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How To Make Hardtack The Modern & Traditional Way


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Last Updated: September 30, 2020

When it comes to survival foods it can be a challenge to find something that offers dense calories, vitamins and salt at a low cost.

Before granola bars, massive amounts of preservatives, and fancy packaging, there was hardtack. Read on to find out how to make hardtack so you have some long lasting survival food no matter how tight your budget may be.

What is hardtack?

Hardtack is a hard biscuit made of flour, water, and salt. This is the traditional recipe but you can also add some herbs and spices to help out with flavor if desired.

Note: Adding ingredients beyond the basic recipe can decrease the shelf life of your end product. (More on this later).

Hardtack in museum
Preserved Hardtack at Wentworth Museum, FL.

Traditional hardtack keeps indefinitely if kept dry.

The oldest piece of hardtack in existence is in a museum in Florida and was baked in 1851! There are other specimens from the Civil War.

They are still edible to this day!

What other food could you say that about?

Hardtack is cooked until very dry and hard. Moisture is non existent in properly made hardtack.

History of Hardtack

Unleavened breads have been survival food for millennia. 6,000 year old pieces of unleavened bread have been found by archaeologists.

Yeast was not used for bread until the age of the Egyptians so if you were eating grains, they were either cooked in dishes or made into unleavened cakes. This was a good way to put back for hard times such as crop failures.

Unleavened breads were brought over the ocean by intrepid explorers and used on expeditions.

In some ways the settlement of Europeans in the future United States was fueled largely by hardtack which made it possible to travel and explore with some level of food security.

During the Civil War hardtack was a standard ration for soldiers. Many a song during the war contained lyrics about this staple food that kept troops fed and moving under some of the harshest of circumstances.

Supplies Needed

The beauty of hardtack is that you need very little to make it and you can make as big a batch as your oven will hold.

Here are the supplies needed besides ingredients.

1. Mixing bowl – metal, glass, ceramic anything will do.

2. Dough Docker or something to put holes in your dough. If you don’t have a dough docker and plan on making lots of breads then I recommend you get one. They last forever.

3. Cookie sheet or wire pizza sheet. I like the mesh pizza sheets because they provide good air flow to dry the hardtack out quicker and more evenly. I use them all the time for pizza, crackers, and other baked goods that I want to get nice and crispy.

Recipes

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Hardtack

Modern Hardtack Recipe


  • Author: Samantha Biggers
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Cook Time: 35 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour
  • Yield: 3410 calories 1x

Description

Is this the ultimate survival food? Before granola bars, massive amounts of preservatives, and fancy packaging, there was hardtack.


Scale

Ingredients

  • 3 cups White Flour
  • 1.5 cups Sweet Sorghum Flour
  • 9 Rounded Tbsp Nutritional Yeast
  • ½ Cup Refined Coconut Oil
  • 3 Tbsp Iodized Salt
  • 1.5 cups of water

Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to 375°F
  2. Add dry ingredients to your bowl.
  3. The amount of water you need can vary a bit. I add a ½ cup at a time and work it in.
  4. Knead dough, The end consistency you are going for is just pliable enough to be smooth and worked with a rolling pin.
  5. Roll out till approx 1 inch thick
  6. Cut into square biscuit shapes
  7. Dock or poke holes in the dough.
  8. Bake in the oven for 30 to 40 mins
  9. Allow to cool completely

Notes

Traditional Recipe Used By The Pioneers (instructions are identical to modern recipe)
4.5 cups White Flour
3 Tbsp Salt
1.5 cups of water

  • Category: Snack
  • Method: Baked
  • Cuisine: American

Nutrition

  • Calories: 3410
  • Fat: 127g
  • Protein: 64g

Keywords: Hardtack recipe, how to make hardtack

The Method

I will now show you how to make hardtack, the following method is the same regardless of your recipe.

1. Add dry ingredients to your bowl.

2. The amount of water you need can vary a bit. I add a ½ cup at a time and work it in.
How to make hardtack: Mixing

3. The end consistency you are going for is just pliable enough to be smooth and worked with a rolling pin. The goal at the end of baking time is to have zero moisture. Knead as much as needed.
How to make hardtack: Kneading

4. Docking is important because the holes allow steam to escape and your finished product to dry out completely. You can just poke holes in the dough if you don’t have a bread docker.
docking the dough

5.The size of the squares of hardtack you make is entirely up to you.

Smaller squares will dry out faster. You can try to cut your squares out so that they are close in size. It does not have to be exact and there is no set shape they have to be.

A lot of people choose square or round like a biscuit. I wanted to experiment and see how much difference it really made so I varied size a little.

I found that varying the sizes and even the shape slightly made no major difference in getting them rock solid.

6. Bake in a preheated oven at 375°F for between 30 and 40 minutes.

7. The hardtack should be slightly golden brown when done.

8. Leave crackers to cool and allow any residual moisture to evaporate.

How to make hardtack biscuits
The finished product.

What Extras can I add to hardtack?

Some dried products can be added to the flour, water, and salt mixture.

If you are lactose intolerant than you can use dried buttermilk powder for added flavor and nutrition. Sugar can be added for sweetness. Some hardtack recipes recommend brown sugar because it adds flavor and sweetness.

Oils that are highly refined and have very long shelf lives can be added.

Recommended Reading: Ultimate Guide To Food Preservation

Other things include cocoa or carob powder for flavor. Yes you can have chocolate hard tack if you want it!

Please take note that adding any ingredients beyond the ordinary flour, salt, and water can affect shelf life some, but if you are vacuum sealing this can be quite minuscule. (More on this later).

Just remember to not use animal fats like lard or tallow because they are more likely to go rancid.

How To Eat

Hardtack was meant to be eaten with some type of liquid. If you have not tried to eat any then you need to realize that they are not kidding when they call it hard.

In the past people used to put it in their jaws and let their saliva soften it until they could swallow. However it is better when it can be soaked in some milk, broth, soup, or whatever liquid you have to hand.

This is a food that you can actually hurt your teeth or mouth with if you don’t take care when eating it. Beverage or broth is definitely your friend in the world of hardtack.

Nutritional Profiles

I did the math and these nutritional profiles are close to what you can expect from my recipe and the traditional one. I just used the existing nutritional labels on the products I used and did the math based on my measurements.

RecipeCaloriesFatProtein
Modern Hardtack3410127 grams99 grams
Traditional Hardtack
21609 grams64 grams

Salt: Don’t Underestimate Its Value in a Survival Situation

saltThe amount of salt you use can vary based on your taste.

Remember that in a survival situation salt can be a lot harder to get than you would ever imagine.

While a lot of us try to watch our salt intake, you might actually want to increase it during hard times.

Think about it like this; when you sweat you lose salt and during hard times you might find that you have to do more physical labor and rely on more energy intensive methods for transporting yourself and gear. Walking, pulling wagons, carrying items rather than using a vehicle, etc are all going to result in you sweating out salt at a higher rate than before.

Salt was often left out of hardtack in the Civil War because when possible it was paired with high salt foods like salt pork. Cured pork belly and coffee were often paired with hardtack if times were in favor of the soldiers.

Later on in the war soldiers felt lucky if they just had some hardtack to gnaw on.

The Amount Of Protein You Need Depends On Age and Gender

According to Web MD, an adult woman needs 46 grams of protein per day while a man needs 56 grams.

Pregnant or breastfeeding women should try for 71 grams. The protein level of your hardtack can easily be adjusted by adding more nutritional yeast.

Note: The level of exertion required during hard times and the increased calories required for pregnancy or breastfeeding mean that you would need to eat more.

Nutritional Yeast Adds Folic Acid

Women that are pregnant or of childbearing age should be concerned about folic acid. The hardtack recipe I created means that if one consumes 1,705 calories of hardtack or half the recipe they will get 350% of the recommended daily value of folic acid.

Recommended Reading: Prepping and Pregnancy

Other Vitamins & Minerals

It is important to maintain good intake of essential vitamins and minerals. You are going to come through any survival situation better with vitamins and minerals.

Keeping your immune system functioning at as high a level as possible is critical when medical services may be hard to procure.

Having multivitamins is great but I see no harm in adding some nutritional yeast to unleavened bread. It is not going to rise the bread. You are mixing hard tack dough and baking immediately so even if it did cause it to rise, it wouldn’t happen that quick.

Nutritional yeast also adds a cheese like flavor without using any dairy products so it is great for those that really want to avoid that.

Limiting Nutritional Factor: Vitamin C

One ingredient that I would consider adding to hardtack is Vitamin C. While hardtack contains good levels of B-Vitamins it completely lacks Vitamin C.

During a survival situation these are the two vitamin deficiencies that will cause problems the soonest.

Scurvy was a common problem years ago but don’t think it could not happen again. Make sure you have at least some vitamin C powder or capsules put back.

This could be as simple as adding a capsule of Vitamin C to the pouch before you vacuum seal your hardtack.

You could also use a packet of Emergen C drink mix. Simply put this in with your hardtack ration and you will have something to flavor your water and help get the hardtack to an edible consistency.

Storage Of Hardtack

The most important things to remember when it comes to storing hardtack:

  • Keep it moisture free
  • Protect from insect, rodents, and other pests

Since we live in the wonderful age of vacuum sealers and inexpensive storage containers I suggest that after your hardtack is cooled off and set up solid, you vacuum seal it with an oxygen absorber. Store it in a plastic tote with a tight lid and it will stay good indefinitely.

During the Civil War, hardtack was commonly infested with weevils and sometimes became wormy.

The reason for this is that although it keeps well, soldiers did not have good storage. Crates of hard tack were exposed to moisture and insects quite often.

During that terrible war, they often ate it anyway because that was all they had.

How much hardtack should I put back?

If you are on a budget then knowing how to make hardtack is an excellent way to create a cheap stash of food for you and your family.

There is something to be said for putting back far more than you need because this will allow you to have some inexpensive extra food to trade and allow you to have some on hand in case you get people showing up at your door asking for help.

Commercial Hardtack

There are very few producers of hardtack in the United States but you can also get something called Pilot Crackers that are basically the same thing. It is not cheap to buy either of these so making your own is going to offer better nutrition at a lower cost.

Authentic hardtack goes for a good price due to its popularity with reenactors and the lack of commercial producers.

Do you have any hardtack recipes, stories or tips? Leave them in the comments below.

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Leave a comment

  1. When storing your hardtack , add approx 1tsp (1TBSP) food grade diatemouces earth to container this will help with reducing moister & help elimanate any possible infestion of weevils or other grain bugs, and it is edible and good for your… google it…it can be used in other storage uses also.

    Reply
    • Excellent suggestion Bob! I use DE for a lot of things around the farm. Thanks for reading and contributing to Primal Survivor.

      Reply
    • Hi,

      Can you go over the reasons you added the Nutritional yeast to the recipe?
      Was is structural or flavoring or needed for a specific purpose?
      Thank you

      Steve

      Reply
      • Hi Steve – it is mentioned in the article but we added it as a source of folic acid. Standard yeast can be used in its place.

        Reply
    • Yes you can use a dehydrator but one that has forced air and reaches a temperature suitable for making jerky is recommended for best results. The Nesco Snackmaster is what I use. I cannot tell you how long it will take to do it in a dehydrator for sure since that depends on what temp you can set it to and how wet your mixture is. As long as you get it bone dry, you should be good to go!

      Reply
  2. Hi, I was wondering why you were specific about using iodized salt? We’re on the West Coast & have access to all kinds of great local sea salts. Is there anything beneficial about using the iodized over sea salt?

    Reply
    • I specified iodized salt because it prevents iodine deficiency and thyroid problems related to that. I love cooking with high quality salts too but iodine levels are really important to maintain and during a survival situation, iodine might be a bit harder to come by. Sea salt is not rich in iodine unfortunately. It does contain some but it might make it hard to get the levels needed. The modern diet and multi vitamins means that iodine deficiency is generally not something to worry about during good times. I do know that Morton and other salt manufactuerers do sell sea salt that has been fortified with extra iodine so that might be a good middle ground. Thanks for reading and a great question!

      Reply
    • Protein powders could be used but I would say that if they contain any dairy or animal proteins it could alter how long the hardtack would keep depending on the level used. Plant based proteins shouldn’t change how long it would stay good.

      Reply
    • Will totally depend on the size of biscuit you prepare. If you make the recipe here you should be able to work out approximately how many calories per biscuit you have and plan your ration accordingly.

      Reply
  3. Just wondering. If you roll out the dough very thin, like maybe 1/8-1/4” thick, would it not be so hard to eat? Would it be more like a cracker? Would it store ok?

    Reply
    • This will store OK just watch the cooking times as it will cook quicker. I imagine it will be slightly easier to eat but would be interested in your findings if you try this.

      Reply
    • You said adding more to the recipe would shorten the shelf life, what about other dry ingredients? For example what if you add a tbsp of Mrs dash to the mix. It would add flavor but how bad would it throw off the shelf life?

      Reply
  4. The article states that you should package the hardback with a moisture absorber. I assume that this is different than an oxygen absorber. Where would I find them? Looking forward to trying the original recipe and also some variations.

    Reply
      • I think Dawn was asking if moisture absorber’s and oxygen absorbers are the same thing, and the answer is no. Moisture absorber’s are generally made from silica gel a porous sand. You find them in pill bottles, clothing, purses, electronic equipment. Silica gel inhibits moisture, it therefore prevents mold to grow.

        Oxygen absorber’s are tiny packs that contain iron filings, salt and clay. The clay provides moisture, and works with the salt to activate the iron filings. The process starts as soon as the oxygen absorber packet is exposed to oxygen.

        Can oxygen absorbers and moisture absorbs be used together? The answer is NO. Because the oxygen absorber needs a little moisture to start the oxidizing process absorbing oxygen and releasing nitrogen.

        Reply
  5. What about using wheat, buckwheat coconut flour etc? How about using honey in place of sorghum as honey never goes bad? And will the coconut oil eventually go rancid? Thank you

    Reply
    • Don’t see a problem with using alternative flours but cannot confirm for sure as have never tested it. Let us know if you try.

      Reply
  6. A diabetic cannot eat this version of the recipe due to the high carb content. What do you suggest as a substitute? Would almond flour and flax seed take the place of the flour and sorghum flour? Any nutritionist take that into account?

    Reply
    • Sorry we have not tried a low carb version so cannot comment. If you do try this please report back as would be interested in how it turned out.

      Reply
    • Those flours would probably work but, because of the high amount of natural oils in nut and seeds, the resulting hardtack wouldn’t last nearly as long. *I dehydrate beans and blend them into a powder to make a bean flour (which I add to bread dough or rehydrate to spread on tortillas, etc.). Now I’m wondering if this bean flour could work for low-carb, long-lasting foods. If I get around to trying it, I’ll let you know. 🙂

      Reply
  7. I look forward to trying both recipes and keeping a few pounds min of this always made and ready!
    To help with consumption and health if only the early settlers of our country only knew what we know now! Vitamin C is very plentiful in North America and you want something wet and warm to help soften and comfort you as well! Make pine needle tea, collect needles from a pine tree while boiling some water, one you have the needle and clean them up add about 1/2 cup to 3 cups of water, simmer ( never boil with needles in water) to make a mild tea loaded with Vit C and a source to dip and soften your bicuit!

    Reply
    • Yes! Good comment about pine need tea. I actually don’t like it warm but love it as a cold drink with some lemon and honey.

      Reply
  8. During the civil war; soldiers usually found weevils in their hardtack. They did not mind them being there. The bugs added PROTEIN to the hardtack.
    Where can you buy hardtack now a days? Why would anyone want to willingly eat it?

    Reply
  9. Friends, just a little reminder that vitamin C is sensitive to heat. It might be wise to store some alongside the hardtack without baking it. I’m eager to give a try of the alternative flours in making this, as three of us in my family can’t consume wheat.

    Reply
    • Vitamin C is also really sensitive to oxygen. I’ve basically come to accept that I won’t be getting vitamin C from any of my stored foods (though hopefully not all the nutrients in my multivitamins will die). Luckily foraged greens are loaded with it vitamin C and other nutrients 🙂

      Reply
  10. HI, Great info here. Practicing several recipes now. I found a suggestion to put in jars with white rice as moisture absorbtion. Will try to let you know if this works.

    Reply

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