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
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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:
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: http://www.hungrybrowser.com/phaedrus/archives02.htm."
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"Barley Sugar: This is an ancient sweet originally made from hot sugar syrup and an extract of barley to colour it.