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Barley Bannocks in the Thieves Hole – Outlander on STARZ Episode 111

Barley Bannocks in the Thieves Hole – Outlander on STARZ Episode 111

Outlander on Starz

If she’d only stay put, as Jamie repeatedly asks, Claire would have a much easier time in the 18th C.

Free of BJR’s slimy grasp for only a few days, she’s now off to the Thieves’ Hole with Geillis, and things are most definitely not looking up.

Claire Theive's Hole
photo from STARZ and

There was a grating sound from overhead and a sudden shaft of light. I pressed myself against the
wall, barely in time to avoid a shower of mud and filth that cascaded through a small opening in the roof of our prison. A single soft plop followed the deluge. Geilie bent and picked up something from the floor. The opening above remained, and I could see that what she held was a small loaf, stale and smeared with assorted muck. She dusted it gingerly with a fold of her skirt.

“Dinner,” she said. “Hungry, are you?”

Diana Gabaldon, Outlander (Chapter 25 – Thou Shalt Not Suffer a Witch to Live)

Nothing like a little muck to go with your carb-laden dinner, right?

I’ve decided that we’re going to forgo the muck and get straight to the main course.barley mealBarley has been a staple of the Highland diet for thousands of years. Long before the now ubiquitous oat appeared on the scene, crofters grew a primitive form of barley, called bere, which grew well despite a short growing season, harsh climate and poor soil.

Bere was eventually (mostly) replaced with higher yielding varieties of barley, which were then joined in the fields by oats,  and, ultimately, following the Scottish Agricultural Revolution, wheat.

barley bannock

Barley bannocks, oatmeal, oatcakes and vegetable pottages (stews) formed the basis of a poor Highlander’s diet throughout the 18th Century.

It’s true that Claire and Geillis wouldn’t be considered poor in their everyday circumstances, but I think we’re safe to assume that the guards didn’t throw down a loaf made of imported wheat. More likely, it was made of barley.

bannock6 copy

I’ve made my bannocks a little thinner than what they would have been back then. A true 1/2″ thick bannock, like this one I made for Jocasta, is dense and heavy, and a lot to get down, in my opinion. I took my lead from the author of a fascinating read I recently finished, “The Garden Cottage Diaries – My Year in the Eighteenth Century.”

The author, Fiona Houston, spent a full 4 seasons in a croft-like house, and became very familiar with the sort of subsistence nutrition that kept the Highlanders alive, often barely. She preferred a thinner bannock (her favourites were made with chicken fat), and I have to say I do too. If you prefer to try a thicker version, check the notes at the bottom of the recipe.

Barley Bannocks

Keep the cooked bannocks warm in a low oven until ready to serve. I served them with green onion and black pepper butter, which was delicious. A sweet compound butter like that on Mrs. Bug’s Cinnamon Toast will give you a more dessert-like treat to munch on during the show.

(Click on the title below for a printable version of the recipe)

Barley Bannocks in the Thieves’ Hole

: A traditional recipe straight from the 18th Century Highlands. Best served hot off the girdle with butter and/or honey.

Yield: 8” Bannock

  • Milk – 3 to 4 Tble
  • Butter – 2 Tble (see notes)
  • Salt – ½ tsp
  • Barley Meal – 1 Cup, plus a little extra to flour the board (see notes)

Combine the milk, butter and salt in a small saucepan and heat over medium until the butter melts.

Add the hot liquid to the barley meal in a large bowl, and mix to form a slightly sticky dough that pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

Preheat a cast iron pan over medium low heat for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, on a lightly floured board, pat the dough into a flat disc then roll out to an 8” circle, ¼” thick. Cut into 4 quarters and cook in the pan until golden, about 5 minutes per side.

Serve warm with butter and honey, or make up your own compound butter with your favourite flavourings.


  • I live on a small island, far away from a grocery store that carries barley meal. I made my own by grinding pot (or pearl) barley in my extra coffee/spice grinder. A food processor will also work, but the barley will scratch and cloud the plastic bowl badly – so be prepared.
  • In a coffee grinder, grind the barley in small batches, then sieve into a bowl and return the large pieces back to the grinder. You want a relatively even, well ground meal that resembles a cross between wheat flour and granulated sugar.
  • Any animal fat will work here, or use coconut oil for a vegan alternative. The tastiest batch we’ve had is the one I made with the fat left after I fried up some Pancetta.
  • Want to hear a secret? I was a little short on barley meal, so I made it up with oatmeal…just in case the same thing happens to you.
  • If you prefer to try a thicker bannock, double the recipe then roll the dough out to an 8” circle, ½” thick. Heat the pan over low and cook 10- minutes per side, until lighly browned and cooked through.



  1. Merry Miller Moon
    April 14, 2015 at 5:34 am

    Well, that’s what I’m making–but on Sunday-not Saturday-since on Saturday, my MIL and I are off to KY to hear ‘Herself’ speak!!!! 🙂 Thank you for another great recipe Theresa!

  2. Anna Lapping
    April 14, 2015 at 5:37 am

    Since I love your other bannocks so much I will have to try these. I always have rendered bacon fat in the refrigerator so I’ll probably use that in mine.

  3. Kris Rasmussen
    April 14, 2015 at 10:41 am

    Could you share how to make the green onion and pepper compound butter? I couldn’t find a link to the recipe.

    • Theresa
      April 14, 2015 at 10:52 am

      Of course! It’s very easy. I took about 2 tablespoons of butter, and mashed it together with 1 thinly sliced green onion and a few grinds on the Pepper mill. There’s an example of a more complicated compound butter (but ooooh, so tasty) in this Mussel recipe. Theresa

  4. Marta Giles
    April 14, 2015 at 11:30 am

    Do you use barley flour, or barley meal? Does it matter? Thanks!

    • Theresa
      April 14, 2015 at 12:41 pm

      Marta, a quick google tells me that barley meal and flour are the same. I can’t guarantee that, although you can certainly use barley flour, even though I suspect it will be finer than the meal I ground myself. Start with the 3 T of milk, then add more if you need. Please let me know how it turns out! theresa

  5. ms.yoshimi
    April 14, 2015 at 11:50 am

    Hi Theresa,

    The Millionaire Shortbread was hit as Easter dessert! Next to try are the barley recipes. Thanks so much!

  6. Dawna
    April 14, 2015 at 1:55 pm

    It’s been six months since my epic Scottish journey that included Orkney. We visited Barony Mills (even tho they were officially closed), had a bit of a tour and chat with the miller and left with a packet of bere biscuits. Orcadians are quite protective of their brand but we were told that somewhere in British Columbia is an Orkney transplant who is growing her own bere. More recipes at the bottom of the Mill’s website.

  7. Ann Francis
    April 14, 2015 at 5:41 pm

    Hi, Theresa, thanks for your great recipes!
    We love your Castle Leoch bannocks and always have them on hand, making about 2 batches per week. . Now i am intrigued by the barley flour version and can’t wait to give them a try!

  8. Cherie Chilvers
    April 14, 2015 at 8:56 pm

    She is making me so crazy as to why she don’t listen to her husband. She is in the 1800 century and she needs to trust him when he tells her something for her own good. She needs another spanking to talk some sense to her. She is putting them both in danger and possibly being pregnant to boot.

  9. Susan O'Meara
    April 15, 2015 at 4:51 pm

    Not big on barley but will try for the fun of it.

  10. laurehall
    April 15, 2015 at 6:48 pm

    sorta remind me of my Guatemalan husband’s homemade tortillas made with masa harina in place of the barley meal.

  11. Bonnie Botts
    April 15, 2015 at 7:36 pm

    would one be able to grin the Pearl Barley in a flour mill. I have one that I use popcorn to make fresh cornmeal.

    • Theresa
      April 16, 2015 at 5:56 am

      It should work, Bonnie!

  12. Kate Jones
    April 19, 2015 at 5:39 pm

    What isthe recipe for the ginger nut biscuits, please?

    • Theresa
      April 20, 2015 at 2:20 pm

      You’ll find it here, Kate:

      You can find all of the recipes in the Recipe Index.

  13. Ali Wilson
    April 19, 2015 at 8:44 pm

    Starting 3 book would really like recipe for Bannocks, can’t find spot to send to my email Thanks…Live these books

  14. Jördis
    May 3, 2015 at 3:13 am


    I got a question.
    What does ‘Tble’ mean?

    • Theresa
      May 3, 2015 at 12:40 pm

      Tablespoon. tsp means teaspoon. 🙂

  15. Olga
    March 22, 2016 at 10:54 am

    Dear Theresa, thank you a lot for such a great site! I discovered eating simple and tasty traditional food without modern additives and I feel a bit happier 🙂
    As for the recipe: each time I cook these bannocks (5 min each side, medium heat), they golden outside but stay unbaked inside (keeping in pan longer makes them burn). They still taste good, but the consistence inside is far from perfect. What could be possibly wrong? I tried to bake them also and they become nice crackers.
    Greetings from Russia!

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