This guest post is from nali (also known as "my mom"), who informs us about hardtack. Splendid! Hopefully this is the first of a few guest posts. Try out those recipes and send them in, readers!
When the traveler must travel in space as well as time, life-sustaining travel food is a necessity. A food staple of the Civil War soldier was hardtack, also sometimes called worm castles due to the infestation of ‘worms’ living in the hardtack. During the war, most hardtack was made in government bakeries, but it could also easily be made at home.
The objective with hardtack is to make a food that will not spoil or mold before it is eaten. It must also last a long time. I have made hardtack that was perfectly edible after a year in storage with no refrigeration. So what is the downside? It is bland....horribly, horribly bland. Still, it will sustain life. The secret to its long life is the lack of ingredients which are prone to spoilage.
5 cups of flour
1 cup of water
1 1/2 teaspoon of salt
Sometimes it is necessary to add just a bit more water, but don’t put in much! Knead the ingredients until they hang together enough to roll out with a rolling pin. I usually put the dough in a pastry cloth to help it stay together while I work on it. Roll the dough out until it is about 3/8 inch thick. This is not as simple as it sounds. This dough is rather dry and doesn’t roll easily. You’ll give your arm muscles a really good workout!
After it is rolled out, cut it into 3 inch squares, then use a fork to poke lots of holes into the hardtack.
Next the hardtack must be baked until all moisture is gone. I have tried it two different ways. Way #1 is to bake it at 400 F for 30 minutes. I found it did not get quite dry all the way through. Way #2 is to bake it at 225F for about 2 hours. Whichever way you choose to do it, make sure it is completely cooked.
Once it is cooked, it is almost ready to eat....or saved for traveling.
Like soldiers anytime in history, Civil War soldiers were inventive with the ways they ate their ration of hardtack. Eating it plain is just an invitation to break a tooth. Here are 3 ways to use your hardtack. First, put your hardtack on a hard surface and use your rifle butt to crush it.
Once it is crushed you are ready to begin to prepare your meal.
1. Hardtack Mush: Mix hardtack crumbs with hot water until softened. Eat.
2. Hardtack Pancake: Mix hardtack crumbs with hot water until softened. Form into a little pancake and cook in pan over fire. If you can find some syrup or jam, that would go well with it.
3. Hardtack Pudding: Mix hardtack crumbs with hot water until softened. Mix in a little bit of brown sugar before serving.
For a verdict, we enlisted the services of two actual soldiers in order to get a genuine reaction. To my surprise, they both ate all three items and cleaned their plates. Maybe a true soldier will just eat everything. One commented he’d had worse and he’d had better.
The least favorite was the mush. This was just warm, soggy hardtack crumbs. Still, if a person were hungry enough, it IS edible.
The easy favorite was the pancake. The crispiness from cooking made a nice texture. I’m sure the maple syrup also helped.
The pudding with the brown sugar wasn’t too bad either. In a travel situation, it would probably be easier to prepare than the pancake as it doesn’t require extra cooking.
Happy Trails to you!