Saturday, August 09, 2008

Hardtack: A Hardcore Food


Hardtack, also known as pilot bread, ship's biscuit, seafaring wafers, dog biscuits, tooth dullers, sheet iron, or molar breakers, is a delicious food. It is a simple type of cracker, made out of only flour, water, and occasionally salt. It's dirt-cheap, lasts forever, and has an excellent history feeding soldiers and sailors during some of the worst voyages and military campaigns in history.

Because it is so hard and dry, properly stored and transported hardtack will survive rough handling and endure extremes of temperature. During the Civil War, 3"x3" hardtack was shipped out from Union and Confederate storehouses. Some of this hardtack had been stored from the Mexican-American War (1846-1848!). The insect infestation was so bad during storage of these provisions, soldiers had to drop the tack into their morning coffee, wait for the insects to float to the to top, and skim off the bugs to resume consumption. Yummy!

It was a staple of the diet of soldiers in World War I, as well as of gold-diggers heading West to try their luck in California (during the 1840's Gold Rush, as opposed to modern gold-diggers, who probably do not enjoy hardtack). Since hardtack has such a glowing history, I decided to make some to try it myself. Also, I am a poor student working in academia, and I'd like the comfort of some delicious sheet iron during the long nights at the lab.How is this stuff made? Voila! A recipe!

Ingredients:

3 cups flour
1 cups water
~6 pinches of salt

Preparation:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. That is, if you're not hardcore enough to use fire and a metal box.
2. Mix the flour, salt, and water until you have a dough.
3. Cut into biscuits; I used a cup to cut them into circles, but you can cut them into squares or anything you'd like. Place on a lightly floured/salted oven sheet.
3. Decorate! I poked cross-like designs into the dough with a fork to increase surface area and ease cooking, but you can do whatever you'd like.
4. Bake at 350 for an hour. Flip the crackers (optional, but recommended), and bake for another 2-4 hours at 250.
5. Some people recommend baking them up to four times at low temperatures (200-250 degrees), depending on the length of your conquest or journey.

I can personally assure you, they are delicious. And they last forever! Maybe not literally, but they were stored for decades and distributed to troops. Sailors would prepare them six months to a year ahead of a journey, and pack them away ready for use. Several museums display them; no preservatives were necessary. They resemble ceramic disks in texture and hardness. My cats do not recognize them as food. You can dunk them in coffee or soup, or eat them straight. They're super-tasty, plus they make you hardcore, and very, very awesome.

2 Comments:

At 7:57:00 AM , Blogger Credo Ut Intellegam said...

You're a very strange person. Just thought I'd let you know.

 
At 9:55:00 AM , Blogger Parijata Mackey said...

Thanks...

 

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