What is Hardtack?
Hardtack is basically a large hard cracker that was a staple of the civil war soldier’s diet, however, while it was best known for its role in that conflict, hardtack had been used long before that war, and for feeding other groups such as sailors and outdoors-men. Hardtack Crackers seem to be a prepper rite of passage, it seems like all preppers try their hand at making them. I believe it is because of the ease of manufacture, low cost, and high storage stability. It sure isn’t for the taste.
Hardtack has been used in various forms and using various grains as a base since the time of the Egyptian pharaohs, and it is still made today by a factory in Virginia for use in Alaska. Anyone that needs a shelf stable, long lasting light weight food should consider hardtack.
The secret to its success is that it has no fat to go rancid, and no moisture to cause it to spoil. The only ingredients are flour, salt, and water to form the dough. It is then rolled into 1/8 to ½ inch sheets and baked until the moisture is driven out.
Traditional Ways to Eat Hardtack
The problem with hardtack is that it is, well, hard. This hardness helps it travel well, but makes it hard to eat. Normally hardtack is crumbled into a soup or coffee and eaten as a mush, or it is soaked in brine and cooked, or cooked with meats in a skillet. Very seldom is it actually eaten as a whole unbroken cracker. This probably is why it was “affectionately” named teeth-breakers by some soldiers.
It’s simple to make, and as a side note, its pretty much the base of most dog biscuits (Or occasional Rabbit treats)
How to Make Hardtack
- 6 cup flour
- 1 cup water
- 1 tablespoon salt
- Knead dough until thoroughly mixed.
- Roll out on a floured surface until about 1/8 inch thick (or thicker if desired).
- Cut into biscuits – traditionally it was square, but I like mine round.
- Use a fort to poke holes in the hardtack; this is not for looks, but to allow steam to escape while cooking and to ensure complete cooking.
- Bake at 325 for at least an hour, turning over the hard tack once. Check to see that it is cooked through completely. Take out & let cool overnight to get that real hard & dry feeling. Hardtack for naval use was traditionally baked another 3 times to ensure there was no moisture left.
A basic hardtack should keep for years as long as it is kept in an airtight container.
My Favorite way to Eat Hardtack
If I am going to eat a hard biscuit, I like to soak it in water or milk for about 15 minutes, and then fry in a buttered skillet.
This goes well with cheese, soup, or just plain with a salt.