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Barley Soup

Learn about this recipe from our historic foodways staff, then try it at home

Barley is a grain sometimes overlooked when rice, corn and wheat are predominant. This soup is almost a stew. Though simple in preparation, the meat and vegetables make it a dish that is filling and satisfying.

18th Century

Put on three gills of barley, three quarts of water, a few onions cut up, six carrots, scraped and cut in dice, an equal quantity of turnips cut small: boil it gently two hours, then put in four or five pounds of the rack or neck of mutton, a few slices of lean ham, with pepper and salt; boil it slowly, two hours longer, and serve it up. Tomatas are an excellent addition to this soup.

— Randolph, Mary. “The Virginia Housewife”

21st Century


  • ¾ cup barley, rinsed
  • 1½ quarts water
  • 2 medium onions, peeled and diced
  • 3 medium carrots, scraped and diced
  • 3 medium turnips, peeled and diced
  • 1 ½ pounds lamb (or beef if desired) diced
  • ½ cup ham, diced
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • One 14 oz. can large diced tomatoes


  1. Put water into large saucepan or dutch oven and add barley and diced meat. Bring to a boil, and reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes.
  2. Add diced onions, carrots, and turnips and simmer for 20 minutes until carrots are tender.
  3. Add diced ham and tomatoes. Simmer for 20 minutes up to one hour. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

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Historic Foodways