Book review: The Book of Bere

What’s the story?

Liz Ashworth shares the story of bere, an ancient type of barley native to Orkney. For over 4,000 years the grain was milled and grown on the islands; a staple of the Scottish diet. The Book of Bere sees Ashworth reclaim bere as a superfood in an age where the population is obsessed with being healthier. Discussing everything from the Neolithic origins of bere, to an all encompassing recipe list of both homely and artisan dishes, Ashworth shares everything you need to know about the nutritional barley.


Ashworth has done an excellent job of curating such a wide array of recipes. You may not have heard of bere before, but by the end of this book you are made aware of its extensive properties and uses. Each recipe is described in rustic, mouth-watering terms that leave you craving the wholesome grain. Quantities are represented in both metric and imperial terms, to honour the ancient legacy of bere. Ashworth has included an assortment of easy and more challenging recipes, grading each one between one and three sprigs of bere; one being the most straightforward and three the most advanced. The history Ashworth provides, as well as the scientific research and benefits of consuming barley not only act as a nice touch, but vitally inform on what bere actually is and where it came from. In the modern effort to be a healthier society, it is important to know exactly what we are putting in our bodies. Ashworth proves that this is no fad; bere has thousands of years of evidence of maintaining strong and healthy humans.


Whilst The Book of Bere is a fabulous read, bere itself is relatively hard to procure. It is currently being milled by just one mill; Barony Mill in Birsay. Whilst bere has the potential to become milled and sold widely, for now it is a relatively small amount of people who can acquire bere and utilise the recipes in this book. However, it makes for an interesting read regardless.


As a forgotten food, any keen cook would enjoy The Book of Bere as it opens up new possibilities in the kitchen. Anybody trying to eat better would find this book valuable too, as it is a source of hearty, nutritious recipes.


A relevant cooking book, written in a revolutionary way that informs the reader on what they are actually eating, The Book of Bere is both a wonderful read and tool for those able to enjoy the bere grain. The warming language adds a cosy, fulfilling dimension to reading about and cooking with nutritious ingredients that any foodie would take pleasure in.

The Book of Bere: Orkney’s Ancient Grain by Liz Ashworth, Birlinn Publishing.

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