Barley water, a non-alcoholic mead alternative

Originally uploaded by tillwe
Following on my last topic regarding mead, here's a viable alternative beverage for your traditional pagan or celtic wiccan wedding (or variant thereof). Barley water is an ancient beverage, and is still a hugely popular drink in England. Made with honey, it's a great alternative to mead if for some reason you do not wish to (or don't have time) to use, make or acquire mead. Barley water can be made very quickly, and being made with honey and the ancient and nourishing grain, barley, still retains the symbolic qualities of beauty, fertility and joy. Most, if not all of the ingredients can be obtained at any grocery store here in Utah.

Barley is one of the most ancient of cultivated grains, with archaeological evidence from the ancient Middle East stretching back over 9,000 years.

Originally uploaded by venkane
The ancient Celts drank a precursor to the modern ale, made with fermented barley and herbs. If you are fond of working with Greek or Roman deities or mythology, a drink called the Kykeon was used at the Elusinian mysteries, and it was said to be composed of water, barley and mint.

Barley water in various forms has been used for millenia, with countless regional and cultural variations. It has been touted as a cure for bad skin, a panacea for digestive problems, and in the case of the Kykeon, fermented barley water contaminated with a form of ergot was suspected by some scientists to be the cause of the hallucinations reported by attendees of the rites of Eleusis. Another version of barley water is often sold in Mexico and the US - called horchata, it can be made with barley, rice or chufa (a root).

You can use the same recipe for both drinks. If you are making the Kykeon-style drink, omit the lemon rind from the boiling step.

British traditional lemon barley water

2 qts. water
2 c pearled barley
1 c. honey
rind of 1 lemon, sliced
juice of 3 lemons

Put barley, water, lemon rind in a large stockpot and bring to boiling, then simmer covered for about 20-30 minutes, or until barley is soft and slightly overcooked. You'll need to add more water to the pot as the barley absorbs the water as it cooks. The best way to do this is to note where the water line is when you start and try to keep it near that level until the barley is done cooking. Strain off the liquid from the barley into a pitcher or bowl. If you don't enjoy drinking thicker liquids, you can strain the water once more through a cheesecloth or similar filter to remove some of the barley solids in the water. Next, stir in the honey (to taste, you can add more or less than 1 c.) while it is still warm. Add the juice of the lemons to taste. Kept in the refrigerator, it should be good for up to 3-4 days, so it can be made in advance of the ceremony.

For Kykeon-style barley water:

Omit lemon rind from boiling and juice from final step.
Add fresh mint to taste, usually 1/4 c. fresh crushed mint leaves are sufficient unless you like a more strongly flavored drink. If you're not a strict traditionalist, you can sweeten with honey as desired.