The word barn traces back to the Olde English word bereaern. That word derived from the words bere, meaning barley, and aern meaning house. Barns were originally places to store barley, or barley houses. Of course barns of medieval times had more uses that storing barley, especially for the peasants but barley was their most important crop. Bereaern evolved into beretun, meaning barley enclosure, and eventually maps of the countryside in England began showing the word’s next incarnation, the barton. Do you know anyone with that last name?
In the Middle Ages, if you were a peasant (and that was most of the people), then barley was the staple of your life. Barley was incorporated into almost everything consumed, bread, porridge, pancakes, soups, and even their beer. Onions, apples, mushrooms, parsley and other herbs and honey were grown or harvested to add some variation and taste into their diets but there was no getting away from barley. By the end of the Middle Ages rye began to replace barley in some countries but the barn was already cemented into society so there was no reason to change the name. Think about that the next time you drive by a barn and just be glad we don’t have to drink barley beer!