Mind Your Own...
Posted by Gabrielle Melchionda on
It seems so simple, and it really is.
Webster defines Beeswax as: a substance that is secreted by honeybees and is used by them for constructing the honeycomb, that is a dull, typically yellow solid that is plastic when warm, and that is composed primarily of a mixture of esters, hydrocarbons, and fatty acids.
In my life and history, beeswax was the starting point of the Mad Gab's adventure. When I found the original recipe for lip balm and decided to make some, my mother informed me that our neighbor across the street had bees--and suggested I ask him about buying some. First, I marveled at the fact that the very nice man who worked for Xerox was a part-time beekeeper in the apple orchards behind his house. (The house that incidentally had the world's best doorbell that I took great pleasure in ringing whenever I could as a child, and the same house that had shag carpet to die for!).
It was February when I marched across the frozen snow to inquire about the beeswax from Mr. Dahowski. He was a quiet man--and still is, I would guess. (Mr. D just turned 80 and I sent in some old-school Mad Gab's pictures for their celebration.) I never spoke "quiet" very well, so we had not had many opportunities to connect while I was growing up, but when I asked about buying some beeswax, I not only got an emphatic "YES", I also got a tour of the bee-keeping operation-as best he could in the dead of winter. He showed me his beekeeping outfit, the knives used to cut honey and wax from the combs, and jars and jars of honey. And then, there was the beeswax. Solid blocks that weighed about two pounds each, deep yellow with flecks of black, smooth in your hand, unlike anything I had ever touched.
I headed back to my mom's house mulling over what exactly I was going to do with the wax, and wondering how I was supposed to measure it when it came in such a big block.
Originally, I had devised a method of breaking the blocks of beeswax into small pieces I would melt into liquid form, on the stove in a 2 cup Pyrex. The first time I melted the wax down, the flecks of black I saw in the big block had multiplied and at the bottom of the golden liquid sat a puddle of debris. It turned out to be a mix of grasses, dirt, and other naturally relevant materials, none of which seemed like a good idea to put into lip balm. I had to think of a way to filter it, and after failing with cheese cloth, coffee filters and paper towels, I landed on panty hose. The L'Eggs kind was my mother's brand--if you call wearing them begrudgingly for funerals and weddings adopting a brand. I stretched the fabric across the mouth of one Pyrex and poured the molten liquid through, into another one that would become the base of the first batch.
Amazingly, and like most things Mad Gab's, the system was simple, and effective and stayed in place for almost a decade with little modification. I bought blocks of wax from Mr. D, would store them in medium size Tupperware containers, and then used a huge one with a hammer and chisel to break apart the wax into small pieces. Eventually I started weighing the wax before melting it and learned the difference between liquid and solid weight. My years of not paying attention in math and science class began to haunt me. This, too, would continue as a theme.
Even when I moved to California in 1994, I still ordered wax from Mr. D. When I moved to Maine in 1996, I tried to find local Maine beekeepers to supplement my supply, but to no avail. I even went door to door with lip balm samples, but not one was interested in selling. Eventually, as we needed more and more wax, and I learned about buying in bulk, in small "pastilles" that melt quickly, we made the switch. It may have made the making part of lip balm much easier, but it never felt quite the same as the old days.
Locally sourced, friendly neighbors, and learning from suppliers. Three natural founding principles of my small hobby that was growing into a brand, and slowly taking over my life in ways I could never have imagined.