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May 30, 2011

Food from books: Lemon Barley Water

Well, Mr. Banks went off with his black bag, and Mrs. Banks went into the drawing-room and sat there all day long writing letters to the papers and begging them to send some Nannies to her at once as she was waiting; and upstairs in the Nursery, Jane and Michael watched at the window and wondered who would come. They were glad Katie Nanna had gone, for they had never liked her. She was old and fat and smelt of barley-water. Anything, they thought, would be better than Katie Nanna -- if not much better.
-- P.L. Travers. Mary Poppins

Since I have a big bowl of lemons, I stocked up last week on library books about cooking with them {Lemon Zest and Luscious Lemon Desserts, both by Lori Longbotham}. I found some new recipes to try, but I was fascinated by this one. Maybe this is a good indication of the kind of books I read, but many of the characters in them (British, upper crusty, Edwardian. spinsterish) seem to serve. drink, or nourish invalids with lemon barley water. {No, I didn't remember the literary allusion above, though I wish I had.  I found it here, of all unexpected places.}

Lemon barley water might be more familiar to people from the UK (and maybe Australia?), but less known here {except in books}. So it was fun to find out what it is, exactly {and to sip it while reading a book on a suddenly-very-sticky day}. It's essentially an infusion {?} made by simmering pearl barley, lemon zest and sugar in water, then straining it, adding fresh lemon juice and more cold water, and chilling. It made the kitchen smell wonderful {and I'll just tell you, the spent barley, even thought it was a little mushy, was delicious; I added the part that I hadn't already filched to the couscous salad I was making for dinner, but you could just add other little bits of stuff to the barley and have a wonderful summer side dish}.

What you end up with is a pale, slightly opaque liquid, not sugary-sweet but not too puckery either, a little softer than lemonade and very refreshing. Possibly good for your complexion and your insides, and definitely appealing. regardless.

Lemon Barley Water
adapted from Lemon Zest:  more than 175 recipes with a twist, by Lori Longbotham
for about 2 1/2 cups {this is the original recipe cut in half}

1/2 cup pearl barley, preferably organic {you can find this in the bulk bins at Whole Foods; it's very inexpensive}
1/4 cup granulated sugar
zest of two small lemons, removed with a vegetable peeler {be gentle, and avoid the white underneath}
tiny pinch of salt
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice

Bring 1 cup of water to a boil in a small saucepan that has a cover. Add the barley and let the pot return to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 5 minutes.

Increase the heat to high, add 2 cups water, the sugar, the lemon zest and the salt, and bring the mixture back to a boil.  Reduce the heat again and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat and let the mixture steep, covered, for at least 30 minutes, or until cooled to room temperature.

Pour the mixture through a fine mesh strainer into a pitcher. Add 1 cup cold water and the lemon juice. Chill, stir or shake well, and serve over ice.  {The recipe suggests adding bruised mint leaves; that does sound good.}

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In her headnote, Lori Longbotham writes that this 'traditional English concoction was originally prepared to nourish the sick, but now it is served as a cool, refreshing summer drink, often at tennis matches.'  As for me, I'm going back to the library, because there's an old movie I suddenly want to borrow...

1 comment:

Frances said...

Charming AND useful you are today! Guess what I will be making this week? I already own a copy of Mary Poppins. :)

Thank you for visiting!

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