A while back I mentioned hardtack in the article Foods That Last Forever and several people have asked what it is and how to make it. Basically, hardtack is a hard cracker made from flour, salt, and water. The great thing about hardtack is that as long as you keep it dry, it will last for years. It will even last through temperature extremes.
Because it’s inexpensive to make and lasts so long, it was once taken on long sea voyages and was called things like pilot bread, cabin bread, ship biscuit, sea biscuit, or sea bread. It was also carried by soldiers on long military campaigns and was referred to as tooth dullers, molar breakers, or sheet iron.
I know that sounds bad, but it’s easier to eat when soaked in coffee, crumbled into soup, or fried with other foods. It was particularly popular among soldiers during the American Civil War, and to this day Civil War reenactors still make and carry hard tack with them.
Some hardtack recipes include sugar, milk or butter, but that will significantly shorten the shelf life, so I recommend making it the traditional way. It won’t taste as good, but the whole point of this is to have some food that will last a long time without going bad.
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So here’s what you need:
- 3 cups of white flour
- 2 teaspoons of salt
- 1 cup of water
- A cookie sheet
- A mixing bowl
- A knife
- A common nail
Here’s how to make hardtack:
1. First, you’ll need to preheat your oven to 375°.
2. Mix the flour and salt together in a bowl.
3. Gradually mix in the water until you form a dough that doesn’t stick to your hands. It will be very sticky at first, but just keep forming it and shaping it until it’s not too sticky.
4. Next, you’ll need to use a rolling pin to flatten the dough into a square. Make sure it’s no more than half an inch thick or it won’t bake well.
5. Now carefully cut the dough into 9 squares.
6. Using the nail, make a 4×4 grid of holes in each of the squares.
7. Put all the pieces on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake them for 30 minutes.
8. Now turn the squares over and bake for another 30 minutes.
9. Remove them from the oven and let them cool off. They should look something like this:
Ideally, the hardtack should be just a little brown on each side. Every oven is different and every climate has an effect on baking time, so keep a close eye on them the first time you bake them. You don’t want to burn your first batch.
Adjust the baking time if necessary. Once it’s cool, it should almost be hard as a rock (although you can try to munch on them raw, I recommend dipping them in soup or coffee or something hot). Each piece is about 150 calories.
Like I said, the great thing about hardtack is it lasts for years without any special storage techniques. I would put it in Ziploc bags and add it to your food cache, bug out bags, and vehicle survival kits. It makes a great source of energy in emergency situations. And if you don’t like how hard it is, smash it up and mix with other foods.
Another option is to heat up the pieces and put things like butter, jelly, peanut butter, syrup, and other toppings on them. I’ve done this myself and it makes a great breakfast. My kids like it with honey or applesauce. The possibilities are endless!