Barley Water

Quenching thirst: a passion for cordials
On the street, people could quench their thirst from the liquorice water seller (“marchande de coco”), a familiar street figure who sold a refreshing drink made from liquorice wood and water, or by drinking lemonade (not yet fizzy lemon drink) sold by the guild of soft drinks manufacturers.
At home, cordials were very important for both children and adults. Barley water (made with sweet and bitter almonds) was particularly appreciated, but mothers and cooks developed a whole range of cordials in different flavours: fruit, of course (strawberries, redcurrants, apples etc.), but also flowers (violets, poppies, orange etc.), and also a vinegar cordial by a certain famous Mr Maille (commercial producer of … the French mustard that bears his name).


300g sweet almonds
5 drops bitter almond extract
100g powdered almonds
2l water
caster sugar
orange flower water

Period Recipe

Take half a pound of bitter almonds and a pound and a half of sweet almonds; throw them into boiling water, which has been removed from the heat. Let them soak until the skins can be removed easily. Peel them, putting them into cold water as you go. Drain them and put them into a marble mortar. Pound them with a pestle until no more fragments of almond are visible. Cover them from time to time with a little water, taken from five demi-septiers* of water, the rest of which you will use later on in the recipe. Once the paste has started to become less firm, dilute it with most of the remaining water mentioned above, keeping back just six onces** or thereabouts.Strain the paste through a strong cloth, which you must wring out as well as possible, to extract all the almond milk. Put the remains of the paste in a mortar and pound it once more, gradually adding the rest of the water. Strain this mixture again and extract all the liquid it contains.Mix these two lots of almond milk together. Take four and a half pounds of sugar, clarify it and bring to a rapid boil. Once it has reached this state add the almond milk and leave on the heat, skimming it until it rises, i.e. it needs to be removed from the heat and add half a glass of orange flower water. Then pour it into an earthenware dish and when it is cold empty it into bottles. It is also possible to add, when peeling the almonds above, two onces of the “four cold seeds”***, making the cordial even more refreshing.It is possible to cook this another way: put the almond milk into a glazed ceramic pot and pile in the sugar just so; put this in a bain-marie or the embers of the fire. When the sugar has dissolved, which can be helped along by stirring occasionally, remove from the heat and when the cordial has cooled, flavour it with orange flower water. Strain through a white muslin and put into bottles.  Having giving instructions for making cordials, it is necessary to elaborate the precautions that must be taken to preserve them in good condition for a long time; these are neither numerous, nor particularly difficult. We will restrict ourselves to the important ones.Take care to put the cordials in narrow bottles, because once they are opened, the less surface the cordial has, the less surface the air will have to act upon.  Some time after the cordials have been made, it will be necessary to uncork all the bottles and use a feather to remove a small and often mouldy film that will have formed between the cork and surface of the cordial.Finally, it will be necessary to store the bottles of cordial somewhere with a temperature which is more or less constant regardless of the season, neither too cold nor too hot: in the absence of a similar place, and for safety's sake, store the bottles in the cellar.  * A "septier" or "setier" was generally a measure used for grain, but in Paris, the term "setier" was used for a measure of liquid equivalent to quarter of a litre.** An "once" is an old measure corresponding (in Paris) to 30g.*** The "quatre semences froides" = the seeds of the courgette, melon, pumpkin and gourd, believed to be very beneficial to health. La cuisinière de la campagne et de ville, Paris : 1818

Bon appetit

1. The night before, chop almonds finely.
2. Put almonds into a saucepan with 2 litres water, 400g caster sugar and the powdered almonds. Bring to the boil. As soon as it comes to the boil, remove from heat. Stir well and leave to soak for at least 12 hours.
3. The next day take the saucepan and bring to the boil again, and boil for one minute.
4. Place a muslin cloth over a bowl and strain the mixture through it. Measure it.
5. You must add 700g caster sugar per 500g juice.
6. Mix the sugar and juice together thoroughly. Put back on the stove, bring to the boil, and boil for 4 min.
7. Leave the cordial to cool.
8. Once cooled, add the drops of almond extract and 2 cl orange flower water.
9. Scald (sterilise) 2 or 3 75cl bottles and fill with the cordial.
10. Keep this cordial in the refrigerator.

Type of Recipe