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The Glasgow Orkney and Shetland Benevolent Society

Introduction / The Island / Farming


Bere is a very old six row variety of barley. It was widely grown in Orkney and indeed most of the northern part of the country and Scandinavia. Its origins are unclear although it has been suggested that the Vikings introduced it. However, grains of six row barley have been found in Unstan Cairn dating back to 3000BC.

The importance of bere is shown by the fact that in 1769 more bere was grown in Scotland than barley. It was only in 1960 that Scottish agricultural statistics showed bere and barley together.

In the 19th century, there were several types recognised: Black Bere, Victoria Bere, Buchan Bere and Winter White Bere. It is not clear how these relate to the bere that we have today.

Very small quantities are still grown. In the 1990s, this was perhaps only five to fifteen hectares over Orkney and Caithness. Efforts have been made to revive its cultivation and use it in new products. These have included a bere beer.

It is currently ground into meal at the Barony Mill, Birsay and bere bannocks can still be bought in the shops. These would have been originally entirely from bere although flour is now also included.

Recipe for a bere bannock:
100g beremeal / flour
1 level teaspoon baking soda
1 level teaspoon cream of tartar
1 pinch of salt
1 teaspoon cooking oil
60 ml water (approx)

The proportion of bere to flour can be varied to taste from perhaps half and half to two thirds bere to one third flour.

The dry ingredients should go into the baking bowl. Stir in the cooking oil, adding water to form a dough that leaves the bowl clean. Beat well.

On a floured surface, shape the dough into a round of a six inch diameter. The gridle should be dusted with flour and the bannock baked for a few minutes on each side until it rises.

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