty cool to have the first one here, for sure," Brandts says.

Last year, Kass called the beehive "one of the greatest achievements of the garden," and in the new video, he notes the critical role of pollinators for teaching kids about growing food in First Lady Michelle Obama's South Lawn vegucation project. The beehive has about 70,000 bees in it, according to Brandts, and produced about 140 pounds of honey last year. He used the old-school method of smoking the bees out for the first harvest, and Kass helped.

"It was just a wonderful day," Kass says. But he adds "There's something a little disconcerting about being surrounded by thousands of bees."

The honey been used for everything from the Spider White House cookies that were handed out to the thousands of kids who trick or treated at the White House last year, to the special Spouse Gifts that Mrs. Obama presented to the partners of the world leaders who visited Pittsburgh during the G20 Summit in September 2009, to the fabulous white chocolate covered White House Gingerbread House created by Executive Pastry Chef Bill Yosses at Christmas, to desserts for the State Dinners and many other events. Most recently, at Mrs. Obama's Mother's Day Tea, tiny jars of honey sat on each table (above: the special blown-glass decanter and White House honey that was presented to G-20 spouses, along with a special tea set).

The taste of the White House honey changes, according to Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford, who toted a jar of honey labeled Black Locust at one White House event last year. Yosses is a big fan of using honey instead of processed sugar, if it's possible, and says that honey helps keep baked goods moist. His recipe for White House Honey Cupcakes is here, although he recently noted that sometimes sugar is critical for the architecture of baked goods, and honey just won't work.

At the 2010 White House Easter Egg Roll, Brandts had his own demo-tent, "Buzzing About Bees," in the Play With Your Food activity section, which highlighted White House food initiatives. During the day-long event, Brandts spoke to thousands of kids and parents about the importance of bees and beekeeping. (Above: Brandts at the Roll)

This week, USDA is celebrating the fourth annual National Pollinator Week, and has installed a beehive to accompany Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack's The People's Garden. The People's Beehive is located on the roof of USDA headquarters at the Jamie Whitten Building on the National Mall.

*White House video; White House honey jar photo by Lawrence Jackson; Brandts photo by Obama Foodorama