The Many Glories of Barley

It is the end of May and the rapeseed yellow is disappearing from the farming landscape, but the hedgerows and fields, or where I live roundabouts, are full of campion, poppies, daisies, buttercups, hawthorn, cow parsley and of course dandelions!

In the farmer’s fields the first shoots of corn, flowering potatoes and Spring Barley.

Barley is a personal favourite, it grows so quickly germinating in a day and turning a field of mud into a soft focus, softly swaying textured field of green…. Soon to turn gold, and start Sting singing!

Barley is of course a member of the grass family, I am not sure why we do not put it in the garden the ears with their textural spikes gently drooping on long stems are a wonderful sight!

Factoids! Man has cultivated barley for more than 10,000 years; it ranks number four in the grain league behind maize, rice and wheat. The UK is placed seventh in terms of world production with Russia number one. The old English word for barley was bære from which the word barn is derived, as is Scotland’s scone like bread ‘Bere Bannock’.

It is cultivated in two and six row versions, the field I photographed was a six-row variety that is higher in protein and will probably be used for animal feed. In it’s two-row version it has more sugar, and is ‘malted’ to concentrate this sugar and fermented with hops to produce BEER (barley wine) and then distilled to produce WHISKY! Thank you barley for that I love you! I believe there are non-alcoholic beverages as well…

Oh OK, malt extract is used to produce, malted milkshakes, Maltesers, Ovaltine, Horlicks, malt loaf, bagels, rich tea biscuits, malt vinegar and numerous other delightful things.

In its raw grain form it is hailed as a super food, a ‘Super Grain’ aiding bone health, containing calcium, potassium and magnesium it can help to lower blood pressure and cholesterol. An obvious source of fibre it will ease digestion*. And less proven benefits in preventing cancer, helping memory, maintaining a healthy weight and reducing inflammation, for relieving asthma and many others… it is one of the goodies!

In its grain form it can be added to salads and risottos, soups, broths and stews. De-hulled it is called pearl barley, nice!

Steve Winwood sings on the Traffic album ‘John Barleycorn Must Die’, but you are re-born in so many wonderful ways…. thanks!

*Of course if you are gluten intolerant it is sadly a no no!

Written by John Melhuish

John has worked for four decades at the same Shropshire Wine Merchants. Luckily for him wine is a passion out of work too, along with the enjoyment of good food. Recent passions involve photography and the collecting of studio pottery. Looking at the world through a viewfinder helps you “see” the world he claims!

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