Anyone for Lemon Barley Water?

While reading through the original 1861 edition of Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, I found myself more drawn to Isabella Beeton’s commentary and asides than the actual recipes. The recipes are, for the most part, plain British cooking – interesting in a way many historical recipes are. But, those little anecdotes, factoids, and excerpts from other publications, were packed with amazing trivia, providing insights into 19th-century attitudes towards food, cooking, dining and other household activities. In the chapter on Beverages, I spotted an interesting note on lemonade that turned out to be a health warning in the form of a cautionary tale.

Isabella Beeton’s aside on lemonade was a quote from Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (see the end of the post for the complete text). It most likely came from a translated edition of his book, The Physiology of Taste, first published in 1825 as Physiologie du goût. Brillat-Savarin, a French lawyer practicing at the end of the 18th century, acquired fame as an epicure and gastronome from this treatise on food. Indeed, the phrase “you are what you eat” is attributed to him and many culinary terms have been named after him, such as the Savarin cake made in a Savarin mould. Since many of his opinions were considered sacrosanct, it is small wonder Isabella Beeton quoted him frequently – on oysters, raw meat, roasting fowls and pheasant, omelettes, fondue, lemonade, and the civilized art of dining. And, I suspect there are many unattributed “borrowings” from Brillat-Savarin throughout Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management.

Although she made no comment on Brillat-Savarin’s opinion of lemonade, Beeton placed it immediately after several lemonade recipes. I suspect she approved of the beverage, but felt required to include the quote from that arbiter of taste. This suspicion was confirmed when I noticed Beeton also included several similar lemonades in the Invalid Cookery chapter as healthy drinks for the sickroom! In addition, the chapter Invalid Cookery contained recipes for barley water made with lemons, similar to lemonade except for the addition of barley. Barley water was considered to be “nutritive”, pleasant to drink by those who are ill, and enlivened by the addition of lemon. Not surprisingly, Brillat-Savarin’s warning on the drinking of lemonade did not transfer to the 1907 edition, but the recipes for lemonade did – in both chapters.

beeton_lemonbarley_featureBackground image from Harpers Weekly vol. 27 (1882)

We think of barley water today as an energy drink, or even a sports beverage, particularly with that hit of citrus vitamin C. In fact, like strawberries and cream, barley water is a fixture at Wimbledon. And, since the lawn tennis tournament is due to begin in a little over a month, there is plenty of time to mix up a batch of this British drink for a British event.

beeton_lemonbarley

Lemon Barley Water
The blogging book club, The Cookbook Guru is testing recipes this month from the Beeton oeuvre. This one is inspired by, not recreated from, recipes contained in both the 1861 and 1907 editions of Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management. The second recipe from the 1907 edition (shown below) is the closest to the version in the 1861 edition which produces a concentrated syrup.

beeton_barleywater_1907

  • 7-1/2 cups (1.5 litres) water
  • 3/4 (about 150g) cup pearled barley
  • 5 lemons
  • 1/2 cup (about 113g) sugar
  • 4 to 5 Tablespoons (about 60 to 75ml) honey

Rinse the barley in a sieve with cold water and put it into a large pot. Add the water and bring it to a boil on high heat. Put the lid on, lower the heat, and simmer for 30 minutes.

beeton_lemonbarley_prep

Meanwhile, zest and juice the lemons, discarding the pith. Set the juice aside. After the barley has cooked for its initial 30 minutes, add the lemon zest, stir and replace the lid. Let it simmer for a further 30 minutes.

Take the barley off the heat. Over a large bowl, strain through a sieve, pressing down with the back of a wooden spoon to extract as much liquid as possible. The barley will be quite mushy by this time. Discard the barley and zest solids. Clean the pot and return to the stove. Put the barley liquid back into the cleaned pot, add the sugar and bring it to a boil. Turn down heat slightly and let it gently boil until it reaches a light syrup stage (approximately 5 minutes).

Turn off the heat. Put the hot liquid back into the bowl and add the honey and the lemon juice. Stir until mixed. Let cool, bottle and chill in the refrigerator. Sediment may form – simply shake the bottle before pouring. Serve with ice and dilute with cold water (still or fizzy) to taste. The mint sprig is entirely optional!

beeton_lemonbarley_bottle

Notes & Evaluation:
1. I’ve modified the recipe to combine lemonade with barley water to get a concentrated lemon barley water. As a result, I’ve added more lemons and more sweeteners – adding honey, which was not included in any of the original recipes.
2. Ginger (fresh) and/or mint are also natural ingredients in lemon barley water and can be added with the honey and lemon juice.
3. Brillat-Savarin’s The Physiology of Taste is available in translation from the Internet Archive. It is an interesting read, filled with long anecdotes, but not an easy read. For the dedicated student of culinary history!
4. A short while ago, the blogger Vintage Cookbookery wrote an interesting post on Brillat-Savarin and his The Physiology of Taste.

* * *

LEMONADE—”There is a current opinion among women” says Brillat Savarin “which every year causes the death of many young women,—that acids, especially vinegar, are preventives of obesity. Beyond all doubt, acids have the effect of destroying obesity; but they also destroy health and freshness. Lemonade is, of all acids, the most harmless; but few stomachs can resist it long. I knew, in 1776, at Dijon, a young lady of great beauty, to whom I was attached by bonds of friendship, great, almost as those of love. One day, when she had for some time gradually grown pale and thin (previously she had a slight embonpoint), she told me in confidence, that as her young friends had ridiculed her for being fat, she had, to counteract the tendency, been in the habit every day of drinking a large glass of vinaigre. She died at eighteen years of age, from the effects of these potions.”
Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1861)

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34 comments

    • Hi Melissa, There are a lot of free digital versions out there! You can download both the 1861 and 1907 editions of Mrs. Beeton through the Internet Archive. I provided links to it in my previous post on Mrs, Beeton which you can get to from my menu bar on books – the cookbook guru. I also noticed that amazon.uk had the 1861 edition free on kindle at one time. Have fun reading!

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  1. Reblogged this on The Cookbook Guru and commented:
    Far from an old fashioned recipe, The Kitchen Witch brings to us a recipe that is as relevant today, as it was when it was published in Mrs Beeton’s book back in 1861. A tasty suggestion as a dietry aid or a deliciously refreshing drink perfect for the tennis? Check out this post and decide for yourself.
    Leah

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    • Being able to use out of copyright images really helps! A benefit of working with 19th century material. I make this frequently in summer, and of course for watching tennis. Try it with a little fresh ginger for a bit of a zing.

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  2. How very refreshing and delightful that drink looks! It appears that fad diets are not just a thing of today but also of yesteryear, ie the 1776 chicky fading away on a vinegar diet….not unlike a juice fast of today perhaps?

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  3. Another interesting read! I must keep an eye out for this tome in the secondhand bookshops…and another and rather delicious sounding recipe for pearl barley to add to my repertoire. I only ever seem to use it for lamb stews…

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    • I once tried to make this when we were working in the Peloponnese, only to be told by the locals that only animals (or Cretans) ate barley! I’ve been looking for a hardback copy of the original for some time, but they are rare and if you find one, they’re quite pricey. But good luck…London has some fabulous secondhand bookshops.

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  4. Hi Debi, I find it fascinating that, once you read through the recipes a few times and work out what you are supposed to do, they are not that different to modern day recipes.

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    • Most of Mrs. Beeton’s recipes are pretty basic. Many of them contain only a few ingredients, so it wasn’t too difficult to come up with this recipe, especially since I’ve been making lemon barley water for many years now. However, Beeton’s techniques in cooking the barley and lemon zest and adding the lemon juice later were an improvement over the modern method I had been following.

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    • I just checked on amazon.com and it is available for free in kindle. I wasn’t sure since downloading kindle books are restricted by country. It is an interesting read. Hope you enjoy it!

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  5. Great post! Though I’m not sure you’ve sold me on barley water 🙂 The Koreans drink barley tea and it has a woodsy kind of mushroomy taste. It’s not really tea, just hot barley water. I bet the addition of lemon really helps!

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    • It is one of the drinks they sell for kids here. The barley simply adds nutrients and body, but the flavor comes from the lemon – or even other fruits. Blackcurrant is a favorite. It is really very similar to lemonade, only cloudy. Homemade is best, of course!

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  6. Great post Deb. Your post has just reminded me that lemon barley water was a summertime staple in my Grandma’s house, kept in the icebox in a cut glass jug with a crocheted lace cover that had red and blue beads around the edge. It’s totally gone out of fashion here! I received a 1975 imprint of the 1961 edition of Mrs B’s book for mother’s day from my other half, so in the tradition of handing on the recipes to the next generation I have passed Leah my 1907 edition. I find the Kindle version of the 1861 a bit tricky. At 21,000+ pages, the overview just isn’t there. It’s fascinating comparing and constrasting the progress of the book nevertheless.

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    • I love those old crocheted-beaded food covers. They’re coming back into fashion here. And, lemon barley water, as far as I can tell has never gone out of fashion. I would love to have an actual hardback, but have to make due with digital versions of Mrs. Beeton. Leah is a very lucky girl! The kindle is searchable – just click on the magnifying glass icon. I put my copy on my iPad rather than my physical kindle, so it is easier to read (bigger screen). Comparing and contrasting is really a lot of fun and quite insightful.

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  7. Lemon barley cordial is one of the things I used to bring back with me but now I have Marks and Spencers i don’t have to. But I’ve never thought of making it myself – I thought there would be a lot more sugar in it than there is your recipe. I am so going to give this a go.

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    • I think the honey provides a better balance to the sweetness. And, yes, I think that commercial lemon barley waters are too sweet! Let me know how it goes. I hope you will like it.

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    • It’s great. I was only introduced to it when I started coming to Britain. The homemade stuff is so. much better since you can regulate the amount of sweeteners and add more lemons if you wish. I’ve been making it most summers now for a very long time. Might try it with black currants once I’ve harvested them.

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  8. What a great post! I have a later edition of Mrs. Beeton and it turns out – most of my friends have an edition of some sort too. I keep meaning to have a Mrs. Beeton dinner party where we all make something from the book. You just reminded me and I’ll bump it up the to-do list.

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    • A Beeton dinner party sounds a great idea! The original recipes, however, tend to be a bit bland and picking recipes to try is sometimes very trying. I’m loving reading through the early editions simply for the social history.

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  9. I’ll try this lemon barley water! 🙂
    Loved to read what mrs beeton thought anyway about acid drinks… Best not to exceed then! 😉

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    • I have been making lemon barley water for many years and learned a new technique from Mrs, Beeton which I think improved the drink. It is very good and you can moderate how much you use when you dilute it with cold water to drink.

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  10. I’ve never tried lemon barley water, must give this a go, if I can find barley for sale in Portugal. Note to self – must look up the translation before going to the supermarket.

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    • I hope you are able to find pearled barley, but I’ve noticed that many Southern European countries consider it more animal feed than something humans eat. But, after saying that, I really don’t know how the Portuguese perceive the grain. It might be right there on your market shelf! Lemon barley water is really refreshing, but failing that, lemonade is good, too.

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