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Survival Food 101: Hardtack

by Thursday, January 17, 2013

Pilot bread, ship’s biscuit, shipbiscuit, sea biscuit, sea bread , “dog biscuits”, “tooth dullers”, “sheet iron”, “worm castles” or “molar breakers”.

Hardtack has had many different names throughout the years but its importance has never changed.

Hardtack has actually been around since the time of Egyptian Pharaohs, but if you have heard of it,  you probably know it better from the Civil War period.

During the war, squares of hardtack were shipped to both the Union and Confederate armies, making a staple part of a soldier’s rations.

Typically made 6 months beforehand, it was as hard as a rock when it actually got to the troops.

To soften it, they usually soaked it in water or coffee. Not only would this soften it enough for eating, but any insect larvae in the bread would float to the top, allowing the soldiers to skim them out.

Soldiers and sailors the world over have used hardtack as a way to stave off hunger.  It was one of the main sources of food used when Christopher Columbus set sail and eventually landed in America.

It is such a basic item that I am amazed that no one I know under the age of 50 understands its importance, let alone  how to make it.

Hardtack is simple, it has three basic ingredients and takes roughly a 1/2 hour of cook time to prepare.

This is one of the most cost effective long term survival foods that you can make.

It just isn’t very carb friendly…

Check out the recipe below:

You can make hardtack almost identical to what sailors, troops, and pioneers have been eating (minus the weevils!) by following this simple recipe:

4-5 cups of flour

2 cups of water

3 tsp. of salt

Mix the flour, water and salt together, and make sure the mixture is fairly dry.

Then roll it out to about 1/2 inch thickness, and shape it into a rectangle. Cut it into 3×3 inch squares, and poke holes in both sides. Place on an un-greased cookie or baking sheet, and cook for 30 minutes per side at 375˚

As far as cooking goes, your done!

the next step is just to walk away.

You’ll want to let it dry and harden for a few days.

When it has roughly the consistency of a brick, it’s fully cured. Then simply store it in an airtight container or bucket.

To prepare for eating, soak it in water or milk for about 15 minutes, and then fry in a buttered skillet. You can eat it with cheese, soup or just plain with a dash of salt.

This basic hardtack should keep for years as long as it is kept in an airtight container.

If it ever gets soft I would recommend tossing it and making a new batch.

Do you have any suggestions for hardtack or recipes for other lost or forgotten survival foods?

Leave them in the comments below.

You can also check out these related articles from our site:

43 Survival Food Items That Actually Taste Good

The Ultimate Protein-Rich Survival Food

DIY Survival Food You’ll Actually Want To Eat

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68 Comments on "Survival Food 101: Hardtack"

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Allen
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Allen
3 years 7 months ago
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Can you use whole wheat flour or will that make them spoil sooner?

Ferdo
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Ferdo
2 years 10 months ago
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Whole wheat really gets hard! But it has a nutty bite. I like a little more salt…

richard1941
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richard1941
2 years 10 months ago
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I made some out of whole wheat flour. It is just as awful as the batch I made out of white flour.

Betty
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Betty
3 years 7 months ago
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For an airtight container, I am going to use my FoodSaver unit. I can enclose small batches and will not have to unseal the larger bucket suggested, which would let in air and moisture.

Karen
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Karen
3 years 7 months ago
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Is it ok to make hardtack using whole grain or multigrain flour? Or does it have to be plain white flour?

Frank
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Frank
3 years 7 months ago
0 It is my understanding, from my past reading, that white flour was a 19th century invention. It was a modification that took the wheat germ and bran out of the flour and give the flour a long shelf life. When you mill a grain and break the germ out of the grain- the oil in the germ starts to oxidize, so you want to use a whole grain flour shortly after milling. White flour worked great in a flour barrel for pioneer crossing the country. In Russia white flour bread was a bit more cost consuming to make, they… Read more »
Frank
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Frank
3 years 7 months ago
0 I’m a little surprised at how much I forget in my old age, now with a little memory recall let me add that if you buy whole wheat flour in the stores it will have the wheat germ remove- they want a long shelf life and once wheat is ground the germ will start to turn rancid. Store bought whole wheat should work ok for long term storage of hardtack. When I bought my mill one of the things I had to consider was if I wanted a stone mill(makes it easy to seperate out the germ because of… Read more »
Lynette
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Lynette
3 years 7 months ago
0 Thanks for the great information, Frank! I learned a lot and wanted to pass on something that might interest you. The wheat that is grown today is NOTHING like the wheat from 50-60 yrs ago. Check out this website… http://www.growseed.org/einkorn.html and the book “Wheat Belly” by Dr. William Davis. It has a TERRIBLE cover, bad title and horrible cover/jacket write-up. His marketing people should be fired. BUT, the contents read like an historical science book on wheat. Glance over it while standing in the aisle. EXECELLENT! I have bought Einkorn wheat flour and a bag of SEED from the… Read more »
Frank
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Frank
3 years 7 months ago
0 Yes I was aware of that, I understand that 2000 years ago in the Mediterranean area you could be in one valley where they grew one strain of wheat- cross the mountains and find them growing a totally different one in the next valley. So, there could have been a thousand different varieties, kind of like the corn varieties in Mexico. That is why it is maybe a good idea to own a mill so you can turn to and learn to using spelt, kamute, rye, buckwheat and barley. You might find teff interesting to look into, I order… Read more »
MJ
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MJ
3 years 7 months ago
0

Love your articles!

One question re hard tack… I thought levening of some sort was necessary to actually allow digestion of flour over time… Is this belief untrue? If not, are you saying that leavening reduces the shelf-life of hard tack?

Frank
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Frank
3 years 6 months ago
0 I think you will find that the way to best store hard tack is to make sure that it is moisture free maybe well dried in the oven and sealing it in a good zip lock bags. While I do not know how readily mold and bacteria will attack white flour made hardtack I suspect you will have no problem with insects. You may recall from your history that durning the siege of Leningrad that people were tearing wallpaper off the wall and licking the flour paste off the back to survive. I’m sure it gave them some calories… Read more »
Frank
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Frank
3 years 6 months ago
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I do not recall anyone implying that leavening of bread was needed to help digestion. As I recall unleaven bread plays a part in the Jewish religion, someone of that faith could address that for you. I do recall reading, many years ago, of the use of salt in bread having a play in aiding digestion. I think all we suggested was the flaw of depending on white bread or the use of white flour alone because of the lack of nutrition. (bran and wheat germ removed)

richard1941
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richard1941
2 years 10 months ago
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Leavening? Read the bible, book of Exodus. Matzoh is the same basic idea as hardtack, but is much easier to chew. It has long shelf life, is digestible, and easy to make. For the next time the Egyptian Army is after you.

Michael
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Michael
2 years 6 months ago
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You confused me….So for long term keeping of hard tack. What type of flour do you recommend?

Tessa
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Tessa
3 years 7 months ago
0 I’ve made this for the kids when camping. It is very bland and dry. I’ve teased them that they would never make it on a colony ship! The first one they try is plain; the second one has swirls of color in them made by adding food coloring to part of the dough and then kneading it in. I also add lots and lots of cinnamon to give it some flavor. It has health benefits and makes the hardtack edible. I raise bees so of course they get to drizzle homegrown honey all over it. It goes from a… Read more »
J Wilson
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J Wilson
2 years 10 months ago
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Tessa… I would suppose that long months on reduced calories would change the “bland and dry” description to “tolerable.”

I like the idea of adding some dry spices for flavor. I suppose one’s imagination is near unlimited (cinnamon, garlic, et al.) many of which will enhance the healthy characteristics of the bread.

Thank you for contributing.

Johnette
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Johnette
1 year 8 months ago
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i wanna try this, but i’m thinking of adding cocoa powder and natural sugar with extra vitamins and minerals.
it will taste better in milk.

Hiram
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Hiram
3 years 7 months ago
0 About 12 years ago I cooked my first batch using essentially the same recipe as above. The next day I put the Tack in a 140 degree oven and let it bake for another 5 hours. It was brick hard. I put the cooled Tack in 1 gallon ziplock bag and put the bags on the shelf in one of the guest bedrooms closets. At 1 month, 3 month, 6 month, 1 year, 2 year, & 3 years I took one out and ate it. At 6 years, I gave some to the son of a friend of mine.… Read more »
Frank
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Frank
3 years 7 months ago
0

In this recipe you leave it to be assumed that they would have used white flour. I think you will find that at the time, whole wheat flour was the standard. I think you will find that whole wheat might have provided a little better nutritional value. Another question, regarding the orgin of our historical hardtack, it may have been made from rye or barley flour. So, is there any superior nutritional value to some specific flour? Maybe, but I don’t know. That might be important if you have to survive long term on the stuff.

rickcow
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rickcow
3 years 7 months ago
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If you add salt, the hardtack will mold because the salt makes it hydroscopic. leave the salt out and it will last longer. You need to add salt (and other spices) to your bug out bag to make life more enjoyable. Also, the biscuits were usually baked a second time. The object is to drive all the water out leaving only the flour held together by gluten that was generated during the mixing/kneeding process.

tabor
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tabor
3 years 7 months ago
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A gluten-sensitive person would need a gluten-free version of this. Anyone have such a recipe?

J Wilson
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J Wilson
2 years 10 months ago
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Per the post from rickcow, gluten is what holds the hardtack together. I, therefore, do not believe you can produce gluten-free hardtack.

richard1941
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richard1941
2 years 10 months ago
0

Today I noticed some sliced ham on sale at Trader Joe’s. It was promoted as “gluten free”.

Roy Bellew
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Roy Bellew
3 years 7 months ago
0

Would mixing in a little ground cinnamon hurt anything? Might add a little flavor.

Nonie
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Nonie
3 years 7 months ago
0

Very interesting. I have never heard of hardtack before. Will have to try it. Not sure if I am brave enough to eat one after a few years but nice to know that it is possible.

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