April 13, 2020
A Recipe for Hardtack
Try this recipe at home to see if you could survive on sailor's fare on a long voyage!
In case you missed it on Thursday, click here to check out the Australian National Maritime Museum's online game based on real convict voyages from England to Australia in the 1830s.Now that you have learned what it's like to voyage in the early 19th century, we thought you might like try eating like a sailor onboard! Todays recipe is for ship’s biscuits, also known as hardtack. Hardtack is basically a very hard, very plain, very dry type of cracker. It has been around for centuries and has long been the food of sailors and soldiers. If properly stored, hardtack will last for years, which is one of the reasons it was a staple aboard ships in the era before refrigeration or canned food.
If this piece of hardtack really is from the Civil War era, NGH would have been about 13 years old when it was baked! Video courtesy the Minnesota Historical Society.
Hardtack was not terribly popular among the people who had to eat it on a regular basis because, true to its name, it is as hard as a rock. When out of earshot of the cook, sailors would often refer to it as “dog biscuit” or “sheet iron." Hardtack needs to be softened in some way before you can eat it, which historically lead to some creative preparation. Sailors were known to soften it by soaking it in water, coffee, or beer. Sometimes they would smash it and add it to chowder, soup or stew to thicken the broth. You could also fry it in bacon grease or soak it in water before cooking it a second time.Ingredients (yields about ten to twelve 2×2" crackers)
This very simple hardtack recipe makes a small batch in case you end up enjoying "dog biscuit" as much a sailor on a long voyage does. If you do like it and decide to make hardtack again you can always double the recipe. As always when using an oven, be cautious and make sure you have an adult helping you, and please do not break any teeth on these rocks.
1 ¼ cups white flour
½ cup water
½ teaspoon salt
- Preheat oven to 375* F
- Measure flour and salt into a bowl and mix
- Pour water in slowly while stirring. Keep mixing until dough begins to form a ball
- Turn onto a floured surface and knead for 5 – 10 minutes until smooth and elastic, sprinkling with extra flour if dough sticks too much to counter or hands
- Roll out until the dough is around ¼ – ½" thick. If you don’t have a rolling pin you can improvise – try using a clean empty bottle or tall glass
- Cut the dough into squares approximately 2×2" and pierce with holes using a chop stick. The holes help the crackers to bake evenly and make it easier to break once it is cool
- Transfer to a baking sheet and bake at 375*F for 20 – 25 minutes. Have an adult help you flip all the crackers with a spatula halfway through. Hardtack will be light tan when done; watch it at the end because it is easy to over-bake and burn!
- Cool on a baking rack before eating
Enjoy soaked in soup or tea, or with lots of jam, butter, honey or syrup, fried in bacon grease, or whatever other creative way you can figure out to make it soft enough to chew and somewhat tasty! If you want to store it for emergency rations, dry (or "cure") your hardtack out in the open on your counter for several days before storing it in a ziplock bag or sealed jar. Total lack of moisture is what makes it last for years, but if stored damp it will get moldy! Please do not try to eat your hardtack if it has gone moldy. Weevils however add to the historic authenticity if you happen to find any in your hardtack barrel after a few months.