Bere Meal

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

bere meal a speciality of orkney and shetland, is made from a special variety of barley which thrives in those northern islands and has been used for many centuries as the basis for local bannocks and porridge and similar preparations.

Catherine Brown (1996) explains that this special northern variety of barley is known as ‘bigg’ or ‘bere’ (pronounced ‘bare’ in the north) and has four ear rows rather than the usual six, ‘yielding a lower amount per acre but producing a grain of remarkable flavour. Between 12 and 15 tons are grown in Orkney each year, and every Orkney baker makes a daily supply of the bere bannock—a 15 cm (6") round, 1–2.5 cm (0.5–1") thick, flat, girdle-baked, soft scone.’ Characteristic of these bere bannocks are the grey-brown colour and robust earthy tang. They were originally made, before raising agents were developed in the 19th century, in the form of ‘a very thin soft chapati-type pancake, like a modern potato scone’.