Today I want to show you how to make hardtack (aka hard tack). You may wonder what it is, I get it. It’s basically a biscuit of sorts or unleavened bread baked until there is zero moisture in it. The dictionary describes hardtack as a dry bread or biscuit used as rations for sailors.
It has also been called by other names like sea biscuit, ship biscuit, pilot bread, sea bread, and pilot biscuit. Due to its dry nature, it could be stored for long periods without any need for refrigeration.
Besides sailors, others like soldiers, pioneers, early settlers, miners, and adventurers have been using this special food for a long time. They did so, not just to get nourishment, but to survive, in many cases. It has been a popular food option for centuries. This is a good food to have on hand because it lasts for a very long time when stored properly.
It’s a hard cracker that is made from water, salt, and flour. Don’t plan to add other ingredients like butter or vegetable oil since that will reduce the time it can be safely stored.
Some people will add spices like ground black pepper, rosemary, or some Italian seasoning in place of some of the salt as a means to add flavor since it tends to taste pretty bland.
Those seasonings could also reduce the long-term storage capacity, so think before you add them if you are looking for the longest possible storage periods. Keep reading to discover how to make this food storage standby.
I’ve had so many of my readers ask questions and make comments about this hardtack recipe that I decided to update the information and publish it again. Enjoy!
Where Did Hardtack Originate?
Hardtack goes way back before you or I were born. In 1801, Joseph Bent created the cracker. However, hardtack originated in the U.S. in Newburyport, MA. As you can imagine, this type of cracker was taken on long voyages and Newburyport was a busy port city and home to many sailing ships.
I was recently introduced to the term “Roman Hardtack.” In ancient histories, the term “Bucellatum” was used to describe food used by the troops of the Roman Empire that equates to their version of hardtack. It may date as far back as 360 AD. This hardtack was made from flour, salt, and water, just like it is now. They would also have wine and possibly some bacon from time to time as additional items during a meal. It’s hard to imagine a food product we have now would have originated that long ago. They enjoyed it for the same reason we do, few ingredients, easy to make, and lasts a long time.
It’s safe to say that Hardtack has been around for a while. You can read more about the history of hardtack here.
Others will tell you that hardtack was created during the Civil War. There is even evidence that a type of “hardtack” went all the way back to Egyptian times. It’s safe to say that there have been many versions of hardtack being used since early civilization.
Kitchen Tools You’ll Need:
3 Ingredients-That’s It:
- White flour: best used rather than wheat flour; wheat flour has oils that could draw moisture into the product leading to a chance of spoilage.
- Salt: an added preservative and also adds a bit of flavor to the hardtack.
- Water: adding water to the white flour and salt mixture helps to create the dough needed to make the hardtack.
How To Make Hardtack
Step One: Combine Flour, Salt, and Water
Combine the flour, salt, and water in a bowl.
Step Two: First Mix and then Knead the Dough
After mixing, scoop the dough onto a floured countertop. The dough will be sticky at first. Knead until mixed thoroughly.
Step Three: Roll the Dough and Cut it into Squares
With a rolling pin, roll the dough out so it’s about 1/2 inch thick and forms into a rectangular shape. Use a sharp knife to cut the sections evenly about 3-inches apart. I used a ruler to keep them square.
Step Four: Poke Holes
Use a nail or something with a sharp point to poke holes as shown. Some people poke both sides, I didn’t with this recipe.
The holes are put in the hardtack so air pockets don’t form in the cracker during the cooking process, thus keeping it consistently formed in the same shape.
Step Five: Bake for 30 minutes on Each Side
Preheat the oven to (375°F) = (190°C) degrees. Place the hardtack pieces on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake one side for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes turn the hardtack over and cook the other side for an additional 30 minutes.
Set the cookie sheet on a cooling rack after baking until the hardtack has cooled.
Step Six: Cool and Store
After it cools, it’s ready to store in airtight containers.
How Do You Store Hardtack?
A lot of people would think that hardtack is hard to store, but it’s not. It’s very simple! Because of the way it’s made, hardtack can be stored for a very long time, up to 50 years. Grains typically have a long shelf life and it comes in handy when fresh food isn’t available. Hardtack is a great survival food!
Note that some people have made hardtack using oil in the recipe, or on the sheet when cooked. If that is the case, the hardtack likely won’t last nearly as long since the oil is prone to go rancid over time.
I recommend using mason jars that you can seal very tightly or sealed airtight using your Seal A Meal unit to vacuum seal the hardtack. Just make sure that the hardtack has cooled and isn’t exposed to humid air since it could then go bad.
Here’s the deal, you can make a batch and then store it, then repeat when you have time. You will never have to buy what I call “forever crackers” because YOU can make them.
What Do You Serve With Hardtack?
Here’s the fun part. You may be wondering HOW to serve hardtack. Back in the day, you would soften it with water or coffee. You can serve it with almost anything, but your favorite liquid is best.
Do you remember Grandma eating bread and milk? Mark’s parents would have bread and milk every Sunday night. They would grab a bowl filled with milk and place bits of bread in it.
Mark’s parents would eat it with cheese. You could soak hardtack in milk and eat it just like they did.
Just add some cheese, jam, honey, meat, salt, and black pepper, or anything else your stomach desires. Some may enjoy eating it with soda or beer. You can eat it by itself. However, it’s recommended that you soak it in something liquid prior to eating since the name includes the word “hard.” Be careful! Many people have reported tooth damage from eating hardtack without softening it first. Hardtack crackers have been known as “tooth dullers,” “molar breakers,” and “sheet iron crackers.” Back in the day, behind the back of cooks who would serve it to sailors, explorers, or the like, many would call it “dog biscuits” because it wouldn’t necessarily have been their first choice of food. Please soften before eating!
Does Hardtack Stay Hard Forever?
The unique thing about hardtack is that it will stay hard forever. It will last forever because it is only made with three ingredients. If you are able to keep it dry, it could literally last forever.
It’ll stay good even through extreme temps. If you are looking for something to store, hardtack is something to make in case of an emergency. At least you know you will always have food.
How Long Is The Shelf-Life of Hardtack?
Some experts say that it can be stored for up to 50 years. As long as it doesn’t get wet and hasn’t had spoilable ingredients added, it can last through anything. Only soak it if you are ready to eat it. Remember, it’s like a cracker, only way harder.
Soup is Perfect with Hardtack
- 3 cups white flour
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 cup water
1. Combine the flour, salt, and water in a bowl.
2. After mixing, scoop the dough onto a floured countertop. The dough will be sticky at first. Knead until mixed thoroughly.
3. With a rolling pin, roll the dough out about 1/2 inch thick into a rectangular shape. Use a sharp knife to cut the sections evenly about 3-inches apart. I used a ruler to keep them square.
4. Use a nail or something with a sharp point to make the holes.
5. Preheat the oven to (375°F) = (190°C) degrees. Place the hardtack pieces on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake one side for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes turn the hardtack over and cook the other side for an additional 30 minutes. Set the cookie sheet on a cooling rack after baking until cool.
6. After it cools, it's ready to store in airtight containers.
Can I use wheat flour to make hardtack?
The problem with whole wheat flour is that it will go rancid sooner, so I would not use it for this recipe if you’re planning to make it for longer-term storage. If your family enjoys this special cracker-like product and you plan to eat it often, then I’d try the wheat flour and enjoy it in the short term.
Does hardtack have any nutritional value?
Hardtack is made with white flour which is high in calories and carbohydrates. It would help to provide the energy your body would need in a time of survival or strenuous labor. Hardtack can be viewed as survival food. Adding hardtack to items such as milk or soup would help to add more nutritional content such as vitamins and grams of protein to a snack or meal.
I really believe we need to know how to make hardtack, along with tortillas, bread, biscuits, and pasta. It fills the belly, and when a disaster hits, we may need to make it to get through the ordeal, I promise.
Please let me know what you usually use as your favorite liquid companion when you eat your hardtack. I think mine is clam chowder! Thanks for being prepared for the unexpected. May God bless this world, Linda