Hardtack or the cracker that lasts forever


hardtack

A great food to store for emergencies is hardtack or as the sailors knew it as a sea biscuit.  These little squares will last for years if stored in a cool dry place.  During the civil war soldiers ate hardtack that had been made 30 years before and stored in casks.  Because they are rock hard when dried it is best to use a hammer (yes a hammer) and break them into pieces and then soak them in soup or a broth to soften them.  My favorite is to use them in place of crackers in stews.  Depending on how you like them you will need to soak them up to 10 minutes to make them soft enough to eat.  While hiking I have slowly gnawed on pieces for a snack.  You cannot chew on them without worrying about cracking a tooth.  Have I mentioned that they are very hard?

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups of flour (whole wheat is best)
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup water
  • 6 pinches of salt
  • 1 tablespoon of shortening (optional)

Steps needed to make your hard tack:

1. Mix all the ingredients into a batter and press onto a cookie sheet to a thickness of ½ inch.

2. Bake in a preheated oven at 400°F (205°C) for one hour.

3. Remove from oven, cut the crackers into 3-inch squares, and punch four rows of holes, four holes per row into the dough (a fork works nicely).

4. Flip the crackers and return to the oven for another half hour.

To make them even better for long-term storage let them cool then bake at 250°F for another hour.  This will remove the last of the moisture.  For sea voyages they would cook the cracker a total of six times to preserve them.

And a little bit of history and trivia:

“In 1801, Josiah Bent began a baking operation in Milton, Massachusetts selling “water crackers” or biscuits made of flour and water that would not deteriorate during long sea voyages from the port of Boston, which was also used extensively as a source of food by the “gold diggers” emigration to the gold mines of California in 1849. Since the journey took months from the starting point, pilot bread was stored in the wagon trains, as it could be kept a long time. His company later sold the original hardtack crackers used by troops during the American Civil War. The G. H. Bent Company is still located in Milton, and continues to sell these items to Civil War re-enactors and others.”

“During the American Civil War, 3-inch by 3-inch hardtack was shipped out from Union and Confederate storehouses. Some of this hardtack had been stored from the 1846–8 Mexican-American War. With insect infestation common in improperly stored provisions, soldiers would breakup the hardtack and drop it into their morning coffee. This would not only soften the hardtack but the insects, mostly weevil larvae, would float to the top and the soldiers could skim off the insects and resume consumption.”

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