Bere Meal Bread – Prehistoric Comfort Food
Speedy, Tasty, Thrifty Bread
Greetings from Orkney. The Tartan Family drove the three hundred or so miles to Birsay (there was a ferry involved) a few days ago. We come here for the same two weeks every year, to the same self-catering property and have the same lazy, lovely holiday each time. There are so many reasons why we come here year after year. Somewhere quite close to the top of the list is the view from our temporary home. I would drive twice that distance to finish each day watching the dancing barley fields over the wall turn gold in the late-setting sun, as swallows dip and wheel across them. My personal heaven.
Just beyond these fields lies Barony Mill which grinds the barley. Not the regular, put-it-in-your-soup type of barley. Oh no – some of these fields grow an ancient grain known as bere. That’s not a misspelled beverage: bere is the prehistoric form of barley that was eaten by the neolithic occupants of Skara Brae 5000 years ago. And here it is today, growing and milled into flour less than a mile from where I am sitting – a beautiful, delicious, and remarkably cheap piece of ancient history. Thriftorical baking, dude!
It would be a waste not to buy some, wouldn’t it?
Where – And Why – To Buy Bere Meal
I buy bere meal each year from the Barony Mill to give us an excuse to visit again – Tiny Tartan particularly likes being allowed to start the whole mechanism – but it is widely available throughout Orkney. If you don’t have the good fortune to visit Orkney regularly, you can get it here. And you should: bere meal adds a soft texture and a mild, malty, nutty flavour to your baking. It is low in gluten so no good for yeast-based recipes, but excellent for recipes that use baking powder. It is high in vitamins and fibre. It does cost more than regular plain flour from a supermarket value range – what doesn’t – but a bag of bere meal costs a whole lot less than one loaf of fancy-pants-deli-bread, and will make you several week’s worth of equally fancily-panted bere meal bread. Bere meal bread which, in most delis, money could not buy.
Anyway – here’s the quick, simple bread we make with it. Sometimes we eat it with an omelette. Sometimes we eat it with butter and jam. Sometimes we add grated cheese to the batter and eat it straight up with the cheese oozing over our fingers alongside a bowl of smoked haddock chowder. I have no idea how well it keeps because, in all the time I have been making it, the pan is always empty within half an hour. I have successfully frozen it before but only because I made it when the rest of the Tartan Family were out.
How To Make Cheesy Bere Meal Bread
15ml soft brown sugar or honey
25ml vegetable oil
100g plain flour
10ml baking powder
2.5ml bicarbonate of soda
70g grated smoked Orkney cheddar (which you can buy in Aldi if travelling to Orkney seems a step too far)
The cheese is optional – leave it out if you want a plain bread, or ramp it up by adding a teaspoon of mustard powder and some chopped chives and tarragon. I also love this with sunflower seeds stirred in, although Tartan Boy is less impressed by this. Don’t be alarmed if your sunflower seeds turn green in the oven – this doesn’t mean they are off, and adds quite a pretty colour note to the bread.
Pre-heat your oven to 220°C.
Combine all the wet ingredients and beat until the egg is fully combined.
Put all the dry ingredients in a bowl and stir to combine. Pour in the wet ingredients. Fold in gently until the wet ingredients are combined. Lumps in the batter are fine – just make sure no white flour is visible.
Pour the batter into the receptacle of your choice – I have used a loaf tin here, but cake tins work if you want a more cornbread-like shape. Pop in the oven for 25 minutes. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before cutting in the tin. Alternatively, allow to cool completely before turning out and slicing up.