And when Gideon was come, behold, there was a man that told a dream unto his fellow, and said, Behold, I dreamed a dream, and, lo, a cake of barley bread tumbled into the host of Midian, and came unto a tent, and smote it that it fell, and overturned it, that the tent lay along
--Judges 7: 13

On either side the river lie Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And thro' the field the run runs by
To many-tower'd Camelot.

--Alfred, Lord Tennyson, The Lady of Shallot (1833)

...The south winds caress the barley fields where you and I once frolicked together, and among the milky clouds larks sing loud
--Korean poet Pak Tu-Jin, "Peaches are in Bloom"

O My agéd Uncle Arly! Sitting on a heap of Barley
Thro' the silent hours of night,--

--Edward Lear, Incidents in the Life of my Uncle Arly

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(Hordeum vulgare)

This cereal grass was known to Greeks, Romans, Chinese, and Egyptians--and was cultivated as early as any grain on earth. Although it had become the chief bread material in Europe by the 16th century, its notoriously low gluten and elasticity made it welcome for filling the belly, but it never brought much joy as a bread or baked in any way.

The decoction of barley water so ridiculed in the Mary Poppins movie was actually a masterstroke of medical wizardry on the part of the ancient Greek doctor Hippocrates. He prescribed it for many ailments, sometimes with the grain, sometimes as a filtered liquid. It's easily made: just boil 2 teaspoons of pearl barley (its other form is hulled barley) in a 5 or so cups of water. When the barley is completely cooked, remove from the heat, let sit a minute, then strain, pressing the solids well.

Perhaps its greatest claim to fame is its transformation into beer, begun by first malting the grains--that is moistening them, letting them sprout, then roasting them. Or, mercy!, early Scots Whisky. Consider the sentiments of national poet Robert Burns:

"Scotch Drink"

Let husky wheat the haughs adorn,
An' aits set up their awnie horn,
An' pease and beans at e'en or morn,
Perfume the plain:
Leeze me on thee, John Barleycorn,
Thou king o'grain!

On thee aft Scotland chows her cood,
In souple scones, the wale o'food!
Or tumbling in the boiling flood
Wi' kail an' beef;
But when thou pours thy strong heart's blood,
There thou shines chief.

Then again, there's Barley Candy. A reader writes: Under the topic of Barley... there is a traditional candy made from pearl barley. Some of it is made into twisted strips as the poured barley syrup cools. But there is the classic Barley sugar clear toys of, I believe, German extraction. Most clear toy pops no longer contain the barley sugar, but there are many small mom and pops that still make it. What was Christmas without clear toy pops and ribbon candy? The poor maligned barley. It can find a guise in which to be loved. Find the barley candy recipe here:"

And here, dear readers it is:

"Barley Sugar: This is an ancient sweet originally made from hot sugar syrup and an extract of barley to colour it.

  • Barley - 250g (9 oz), hulled
  • Water - 5 litres (9 pints)
  • Sugar - 1 kg (2 lb), warmed
Gently cook the barley in the water for 5 hours. Strain the jelly-like liquid and return it to the pan. Add the sugar, stir over a gentle heat until dissolved. Boil the mixture until it just reaches the hard crack stage, 150 C (300 F). Pour the mixture over an oiled marble slab. As soon as the mixture begins to cool, cut it into long strips and twist them.