Gruel. It sounds like something awful. I’d only heard it used as being something fed to children in long ago orphanages, with the implication that the only thing worse than gruel was starvation. It sounded like cruel for good reason!
But I went through a very bad patch several years ago, and wasn’t able to function effectively, including eating. Someone told me barley gruel provided good nourishment in those kinds of situations, and I was desperate enough to try it.
I found a simple recipe, made up a batch, and much to my surprise, it was quite delicious. I’ve tried several other versions, in particular one made with mushrooms. It appears that barley is fairly adaptable, so you could probably combine it with whatever you desire, and season to taste.
My favorite remains the very first recipe I prepared. It’s from “The New Book of Whole Grains” by Marlene Anne Bumgarner. Bumgarner recommends searching for natural brown barley, but it’s very difficult to find. In the States, generally all that’s available is pearled barley, which has been hulled and processed. Pearled barley doesn’t have as much nutrients as the unprocessed grains.
1 cup coarsely cracked barley, soaked overnight
2 cups water
½ teaspoon salt
Bring water and salt to a boil. Add barley, cover, and cook over low heat for 10 minutes, or until moisture is absorbed. Serve with honey and milk, perhaps topped with fresh fruit.
According to Bumgarner, gruel is just another word for porridge. So I guess those little orphans weren’t so abused after all. And I might have tried it sooner if I’d known that’s all it was!
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