One of the most significant challenges of stockpiling and maintaining a well-supplied preparation pantry is identifying foods with a potentially long storage period. Some favorite items include canned goods, preservatives, and cured meat. These options are important because they include meats, vegetables, and fruits, which contain necessary nutrients. However, they do not include grains. Plus, if you’re in conditions with no refrigerator or utensils, these are appropriate foods to have. One excellent cereal-based food item designed for long-term storage and high-nutrient capacity is hardtack.
What Is Hardtack?
Whether helping kids experience what it is like being a pirate or stocking the cellar in preparation for any future unpredictable storms or other emergency events, making hardtack is an easy and cost-effective process for the entire family. Also known as ‘molar breakers’ and ‘sea biscuits,’ hardtack is a type of baked cereal similar to a biscuit or a cracker.
Humans relied on this food source for nutrition even before the invention of the icebox or the modern oven. It was a reliable option for Egyptians and Romans to carry along on sea voyages or when going into battle. Before the development of MREs and C-rations, American soldiers relied on hardtack in the trenches of war. Many soldiers in the past called hardtack Anzac biscuits, which they ate instead of bread.
Why has such a bland, uninteresting cracker impacted human civilization in so many ways from the sailors who discovered America to the cowboys exploring the Wild West? One key factor about this biscuit is its storage capacity and how easy it is to store it. When stored in a dry, airtight space, hardtack can last years upon years. During the American Civil War, soldiers ate 15-year-old hardtack baked for the Mexican-American War.
Such a simple and reliable food source should be a staple ingredient in any survivalist’s storage pantry. It pairs well with many other foods and can be consumed with little to no preparation. Follow the hardtack recipe below and begin stockpiling your own version of ‘pilot bread.’
What is The History of Hardtack?
Hardtack was first mass produced in the 1660s and Roman legions used to eat it too, although it was called buccellum back then. Hardtack biscuits are mainly a survival food, and for thousands of years were used for sailors and people traveling across seas as this food has a long shelf life. Typically, sailors were at sea for many months – sometimes even years – before arriving back home. Therefore, they needed homemade survival food that tasted great and contained ingredients that were long-lasting. During this time, refrigerators, food storages, and canned food weren’t invented, so sailors needed food with a long shelf life.
Appropriate survival food needs to contain ingredients that lack moisture and use simple dry ingredients such as sugar, flour, and salt. Another huge benefit of this food is that it can withstand rough transportation – a substantial must-have for times at sea. It’s also cheap and quick to make, so sailors could prepare the dry ingredients on a ship. On the other hand, hardtack biscuits don’t soften over time, so people could prepare them before boarding the shop. This food became such a staple amongst sailors that ports had different names to match a specific hardtack biscuit. Also, industries supported resupplying this food for sailors so they were never without it.
During the Civil War hardtack was used as a ration food for soldiers. People ate around ten pieces of hardtack per day. However, as hardtack has a hard texture and consistency, soldiers often broke their teeth attempting to bite it. Often, soldiers would dip hardtack into a soup to add moisture and make it easier to eat.
What Are The Nutritional Benefits of Hardtack Bread?
Another essential feature of the hard biscuit is its nutritional value. The critical ingredient of hardtack is flour, which usually contains proteins, fiber, carbohydrates, and B vitamins. It contains complex carbohydrates, making it a very filling food. It is an excellent option for keeping people satisfied during scenarios that require periods of rationing.
The average hardtack biscuit contains around 80-100 calories and 16 grams of carbohydrates. The flour and salt you use in your hardtack ingredients also make a large difference to the amount of protein per biscuit, so consider looking at the nutritional value of these ingredients before adding them to the mixing bowl. The most significant dietary value hardtack offers is that it provides a sudden increase in energy, but this isn’t enough to keep you alive for months. It is an excellent addition amongst other foods high in calories but doesn’t provide big enough nutritional benefit to last on its own.
Ingredients for Hardtack Recipe
The more straightforward and most authentic type of hardtack requires three ingredients: flour, water, and salt. You can use any kind of flour, but the most nutrient dense option is whole wheat flour. Most importantly, whole wheat flour prevents dips in energy levels so your blood sugar doesn’t peak and drop. However, if someone in the family has a gluten allergy, many gluten-free flour substitutes work well, such as coconut flour.
Additional ingredients such as sugar, honey, or spices can be added to the dough for extra flavoring. However, these more adventurous forms of the biscuit do not remain preserved as long. They are excellent options for making delicious crackers for soccer games and family vacations but should not be relied upon when stockpiling for emergencies.
The materials required to make around 15 pieces of hardtack include the following:
- 4 cups flour
- 2 cups water
- Pinch of salt
- Rolling pin
- Baking sheet
- Heat source, such as an oven
- Fork or toothpick
- Multiple airtight containers
How to Make Hardtack
You might be interested in making hardtack to taste a part of history, or perhaps to use it as a survival food. If so, it’s incredibly easy to make and store, and you don’t need heaps of ingredients to prepare it. This is a great food to have if you’re preparing for a natural disaster or won’t be able to leave the house for some reason.
Follow these simple instructions to make your own nutritious hardtack:
- Preheat the oven to 375 Fahrenheit or 190 Celsius
- Pour water and salt into the bowl
- Mix in flour with hands or mixer, ½ cup at a time
- Combine until dough is an even, stiff texture
- Roll out dough until it is ½ inch thick
- Cut dough into small circles or 3×3 inch squares
- Make small indentations with toothpick or fork along the edges
- Place on an ungreased baking pan
- Bake in the oven for 30 minutes
- Flip and rotate the hardtack
- Bake for another 30 minutes or until both sides are light brown
- Pull out and let biscuits cool for one hour
How To Make Hardtack The Modern Way
Traditionally, hardtack biscuits had an incredibly hard texture as they were solely baked for survival, rather than flavor. With the absence of baking soda, the biscuits wouldn’t soften as in the modern way of baking them. In the current day, we have more utensils and kitchen equipment to revolutionize baking. For example, if you use a rolling pin, you can flatten the texture and make the hardtack softer. Here’s an example of a modern recipe:
- 3 cups flour
- 1.5 cups sweet sorghum flour
- 9 tbsp nutritional yeast
- ½ cup coconut oil
- 3 tbsp salt
- ⅕ cups water
Here are the instructions on making a modern version of hardtack:
- Mix the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl and add ½ cup of water
- Knead the dough and use a rolling pin to help you flatten the dough for a smooth consistency
- Roll the dough to around 1 inch thick and cut into square shapes
- Poke holes in the hole and place in the oven for around 30 minutes
- Once fully cooked, leave to cool, and sprinkle with sugar
You can also sift in 1 tsp baking soda into the dough to add more presence to hardtack and encourage it to rise in the oven. However, if you choose to add in baking soda, consider that this isn’t a natural ingredient and you’re adding further calories and chemicals to the food.
Mix up your recipe by adding peanut butter into the dough for a tastier, nuttier flavor. However, bear in mind that peanut butter reduces the natural long shelf life, so this isn’t suitable for a survival food but more so as a tasty snack. Add around 3 cups of peanut butter to truly experience the flavors.
Store the finished hardtack in dry, airtight containers. These containers can be either glass or plastic and are ideally stackable to utilize space in the preparation pantry efficiently. It is essential that the biscuits remain dry. Damp hardtack attracts small insects and may develop mold. Of course, allowing a few weevils to access the hardtack would contribute to a more authentic Civil War experience, as in the past, soldiers reportedly soaked their hardtack in coffee and skimmed any floating, dead weevils off the surface before eating and drinking. Alternatively, you can use vacuum sealing to protect your hardtack for months.
Foods That Complement Hardtack
The simplest way to eat hardtack is to let some soak in the mouth until it is soft enough to chew and swallow. However, this process may take some time and is not necessarily the most delicious option. During war campaigns, hardtack was softened by soaking it in liquids such as coffee or beer. You can also soak the biscuit in water or milk until it is soft enough to eat. Consider planning your softening method before baking the hardtack dough. If you intend to dip the cracker into a cup of coffee, the biscuit should not be wider than the rim of the coffee mug. It is easier to bake the hardtack into a convenient size as opposed to breaking it after baking. Cracking the biscuit is challenging because of its hardy, brick-like consistency.
There are many alternative and traditional ways to enjoy the biscuits as well. For example, soak the hardtack in water or milk until soft. Then eat the hardtack as it is or mix it with other types of porridge or dried fruit. You can also crush the hardtack with a hammer or other robust tool and then fry it in a skillet with butter, oil, or grease to make ‘hardtack pancakes.’ These are especially good when combined with maple syrup, marmalade, or honey. Hardtack also pairs well with cheese, jam, and preserved foods such as jerky and pickled herring. Consider making a hardtack dessert pudding by crumbling it and then mixing it with brown sugar and – for adults only, of course – a dash of whiskey. A kid-friendly dessert before bedtime may include crushed hardtack, brown sugar, and dried cherries mixed with some soothing warm milk. Use your imagination and develop different hardtack combinations as a family during the next preparation strategy plan meeting or practice.
3 Ideas for Some Family Fun
Making hardtack is a fun and simple way to introduce kids to preparation methods and baking in general. One of the best family bonding locations in any household is the kitchen. Consider incorporating the following three ideas with the family when trying out a hardtack recipe.
- Hardtack Around the World: The ingredients of this cracker are similar around the world. But the names and the types of people who eat the biscuits differ. For example, people in South Korea call hardtack ‘geonppang,’ and they sometimes eat it with a sugar candy called ‘konpeito.’ Another form of hardtack comes from Newfoundland, Canada, where the hardtack and some salt fish soak separately in water overnight before being boiled separately and then combined with a drizzling of pork fat to make ‘fish and brewis.’ Let the kids look up and try recipes for hardtack from around the world, then hold a family-wide taste testing. Who knows, you might stumble across a combination that can be used during the next week-long blizzard.
- Civil War Sing-a-Long: One way to experience American culture is through its music. Embracing the strong history of hardtack in American military history is a great way to foster a patriotic spirit. Hardtack was such a strong component of American history that numerous poems and songs were written about the hardy biscuits. While the hardtack is baking, take some time to listen to and learn a song such as “Hard Tack, Come Again No More.” In the song, the singers originally lament the daily ration of hardtack when they sing:
‘Tis the song, the sigh of the hungry:
“Hard tack, hard tack, come again no more.”
Many days you have lingered upon our stomachs sore.
O, hard tack, come again no more!
However, in the final chorus the singers realize hardtack isn’t so bad when they sing:
‘Tis the dying wail of the starving:
“O, hard tack, hard tack, come again once more!”
You were old and very wormy, but we pass your failings o’er.
O, hard tack, come again once more!
Learning the song emphasizes that even though it was not always delicious or fun to eat, hardtack was a necessary ingredient in the soldiers’ diets. See what other poems and songs are online and use them to explore the historical significance of hardtack.
- Science Fair Flour: With only three ingredients, making hardtack is a great way to explore the world of baking. Let the kids try baking with different types of flour and with varying ratios of flour and water. Compare baking times, colors, changes in size and of course taste to explore how ingredients impact a final product. The experiment can be expanded by adding additional ingredients and eventually transitioning from cracker recipes to bread recipes. Plus, the hardtack recipe is so simple that all the trials can be stored away in the family preparation pantry
These biscuits are simple, basic components of a well-prepared pantry. There is a reason why they have served as an integral part of human civilization for so many centuries. Reconnect with the survival skills of the past and try making your hardtack today.