'Tis the song that is uttered in camp by night and day,
'Tis the wail that is mingled with each snore;
'Tis the sighing of the soul for spring chickens far away,
'Oh hard crackers, come again no more!'
'Tis the song of the soldier, weary, hungry and faint,
Hard crackers, hard crackers, come again no more;
Many days have I chewed you and uttered no complaint,
Hard crackers, hard crackers, come again no more!"
-from a soldiers'
parable called "Hard Times"
HARDTACK - What Is It?
Hardtack is a hard cracker-like biscuit made of flour, salt
and water, was one of the most typical rations issued to soldiers and sailors by
the U. S. government because it was fairly nutritious and unlikely to spoil. Hardtack’s use
as a military ration can theoretically be traced back to Roman times, but the first widespread usage by
American soldiers was during the Civil War...
After the Civil War, this hard bread continued to be a
staple of the soldier’s diet and was made in government bakeries located in eastern
cities. Shipped in barrels to the
troops in the west, Hardtack had to be tough. This toughness made Hardtack ideal for campaigns and patrols away from
the post or fort.Normal breads were
too delicate to survive the long trips west and would spoil very quickly. Hardtack was extremely hard and was called "teeth-dullers,"
"digestible leather&,quot; "angel cakes,” and “ammo reserves" by
those who ate the hard bread. Some Hardtack was so hard it had to be
broken with a rifle butt or a "blow of the fist" to prepare
for eating. Soldiers normally softened
the pieces by soaking them in coffee, frying them in bacon grease or salt pork
fat, or crumbling them in soup.
The methods used to eat Hardtack included:
The soldier’s adage of Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome
comes to mind and there were many other methods used to prepare
plain. (Not recommended)
up the crackers in a pot of coffee. (Seems it would wreck the coffee
or the Hardtack; although caffeine would help during long tours of guard
up the crackers in a soup or stew, as a thickening agent. (Not too bad)
a cracker over a fire and buttered.
in cold water, browning in salt pork fat, then salting to taste. (Not
bad, but not too healthy)
in condensed milk to make milk toast.
in water, frying in salt pork fat, and topping with sugar. (Pretty good, but not a Healthy Choice
meal, if you get my meaning.)
crackers, mixing with bacon, raisins, and boiling in condensed milk. (Pretty
Hardtack was commonly held in government storehouses and
usually become infested with insects while in storage or during the soldier’s
travels. One source claimed a disappointed soldier said "All the
fresh meat we had came in the hard bread!" It was said by those who served on many merchant ships during the
early 20th Century one could pound the Hardtack on the
table and watch the insects crawl away. It was also said one was glad for the poorly lit, sailor’s mess because "the
darker the corner, the better you ate."
Even with the problems of insect infestation and mold, the longevity of
these rations was such that some Hardtack produced during the Civil War was still
being issued as late as during the Spanish-American War. Few, if any, modern rations will last as long
as the original "Soldier’s Bread."
What were the Government specifications for Hardtack or Hard Bread?
Assistant Commissary General of Subsistence - [Lt. Col. C.L.
Kilburn "Notes on Preparing Stores for the United States Army and on the
Care of the Same, etc, with a few rules for Detecting Adulterations"
Printed 1863], under Hard Bread:
made of best quality of superfine, or what is usually known as extra superfine
flour; or better, of extra and extrasuperfine, (half and half.) Hard bread
should be white, crisp, light and exhibit a flaky appearance when broken. If
tough, solid and compact, is evident the fault is either in the stock, manufacture
or baking; it should not present the appearance of dried paste. If tough and pasty,
it is probably manufacture from grown wheat, or Spring wheat of an inferior
kind. In all cases it should be thoroughly cooled and dried before packing.
Kiln drying, where practicable, for long voyages, is particularly desirable;
but if really and thoroughly dried in the oven, hard bread will keep just as
well and its flavor is not destroyed. To make good hard bread, it is essential
to employ steam; hand work will not do.
The dough should be mixed as dry as possible; this is, in fact, very
essential, and too much stress can not be placed on it. Good stock, dry mixed,
and thoroughly baked, (not dried or scalded) will necessarily give good hard
bread. If salt is to be used, it should be mixed with the water used to mix the
dough. Both salt and water should be clean. Bread put up with the preceding
requirements should keep a year; but as a usual thing, our best bread as now
made for army use, will keep only about three months. Good, bread, packed
closely and compactly should not weigh, net, per barrel, more than 70 or 80
pounds; should it be heavier than 80 indicates too much moisture.
The thickness of
the biscuit is important; it should not be so thick as to prevent proper
drying, or so thin as to crumble in transportation. The quality of stock used
for hard bread can be partially told by rules mentioned in the article 'Flour,'
as far as they apply. The term 'sprung' is frequently used by bakers, by which
is meant raised or flaky bread, indicating strong flour and sound stock. The
cupidity of the contracting baker induces him to pack his bread as soon as it
comes out of the oven, and before the moisture has been completely expelled by
Bread of this
kind hangs on breaking; it will also be soft to the pressure of the fingernail
when broken, whereas it should be crisp and brittle.
should be thoroughly seasoned, (of wood imparting no taste or odor to the
bread,) and reasonably tight. The usual method now adopted is to pack 50 pounds
net, in basswood boxes, (sides, top and bottom ½ inch, ends 5/8 of an inch,)
and of dimensions corresponding with the cutters used, and strapped at each end
with light iron or wood. The bread should be packed on its edge compactly, so
as not to shake.
baked, kiln dried, and packed in spirit casks, will keep a long time but it is
an expensive method.
contains weevils, or is moldy, expose to the sun on paulins, and before re-packing
it, rinse the barrel with whiskey."
Want to try making Hardtack?
There are many recipes for Hardtack available today. Some are original to the 1800s and other
are more modern with “added” ingredients to help improve the taste and minimize
the hard bread’s tendency to increase one’s trip to the dentist’s office. Hardtack is a ration best eaten the
way soldiers in the 1800s did; soften or soak in some liquid before eating.
Here are some recipes for Hardtack, divided into Traditional
and Non-Traditional recipe categories. Have fun and Bon Apetit.
The Question arises constantly as to the correct recipe for
hardtack. Here it is: Flour - Water - and a little salt. Mix together to obtain
an elastic, but not sticky dough, Roll to inch thickness, bake in 400 degree
oven until slightly brown.Allow to
cool (may still be somewhat soft). Put in 200 degree oven until hard. Prick
with nail or sharp instrument.
NO BAKING POWDER, SODA, SUGAR, CINNAMON, RAISINS OR ANYTHING
Preheat oven to 400° F. For each cup of flour (unbleached
wheat), add 1 tsp. of salt. Mix salt and flour with just enough water to bind
ingredients. Roll the dough about 1/4 inch thick, and cut into squares 3 inches
by 3 inches. Pierce each square with 16 holes about ½ inch apart. Place
hardtack squares on cookie sheet and bake in oven until edges are brown or
dough is hard (20-25 minutes), making sure all moisture is removed from mixture
before taking out of oven.
Note: The longer you bake the hardtack, the more authentic
it will appear. If you want to make it softer for eating, bake only about 15
Other Miscellaneous Simple Recipes:
water, and a little salt. Mix them together to form an elastic but not
sticky dough, Roll to a one-inch thickness, bake in a 400° F oven until
slightly brown. Allow to cool. It may yet be soft. Put it in 200° F oven
until it is hard. Prick with nail or sharp instrument. No baking powder,
soda, sugar, cinnamon, raisins, or anything else.
mix about 2 cups of flour and a half-tablespoon of salt with enough water
to make a stiff dough. Roll it out thin on a cookie sheet. Score it into
squares of about 2”x2” and poke some holes in it (not all the way
through). Bake it at 400 ° F for about 45 minutes or until it is lightly
browned. Let it cool in the oven.
oven to 400° F. For each cup of flour (unbleached wheat), additional teaspoon of
salt. Mix salt and flour with just enough water to bind ingredients. Roll
the dough about 1/4 inch thick, and cut into squares 3 inches by 3 inches.
Pierce each square with 16 holes about ½ inch apart. Place hardtack
squares on cookie sheet and bake in oven until the edges are brown or the
dough is hard (20-25 minutes), making sure all moisture is removed from
mixture before taking out of oven. Note: The longer you bake the hardtack,
the more authentic it will appear. If you want to make it softer for
eating, bake only about fifteen minutes.
two cups of all-purpose flour and a half teaspoon of salt. Use more salt
for authenticity. Mix by hand. Add a teaspoon of shortening and a half cup
of water, stirred in a little at a time to form a very stiff dough. Beat
the dough to a half inch thickness with a clean top mallet or rifle butt.
Fold the sheet of dough into six layers. Continue to beat and to fold the
dough a half dozen times until it is elastic. Roll the dough out to a
half-inch thickness before cutting it with a floured biscuit cutter or
bayonet. Bake for about a half hour in a 325° F oven.
basic ingredients are flour, salt and water. General directions are also
similar: Dissolve the salt in water and work it into flour using your
hands. The dough should be firm and pliable but not sticky or dry. Flatten
the dough onto a cookie sheet to about 1/4 inch thick, and cut into
squares 3 inches by 3 inches.
Pierce each square with 16 holes about ½ inch apart. Bake in oven
until edges are brown or dough is hard. Preheat the oven to 400° F.
one part water to six parts flour. Mix in salt. Roll the dough flat and
score into cracker shapes. Bake for 20-25 minutes at 400° F and let it
cool until completely dry before storing in canisters. The crackers should be hard as bricks and indestructibly
1 cup of water, 2 cups of flour, 6 pinches of salt
- Directions: Mix flour, water, and salt into a stiff
dough, kneading it several times. Spread dough ½ inch thick onto baking
sheet and slice into 3 1/2 by 3 1/2 inch squares. Poke holes in dough,
four lines of four holes across and four down. Bake for ½ hour at 400.° F.
Remove from the oven, cut the dough into 3 inch squares. Turn dough over,
return it to the oven, and bake for another ½ hour. Turn the oven off,
leaving the oven door closed. Leave the hardtack in the oven until it is
- 2 cups
- 1/2 to
3/4 cup water
- 1 tbl
spoon of Crisco or vegetable fat
pinches of salt
ingredients together into a stiff batter, knead several times, and spread
the dough onto a baking sheet at a thickness of 1/2 inch. Bake for
one-half an hour at 400 degrees. Remove from oven, cut dough into 3-inch
squares, and punch four rows of holes, four holes per row into the dough.
Turn dough over, return to the oven and bake another one-half hour. Turn
oven off, leaving door closed. Leave the hardtack in the oven until cool.
A Southern Equivalent
Are your tastes more southern? Then try a "johnnie
cake" Confederate soldiers enjoyed with their meals. The recipe is also very simple:
cups of cornmeal
cup of milk
tablespoons vegetable oil
teaspoon baking soda
teaspoon of salt
ingredients into a stiff batter and form eight biscuit-sized
"dodgers". Bake on a lightly greased sheet at 350 degrees for
twenty to twenty five minutes or until brown. Or spoon the batter into hot
cooking oil in a frying pan over a low flame. Remove the corn dodgers and
let cool on a paper towel, spread with a little butter or molasses, and
you have a real southern treat!
Another Non-Traditional recipe:
- 5 Cups
Tablespoon Baking Powder
- ¼ cup
Oven to 450
- In a
bowl, combine the ingredients to form a stiff, but not dry dough. The
dough should be pliable, but not stick a lot to your hands. Take this
mound of dough, and flatten it out onto a greased cookie sheet (the ones
with a small lip around the edge...like a real shallow pan...), and roll
the dough into a flat sheet approx. 1/2 inch thick.
a bread knife, divide the dough into 3x3 squares. taking a 10-penny nail,
put a 3x3 matrix of holes into the surface of the dough, all the way thru,
at even intervals (Village Tinsmithing works sells a cutter that does all
of this...works great!). Bake in the oven for approx 20 Min., till lightly
browned. Take out and let cool.
this the day before your go on the field, and your will have enough tack
to fill your haversack. It will be somewhat soft on Saturday morning, but,
by Sunday, you should soak it in your coffee before eating, else you will have
a hard time chewing.
Here’s a good variation:
- 1 cup
tbsp. vegetable oil
- 3 cups
rye flour (or 1 1/2 cups rye & 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour)
- 1 1/2
tbsp. brewer's yeast (optional)
liquids together. In a separate bowl, mix dry ingredients. Combine the
mixtures, stirring to moisten throughout. Form a ball. On a floured
surface, flatten the dough, and roll out thinly. Cut into squares and prick
each cracker with the tines of a fork a couple of times. Transfer to
lightly greased baking sheets. Bake at 425° F for around 8 minutes,
checking to be sure not to over-brown. It is best served warm.
Here’s another……Less Traditional Recipe:
- 2 c
tb Salt (optional)
tb Sugar (optional)
- 1/2 c
together in an electric blender at medium speed until it has the
consistency of playdough. Roll it out with a rolling pin to about
1/3" or so, the thinner the crisper, then cut it into 3 x 3 inch
squares. I use the barrel of a ball point pen to punch 16 holes (4 x 4) in
each square. Bake at 375° F on the first side for 20-25 minutes or until
it turns a light brown color, then turn them over and bake for another
For Those Who Only Want To Try A Little Taste:
Just for a taste.)
- 2 1/2
tablespoon baking powder
3/4 cup water
to a stiff dry dough. It should not stick to your hands. Add water slowly.
Add more flour if needed.
to 3x3 inch squares 1/4" to 1/2" thick. Now put 16 little holes
in each one, using a 10 d nail or some other such thing. Toothpick are too
small. Bake in an ungreased cookie pan, preheated to 400° F for about 20
to 30 minutes on each side, or until dry. Check it every now and then.
Darn Near Dessert!!!:
teaspoon baking soda
teaspoons real maple syrup
oven to 425° F. Mix the soda and buttermilk, then set aside. Combine
flour, syrup, and salt. Cut in the shortening. Add the buttermilk mixture.
Roll out very thin and score rectangles in the dough without cutting all
the way through. Prick each rectangle several times with a fork. Bake on
an ungreased cookie sheet for 5-10 minutes or until golden brown.
Anyone Ready For Breakfast?:
cups all-purpose flour
cup whole wheat flour
cup yellow cornmeal
cup cracked wheat
1/2 cups buttermilk
the flours, cornmeal, wheat, sugar and salt. Add buttermilk, mix well, and
knead briefly. Shape dough into golf-ball-sized portions. Dust with flour
and roll very thin. Place on greased and floured baking sheet. Bake at
400° F turning several times, until lightly browned on both sides. Cool;
then store in waterproof container.
Are We Eatin’ At “The Ritz”?
Level teaspoons baking powder
pinch of salt
1/2 cup flour
eggs, well beaten
jelly glass of orange marmalade
- 1 lb
Finely chopped walnuts
- 1 lb
Finely chopped dates
ingredients together. Add the remainder of ingredients; mix well. Bake
about an inch thick on a cookie sheet in an oven at 375° F for about 45
minutes. Cut into squares while warm.
Yet another recipe from:
(This one is from a school field trip program.)
- 8 to
10 cups of All Purpose Flour
Tablespoons of Salt
Mixing Bowl, Large Wooden Spoon, Rolling Pin, Table Knife, Fork
Large Baking Trays, Oven heated to 300 degrees
the flour in the bowl and break up any lumps. Add the salt and stir until
well blended. Start adding water one cup at a time and stir with the
spoon. Keep adding water until a thick dough is created. It should be
rather dry, and have just enough water added to hold the flour together
the dough from the bowl and knead well. Cut lump of dough into two pieces
and roll each out with the rolling pin until it is about ½ inch thick.
With the table knife, cut the dough in 3 inch squares. Using your fork,
poke each square two or three times.
cut squares on baking sheets and bake in 300 degree oven for one hour. It
may take a bit shorter or longer sometimes, but when the pieces just begin
to get ever so slightly brown, they are done. Take out of oven and allow
to cool completely. Place in brown paper bag, not in a plastic bag.
Hardtack can mold if kept in plastic.
Not wanting to cook? As
late as 1997, Nabisco™ continued to make a Hardtack-type cracker for limited
markets on the East Coast. Northeastern states appear to be the market they targeted for
this product. With the increase in the numbers of people
getting involved in Civil War and other reenacting hobbies, other small
companies have sprung up to provide Hardtack and other rations common to the
Here’s where you can buy some: http://www.bentscookiefactory.com/hardtack.htm