Historic and long-lasting, hardtack is a recipe with simple ingredients. As the name suggests, it’s a loaf of cookie-like material that is also very bland and unappetizing. This bread has been around for centuries and has been eaten as a pioneer, settler, sailor, and soldier food when traveling on long journeys. Since it has a long shelf life and is lightweight, hardtack is a perfect trail food, providing your body with energy and sustaining you upon empty stomachs.
Initially, authentic hardtack was a staple food aboard sailing vessels and military campaigns in the 19th century. It was essentially unleavened bread that was easy to make, kept for long periods, and could be eaten without further preparation. And because it is very simple to make and only requires types of flour, water, and salt, hardtack was an inexpensive option. In fact, if fresh ingredients needed to be added to keep it fresh or improve the taste, they were added, such as pork lard, vegetable oil, butter, caraway seeds, and sugar. It is said American soldiers often would eat hardtack for an entire day when the daily ration they were given only had enough food for a few hours.
How to Make Hardtack – 5 Important Steps
1. Mix White Flour, Water & Salt
The first obvious step is to first gather your dry ingredients. To make hardtack, you will need refined all-purpose white flour (or wheat flour) with no additives or enrichments, water, and salt. The refined flour or bread flour will bring a better texture to your hardtack. Before you begin, you will also need to determine the amount you will cook. This should be based on the amount you will be consuming.
The next step is to mix the ingredients. Begin by mixing the cups flour, salt, water, and any additional ingredients. Two cups of flour with 3/4 cup of water and 11/2 teaspoons salt is what is usually used in a batch of hardtack. It’s important to mix the ingredients thoroughly so that all the flour is worked into the dough.
2. Knead and Rest Dough
3. Poke the Holes
4. Bake to Perfection
To bake the rough-cut hardtack, you will need to:
- Heat the oven to 350⁰
- Place hardtack in the oven on a cookie sheet, uncovered for 2 1/2-3 hours
- Remove from oven once the loaf has dried and the sides have tightened
- Once the loaf has cooled, you can store it in an airtight container for future use
The smaller pieces may be cooked for an additional 25-30 minutes. This makes them crispy and tough, which is how hardtack is intended to be. You may want to experiment with this step because you can tailor your hardtack to any texture you want. Either way, once this is complete, the hardtack is done and ready to eat.
5. Let It Cool and Enjoy
The hardtack is ready to eat as is, but make sure it’s well soaked in soup, milk, stew, or even water for approximately 5 to 10 minutes for the best taste and experience.
When hardtack is made properly and stored properly, it can be stored for 1 to 2 years without spoiling. It’s important to know how to keep your food fresh and prevent spoilage.
Hardtack will make a good trail food if you add additional ingredients to it. In fact, it can be mixed and baked prior to you embarking on your adventure. Then, once you’re on the trail and when you need your stomach to be filled, simply add a bit of honey or nut butter to give it some nutritional muscle and flavor to get your stomach to growl. Your hardtack can be packed flat, giving you a nice amount of room to pack all your survival gear.