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Soldier Food that Keeps for 50 Years: Hardtack as Survival Rations

November 21, 2014       How It Works
DIY Rations: Hardtack
Survival Food for Soldiers for Eons

For survival food rations, hardtack is probably one of the most resilient, nutritious and tasty options that can keep extremely well if stored in the proper conditions. The quality of your survival food depends on how long it can keep without spoiling if stored for a long period of time (ship journeys, army marches and pilgirm travels are some missions that had travelers packing hardtack as emergency food). Survival food should still be NUTRITIOUS and lastly, it should be good enough to eat and enjoy without getting cloying or disgusting, because you will be living off that grub for a while, given that food is scarce in survival conditions.

Hardtack is a densely packed bread variety made from the best flour you can get, baked and cut into small squares, then fried but not burnt into a very hard brick. This process creates a dehydrated, yet nutritious food ration that can be RECONSTITUTED by adding coffee, milk or any savory liquid to give the bread flavor and to rehydrate the brick into a chewable piece of bread. Otherwise you will break your teeth as Hardtack is very hard as a compacted and dehydrated flour-based, food ration.

American Civil War era hardtack biscuit      Infrogmation    CC BY-SA 3.0

The Minnesota Historical Society has a piece of Civil War hardtack in its collection. It’s over 150 years old, and perfectly edible, still perfectly preserved too. Hardtack has actually been around since the time of Egyptian sailors in ancient times. During its heyday in the American Civil War, some soldiers reportedly broke their teeth trying to chow down on the brick, forgetting that it has to be rehydrated by soaking it in a liquid.

Typically made 6 months beforehand, it was as hard as a rock when it actually got to the frontline troops. To soften the ration back to bread, soldiers usually soaked it in water or coffee, and in doing, any insect larvae that burrowed into the bread would float to the top, allowing the soldiers to remove the weevils before dining.

Hardtack satisfies all your needs for survival food rations: When dried thoroughly, it will keep for years, provided it stays dry and away from pests: insects (laying worms on your food) and rodents. Hardtack is made with natural, healthy ingredients that are nutritious—the best quality flour and maybe olive oil.

If you know how to prepare it for a meal, it tastes delicious.

Because it is a completely dehydrated small portion biscuit, Hardtack is relatively light and easy to transport, but because it is so dense, it packs a lot of nutrition in a small package.

Hardtack Recipes

A very hard flat cracker, the brick fondly called "worm castles" for harboring all sorts of insect larva during the time it is stored in a soldier's pack. The crackers can last over 50 years easy.  If you intend on going on a long backpacking trip, make a dozen or so, and use them as your trail meals for when you sit down to eat. 

Traditional Hardtack

    3 cups flour
    1 cup water
    2 teaspoons of salt

Softer Hardtack

    4 cups of flour
    2 cups of cold water
    2 tablespoons of cold butter or shortening/margarine
    4 teaspoons of salt

Fried Hardtack

    One of the above recipes (ingredients from)
    Olive oil
    Confectioners sugar (optional)

Mix the flour, water and salt together, and make sure the mixture is fairly dry. Then roll it out to about 1/2 inch thickness, and shape it into a rectangle. Cut it into 3×3 inch squares, and poke holes in both sides. Do not add herbs nor spices as these shorten the shelf life of your Hardtack. The original spare recipe is what lasts the longest given good storage.

Place on an un-greased cookie or baking sheet, and cook for 30 minutes per side at 375 degrees and when it’s done, air dry the pieces so they harden the way bread hardens when exposed to air, give them a few days out in the open, in a clean room. When the crackers have the consistency of a brick, the hardtack will be fully cured.  Store the Hardtack in an airtight container or bucket.

To prepare the cracker for eating, soak it in water or milk for about 15 minutes, you may even fry the softened dough in a buttered skillet.
  Old war vets ate theirs with soup or cheese, with a little salt, and it would tide them over until the next meal.

Kanpan, hardtack, issued to Japanese armed forces, hard biscuits in other
countries are a staple food too.                                                       CC BY-SA 3.0

A Staple Food in some Countries

Alaskans love warmed hardtack (branded there as pilot bread) with melted butter or with soup or moose stew. Hardtack with peanut butter, honey, or apple sauce is a delicacy among Alaskan kids.  Parts of Canada and New England still have a fondness for hard biscuits (hardtack) and have devoted buyers from local bakeries and a Nabisco offering that is similar to the original version.  In Russia, hardtack is a staple among the armed forces, as rations, with brand offerings of hard biscuits that are enjoyed by the local Russians.  In Japan, hard biscuits are known as Kanpan, and are a staple among the military servicemen, but the locals love it as a 'dry bread' snack food and as a local specialty in a town in Fukuoka.

Packaged Hardtack biscuits    Skopp   Creative Commons  CC BY-SA 3.0


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