Bere (pronounced ‘bear’) is a form of six-row barley which has been grown in Orkney for thousands of years. Beremeal bannocks are a staple food of the Orcadians, so I am told, and it is also used in the brewing of ale. Bere is quite possibly Britain’s oldest cereal grain still in commercial cultivation and was likely brought here by Viking settlers way back when. It has adapted to growing in soils with low pH and in areas with long daylight hours, such as Orkney and Shetland, when it doesn’t really get dark during the summer months. It grows rapidly and being sown in the spring and harvested in the summer it has been called “the 90 day barley”.
I’ve only been to Orkney twice. Once on my way up to Shetland for the very first time when I quite literally hitched a ride on the St. Rognvald ferry to get here back in 1999. I didn’t know how I was supposed to get to Shetland and I hadn’t booked any tickets in advance. I just showed up on the pier looking for a ship to take me there. The St. Rognvald was a cargo ferry but they let me on anyway and I stayed in my room for the whole 14 hour journey thinking I was going to die if I sat up for any longer than 30 seconds. It was my first experience with the sea.
The ferry stopped off in Kirkwall on the way to Shetland and I had the opportunity to spend a few hours wandering the streets on a Sunday morning. I thought it was a beautiful place with its narrow stone lanes. I mind back in Canada listening to Lorenna McKennitt’s beautiful song Standing Stones, imagining being in Orkney, and I was absolutely delighted to find myself there, albeit alone on a misty Sunday morning.
The second time was en route to Ackergill Tower in Wick (see A Story of Porridge, A Scottish Castle & a Ghost for that adventure). I mean to return to Orkney one of these days, for a proper holiday, after all it’s only a 4 hour ferry ride away!
Bannocks made using beremeal have a very wholesome and unique taste. Apart from a few small growers on Shetland and the Western Isles, Barony Mills in Birsay, Orkney are the main producers of beremeal, which is where I obtained this recipe for beremeal bannocks from. Note to self: locate the place in Shetland which grows bere and go for a look-see this summer!
- 2 cups Orkney beremeal
- 1 cup plain flour
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp cream of tartar
- pinch salt
- 3/4 – 1 cup buttermilk
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 4 large bannocks
I have included this recipe in Javelin Warrior’s Made with Love, Mondays from-scratch recipe round-up.