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Monday, April 18, 2011


I had mentioned in a previous post that I wanted to make hardtack.  You know, the stuff the old-timey sailors and western pioneers used as a staple while they traveled.

There are a number of recipes across the Internet, so I chose one that was really old.  I figured I'd start with an original recipe to get an authentic "flavor" for the stuff.

I chose a recipe from this site.  I started with the Army Hardtack recipe:

* 4 cups flour (perferably whole wheat)
* 4 teaspoons salt
* Water (about 2 cups)
* Pre-heat oven to 375° F
* Makes about 10 pieces

Mix the flour and salt together in a bowl. Add just enough water (less than two cups) so that the mixture will stick together, producing a dough that won’t stick to hands, rolling pin or pan. Mix the dough by hand. Roll the dough out, shaping it roughly into a rectangle. Cut into the dough into squares about 3 x 3 inches and ½ inch thick.

After cutting the squares, press a pattern of four rows of four holes into each square, using a nail or other such object. Do not punch through the dough. The appearance you want is similar to that of a modern saltine cracker. Turn each square over and do the same thing to the other side.

Place the squares on an ungreased cookie sheet in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Turn each piece over and bake for another 30 minutes. The crackers should be slightly brown on both sides.

The fresh crackers are easily broken but as they dry, they harden and assume the consistentency of fired brick.

I made up the dough with a little bit less water than suggested - about a quarter cup less.  I chopped the dough ball in half to make it easier to work with -

From what I've read, getting a consistent thickness is one of the keys.  I used the lid of a juice bottle as a "regulator" to gauge the thickness -

I rolled out the dough, and cut it into approximately 3 inch squares. -

I then used a large serving fork to dimple the face of each piece.  This was done to the front and back of each piece -

It was then into the oven and cooking them for the prescribed time.  Viola!  Hardtack -

First impressions:  As the recipe noted, after it dries, it is as hard as fired bricks.  Holy crap!  How did anyone coming across the plains in Conestoga wagons have any teeth by the end of the journey?!

I also strongly suggest making them a bit thinner.  Mine were about 1/2 inch thick.  After they were dried, they were impossible to break by hand.

My next batch will be about 1/4 inch thick.  My guess is they will be a bit more brittle and I'll have more breakage, but at least they'll be managable.  At 1/2 inch thick, these bad boys could be used as weapons!

As expected, they taste kind of like a whole wheat cracker.  I'm going to try some of the other recipes with all-purpose white flour, and more salt.  I'll package them in vacuum-sealed bags, and put them in my Get Home Bag.  They'll be more of a stomach filler than a significant caloric addition.

To consume them in earnest, I'd envision putting them at the bottom of a bowl of soup and letting them re-hydrate before trying to eat them.  Hopefully, when they're a bit thinner, they can be consumed more like a big, stiff cracker, rather than brick-o-flour.

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I'd love to hear if anyone else has made these things up.  How long will they reasonably last and how do you consume them without risking dental damage?

My wife was going to bring in this batch to her 5th grade classroom, but I nixed the ideas as I was worried some kid would bite one, break a tooth, and I'd get to pay for his tooth repairs!

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Copyright 2011 Bison Risk Management Associates. All rights reserved. Please note that in addition to owning Bison Risk Management, Chief Instructor is also a partner in a precious metals business. You are encouraged to repost this information so long as it is credited to Bison Risk Management Associates.


Crustyrusty said...

I remember reading that soldiers in the CW used to soak theirs in their coffee/chicory until soft, and until the resident critters floated on the top of the liquid. I should hope we won't have that problem nowadays....

Shy Wolf said...

Now to make them over a campfire... have you tried bannock? (full disclosure: I haven't made bannock, but have made biscuits.)
Louis L'Amour always wrote of hardtack in his heroes'saddlebags and after asking Mom about it the first time I read it, she told me to just try some SvenskaBrot. I decided I didn't like it. :X

Marine 83 said...

Awesome post. Been meaning to try that myself for several years, but I have to admit to being a tad bit lazy. I have to wonder what a days ration of hardtac was and if you could eat enough to achieve keep from starving, if necessary.

Chief Instructor said...

Crusty, I can just hear an order being made at a post-TEOTWAWKI McDonalds - "I'll have a side of hardtack - hold the extra critters".

It would be extra protein, though... ;-)

Shy, I've got bannock recipes as well, and SHOULD be making some for the first time on a fishing trip coming up in late June/early July.

What is SvenskaBrot? When I look it up, all the sites are in Swedish, and when I translate the pages, the word 'SvenskaBrot' disappears.

Marine, I think each piece would give you about the same amount of wheat flour as a few slices of bread. I don't think it's going to save you as much as it would fill you up. As Crusty noted, I too could see it being in the bottom of a cup of coffee as a breakfast, or in a bowl of soup for another meal.

Shy Wolf said...

Svenskabrot is a rye 'brot' (bread) rolled flat and baked til it's hard- hardtack, really- but a Swedish style. Comes in 'loaves' about the size of a medium (12") pizza. Some even use it as a pizza base. (I haven't tried it this way and doubt I ever will- false teeth don't like hard things.:\) When served with meals, it's laid on the table and the user just breaks off a desired portion.

Oblio13 said...

I make hardtack as an emergency ration for backcountry trips - it doesn't taste bad, but you probably won't be tempted to eat it all before becoming truly hungry.

Whole Wheat Flour - 2 cups

Wheat Germ - 1/2 cup

Corn meal - 2 cups

Rolled Oats - 1/2 cup

Sugar - 1 tablespoon

Salt - 1 tablespoon

Water - (approx.) 1 3/4 cups

Mix dry ingredients thoroughly. Add water and knead until moistened but not sticky. Roll 1/4" thick. Cut into 3-inch squares or rounds. Place on ungreased cookie sheets. Score with a knife to facilitate breaking later. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Can be stored indefinitely in an airtight container.