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 your own 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.
Adding ingredients beyond the basic recipe can decrease the shelf life of your end product. (More on this later).
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.
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.
Here is the docker I bought 3 years ago. It is well worth the money and made a lot better than some of the cheaper options.
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.
So what 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.
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.
Modern Hardtack Recipe
Total Cost $4.55 or about $2.27 per adult, per day.
This is not too bad considering you are getting a lot of vitamins and minerals that regular hardtack just doesn’t have.
Cutting out the Sorghum flour and only using the white flour cuts the cost down significantly but does not alter the protein or caloric value. There is a slight reduction in total fat.
Traditional Hardtack Recipe
The method is the same regardless of your hardtack recipe.
Editors Note: We had a great comment from a reader regarding Iodized salt, I thought Samantha's answer was worth highlighting here:
I specified iodized salt because it prevents iodine deficiency and thyroid problems related to that, 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 manufacturers do sell sea salt that has been fortified with extra iodine so that might be a good middle ground.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Since you are baking at no higher than 250 degrees there is not as big a risk of burning your product. I found that varying the sizes and even the shape slightly made no major difference in getting them rock solid.
Can I make gluten free hardtack?
Another question from a reader - please see Samantha's answer below:
That is a great question. I have been learning some gluten free cooking because our good friend is on a strict gluten free diet.
I would think you could use any non rising gluten free flour mix and bake until dry. My biggest issue with baking gluten free is getting baked goods to not just crumble. There is also issues with nut based gluten free flours for long term storage because they have such a high fat and oil content.
One way I have heard of doing a gluten free hardtack version is to use almond flour and freeze the flour for 3 days before using it to make the hardtack. This is going to have a shorter shelf life than traditional though.
For best results, use a moisture absorber packet and vacuum seal and keep at a moderate temperature. Another method that has a shelf life comparable to wheat flours is to use oat flour.
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.
Salt: Don’t Underestimate It’s Value In A Survival Situation
The 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.
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 is best bought in large containers. Small containers are available at a lot of grocery stores but if you are using a lot then you can save a lot of money buying the large container. 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.
I recommend Kal Nutritional Yeast Flakes because they are very affordable, have a lot to offer nutritionally, are made in the USA and have a great flavor. One container is 22 ounces and that goes a very long way.
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:
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 a moisture 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 making some 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.
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.