Hardtack (or hard tack) is a type of dense biscuit (British English) or cracker (American English) made from flour, water, and sometimes salt. Hardtack is inexpensive and long-lasting. It is used for sustenance in the absence of perishable foods, commonly during long sea voyages, land migrations, and military campaigns.[1] Along with salt pork and corned beef, hardtack was a standard ration for many militaries and navies from the 17th to the early 20th centuries.[2]

A preserved hardtack from the U.S. Civil War, Pensacola Museum of History, Florida
Alternative namesANZAC wafers, brewis, cabin bread, dog biscuit, molar breakers, pilot bread, sea biscuit, sea bread, sheet iron, ship's bisket, shipbiscuit, tooth dullers, worm castles
TypeCracker (American English) or biscuit (British English)
Main ingredientsFlour, water

Etymology edit

The name is derived from "tack", the British sailor slang for food. The earliest use of the term recorded by the Oxford English Dictionary is from 1830.[3]

It is known by other names including brewis (possibly a cognate with "brose"), cabin bread, pilot bread, sea biscuit, soda crackers, sea bread (as rations for sailors), ship's biscuit, and pejoratively as dog biscuits, molar breakers, sheet iron, tooth dullers, armor plates (Germany) and worm castles.[4][5][6][7] Australian and New Zealand military personnel knew them with some sarcasm as ANZAC wafers (not to be confused with Anzac biscuit).

History edit

The introduction of the baking of processed cereals, including the creation of flour, provided a more reliable source of food. Egyptian sailors carried a flat brittle loaf of millet bread called dhourra cake, while the Romans had a biscuit called bucellatum.[8] King Richard I of England left for the Third Crusade (1189–1192) with "biskit of muslin", which was a mixed grain compound of barley, bean flour, and rye.[9] The more refined captain's biscuit was made with finer flour. Some 5th century BCE physicians, such as Hippocrates, associated most medical problems with digestion. For sustenance and health, eating a biscuit daily was considered good for one's constitution.[10][failed verification]

As the hardtack biscuits softened with time due to exposure to humidity and other weather elements,[11] they became more palatable, so the bakers in the 12th century made biscuits as hard as possible.[11][12][clarification needed] Because it was baked hard, it would stay intact for years if kept dry. For long voyages, hardtack was baked four times, rather than the more common two, and prepared six months before sailing.[13] Because it is dry and hard, hardtack (when properly stored and transported) will survive rough handling and temperature extremes.[14]

In the 1500s, the Knights of Malta brought ship-biscuits from Naples and Sicily to Malta.

In 1665, Samuel Pepys first regularized naval victualing in the Royal Navy with varied and nutritious rations, to include "one pound daily of good, clean, sweet, sound, well-baked and well-conditioned wheaten biscuit".[15][16] By at least 1731, it was officially codified in Naval regulation that each sailor was rationed one pound (0.45 kg; 450 g) of biscuit per day.[17]

Hardtack, crumbled or pounded fine and used as a thickener, was a key ingredient in New England seafood chowders from the late 1700s.[18]

In 1801, Josiah Bent began a baking operation in Milton, Massachusetts, selling "water crackers", biscuits made of flour and water that would not deteriorate during long sea voyages from the port of Boston. These were also used extensively as a source of food by the gold prospectors who migrated to the gold mines of California in 1849. Since the journey took months, hardtack was stored in the wagon trains. Bent's company later sold the original hardtack crackers used by troops during the American Civil War. The G. H. Bent Company operated in Milton and sold these items to Civil War re-enactors and others until 2018.[19]

1832 advertisement for hardtack in a Boston directory

By 1818, the United States Navy had outlined that each sailor was to be given 14 ounces of bread per day as part of their daily ration while serving onboard in the form of hardtack. The procurement of these stores was the responsibility of the ship's Purser, and was not strictly outlined by the Board of Navy Commissioners.[20]

During the American Civil War (1861–1865), three-by-three-inch (7.6 by 7.6 cm) hardtack was shipped from Union and Confederate storehouses.[21][22] Civil War soldiers generally found their rations to be unappealing, and joked about the poor quality of the hardtack in the satirical song "Hard Tack Come Again No More". The song was sung to the tune of the Stephen Foster song "Hard Times Come Again No More", and featured lyrics describing the hardtack rations as being 'old and very wormy' and causing many 'stomachs sore'.[23] John Billings, a soldier in the 10th Massachusetts Battery, outlines many details on how hardtack was utilized during the war in his book Hard Tack and Coffee.

Reproduction American Civil War-era army (left) and navy (right) hardtack. Note the shape, as army hardtack was shipped in boxes and shipboard navy provisions were shipped in barrels.

With insect infestation common in improperly stored provisions, soldiers would break up the hardtack and drop it into their morning coffee. This would not only soften the hardtack but the insects, mostly weevil larvae, would float to the top, and the soldiers could skim off the insects and resume consumption. The weevils "left no distinctive flavor behind."[24] Some men also turned hardtack into a mush by breaking it up with blows from their rifle butts, then adding water. If the men had a frying pan, they could cook the mush into a lumpy pancake; otherwise they dropped the mush directly on the coals of their campfire. They also mixed hardtack with brown sugar, hot water, and sometimes whiskey to create what they called a pudding, to serve as dessert.[25]

Hexagonal hardtack produced by the Royal Navy for the British Arctic Expedition

Royal Navy hardtack during Queen Victoria's reign was made by machine at the Royal Clarence Victualing Yard at Gosport, Hampshire, stamped with the Queen's mark and the number of the oven in which it was baked. When machinery was introduced into the process, the dough was thoroughly mixed and rolled into sheets about two yards (6 ft; 72 in; 183 cm) long and one yard (3 ft; 36 in; 91 cm) wide, which were then stamped in one stroke into about sixty hexagonal shaped biscuits. The hexagonal shape saved material and time and made them easier to pack compared to the traditional circular shaped biscuit.[26] Hardtack remained an important part of the Royal Navy sailor's diet until the introduction of canned foods; canned meat was first marketed in 1814, and preserved beef in tins was officially introduced to the Royal Navy rations in 1847.[9]

As early as the Spanish–American War in 1898, some military hardtack was used by service members in etching or writing notes, often commemorating events or coined with phrases of the time.[27][28]

Cocket bread edit

Cocket bread was a type of bread in England, as referenced in the Assize of Bread and Ale (temp. incert.) (c. 1266), where it is one of several kinds of bread named. It seems to have been hard sea-biscuit, which perhaps had then some mark or seal (a cocket) on it; or else, was so called from its being designed for the use of the coxswains, or seamen.[29]

Modern use edit

Japanese hardtack "Kanpan" produced for use by the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force.
Lithuanian SU-1 hardtack

Commercially available hardtack is a significant source of food energy in a small, durable package. A store-bought 24-gram cracker can contain 100 calories (20 percent from fat) from 2 grams of protein but practically no fiber.

Asia edit

Ma Bo mentioned hardtack as being a staple food of Chinese hard-labor workers in Inner Mongolia, during the Cultural Revolution.[30][page needed][dubious ]

Hardtack was a staple of military servicemen in Japan and South Korea well into the late 20th century. It is known as Kanpan (乾パン) in Japan and geonbbang (geonppang, 건빵) in South Korea, meaning 'dry bread', and is still sold as a fairly popular snack food in both countries. (Canned kanpan is also distributed in Japan as emergency rations in case of earthquake, flood, or other disaster.) A harder hardtack than Kanpan, called Katapan (堅パン), is historically popular in Kitakyushu City, Fukuoka, Japan as one of its regional specialty foods. In Korea, geonppang (hardtacks) mixed with byulsatang (star candy) as a medley is considered a popular snack. [citation needed]

A ship's biscuit—purportedly (circa 1852) the oldest in the world—displayed at the maritime museum in Kronborg, Denmark

Europe edit

Hardtack, baked with or without the addition of fat, was and still is a staple in Russian military rations, especially in the Navy, as infantry traditionally preferred simple dried bread when long shelf life was needed. Called galeta (галета) in Russian, it is usually somewhat softer and more crumbly than traditional hardtack, as most varieties made in Russia include at least some fat or shortening, making them closer to saltine crackers. One such variety, khlyebtsy armyeyskiye (хлебцы армейские), or "army crackers", is included in Russian military rations. Other brands enjoy significant popularity among the civilian population as well, both among campers and the general populace.

In Genoa, hardtack was and still is a traditional addition to a fish and vegetable salad called cappon magro.

In Germany, hardtack is included in every military ration and colloquially known as Panzerplatten (armor plates) or Panzerkekse (armor cookies/ tank cookies). Due to conscription for many years a large part of the male population knew about them from their service and thus they became somewhat popular even in civilian use. The company that makes them also sells them unaltered to the civilian market. They are said to have many properties, some jokingly assigned, such as the ability to combine them with standard issue shoe polish to create a flammable device, or to glue them onto vehicles to increase their armor protection. One quality, liked by many soldiers, is its ability to hinder one's need to defecate, some claiming they didn't need to defecate for three days after consuming large quantities of them.[citation needed]

In Poland, hardtack wafers (known by their official name: Suchary Specjalne SU-1 or SU-2 – Special Hardtacks) are still present in Polish Army military rations. In military slang they are jokingly called Panzerwaffel (tank or armor wafers), a pun on Panzerwaffe, the Wehrmacht armored motorized forces (the German words Panzer and Waffe mean "tank" or "armor" and "weapon", respectively). They are also popular amongst civilians, and are a common part of a meal in some regions.

Melanesia edit

Hardtack remains popular today in Papua New Guinea. The Lae Biscuit Company, which is the most commonly found and popular brand in that country, makes multiple varieties of hardtack.[31]

North America edit

Canada edit

A package of Newfoundland Purity hard bread with one hard bread biscuit in front

Hardtack is a mainstay in parts of Canada. Purity Factories is one maker of traditional hardtack. They specialize in a high density, high caloric product that is well suited for use by expeditions.

Located in St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, they currently produce three varieties of hardtack:

  • The first variety, a cracker similar to a cross between an unsalted saltine and hardtack, Crown Pilot Crackers. It was a popular item in much of New England and was manufactured by Nabisco until it was discontinued in the first quarter of 2008. It was discontinued once before, in 1996, but a small uprising by its supporters brought it back in 1997. This variety comes in two sub-varieties, Flaky and Barge biscuits.
  • The second is Hard Bread, a traditional hardtack, and is the principal ingredient in fish and brewis, a traditional Newfoundland and Labrador meal.
  • The third variety is Sweet Bread, which is slightly softer than regular hardtack due to a higher sugar and shortening content, and is eaten as a snack food.

United States edit

Retail shelf of Sailor Boy Pilot Bread in the Stuaqpaq ("big store") AC Value Store in Utqiagvik, Alaska.

Interbake Foods of Richmond, Virginia, produces most of the commercially available hardtack in the United States, under the "Sailor Boy" label. As of January 2015, 98 percent of its production goes to Alaska. Alaskans are among the last to still eat hardtack as a significant part of their normal diet. Originally imported as a food product that could endure the rigors of transportation throughout Alaska, hardtack has remained a favored food even as other, less robust foods have become more readily available.[32]

Alaskan law requires all light aircraft to carry "survival gear", including food.[33] Therefore, the blue-and-white Sailor Boy Pilot Bread boxes are ubiquitous at Alaskan airstrips, in cabins, and in virtually every village. Unlike the traditional hardtack recipe, Sailor Boy Pilot Bread contains leavening and vegetable shortening.[34]

Hardtack is also a common pantry item in Hawaii, and The Diamond Bakery's "Saloon Pilot" cracker is available there in grocery and convenience stores. The round hardtack crackers are available in large- and small-diameter sizes.[35]

Those who buy commercially baked hardtack in the continental US are often those who stock up on long-lasting foods for disaster survival rations, though these usually take the form of food ration bars or freeze dried meals rather than traditional hardtack.[36]

Many other people who currently buy or bake hardtack in the US are Civil War re-enactors.[37] The 3rd US Regular Infantry Reenactors, for example, often cook many recipes during their reenacting camps, to include hardtack.[38]

See also edit

References edit

  1. ^ "Hardtack". Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved 2023-03-11..
  2. ^ Cook, Alexander (2004). "Sailing on The Ship: Re-enactment and the Quest for Popular History". History Workshop Journal. 57 (57): 247–255. doi:10.1093/hwj/57.1.247. hdl:1885/54218. JSTOR 25472737. S2CID 194110027.
  3. ^ "hardtack, n.". OED Online. Oxford University Press. 2022.
  4. ^ Cahn, W. (1969). Out of the cracker barrel: the Nabisco story, from animal crackers to zuzus. Simon and Schuster. pp. 27–28. ISBN 9780671203603. Retrieved October 6, 2017.
  5. ^ Smith, A.F. (2006). Encyclopedia of Junk Food and Fast Food. Advisory Board. Greenwood Press. p. 62. ISBN 978-0-313-33527-3. Retrieved October 6, 2017.
  6. ^ Smith, P. W. (2003). New England Country Store Cookbook. Iuniverse Inc. p. 72. ISBN 978-0-595-25396-8. Retrieved October 6, 2017.
  7. ^ "19th United States Infantry". 19thusregulars.com. Archived from the original on 2012-03-04. Retrieved 2013-12-25.
  8. ^ "bucellatum". Oxford Dictionary of Late Antiquity. Oxford University Press. 2018. ISBN 9780198662778. Retrieved March 12, 2023.
  9. ^ a b "Ship's Biscuits – Royal Navy hardtack". Royal Navy Museum. Archived from the original on 2009-10-31. Retrieved 2010-01-14.
  10. ^ "Being Healthy Starts in Your Gut: Tips for Promoting Optimal Gut Health and Preventing Disease". Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center. Retrieved 2023-01-25.
  11. ^ a b "VFOOD6260 - VAT Food - HMRC internal manual - GOV.UK". www.gov.uk. Retrieved 2018-01-09.
  12. ^ "Shortbread". British Food: A History. 2012-06-10. Retrieved 2023-01-25.
  13. ^ "History of Science: Cyclopædia, or, An universal dictionary of arts and sciences". 2008-04-08. Archived from the original on 2008-04-08. Retrieved 2018-01-09.
  14. ^ "Hard to Swallow – A Brief History of Hardtack and Ship's Biscuit". 11 July 2014.
  15. ^ "The ship's biscuit". Royal Museums Greenwich. Retrieved 2023-03-11.
  16. ^ Knighton, C. S. (2004). "Pepys, Samuel (1633–1703)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  17. ^ Regulations and Instructions Relating to His Majesty's Service at Sea. His Majesty's Privy Council. 1731. p. 60. Retrieved March 12, 2023.
  18. ^ John Thorne and Matt Lewis Thorne, Serious Pig: An American Cook in Search of His Roots. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 1996. pp. 163–166.
  19. ^ "Two centuries of biscuit baking at Bent's in Milton".
  20. ^ "Rules and Regulations for the Naval Service, Naval Affairs vol. 1". American State Papers, 15th Congress. Retrieved 2023-03-11.
  21. ^ Billings, J. D. (1887). Hard Tack and Coffee, or The Unwritten Story of Army Life. George M. Smith & Co. p. 113. Retrieved March 12, 2023.
  22. ^ Volo, D. D.; Volo, J. M. (1998). Daily Life in Civil War America. Daily Life Series. Greenwood Press. p. 127. ISBN 978-0-313-30516-0. Retrieved October 6, 2017.
  23. ^ Billings, J. D. (1887). Hard Tack and Coffee, or The Unwritten Story of Army Life. George M. Smith & Co. p. 119. Retrieved March 12, 2023.
  24. ^ Billings, J. D. (1887). Hardtack and Coffee, or The Unwritten Story of Army Life. George M. Smith & Co. p. 116. Retrieved March 12, 2023.
  25. ^ Wheeler, Linda (2004-12-12). "Hardtack Is Easy to Make, Hard to Eat". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2013-11-24.
  26. ^ The National Cyclopaedia of Useful Knowledge Vol III (1847), London, Charles Knight, p.354.
  27. ^ "Spanish American Hardtack". BexleyHistory.org. Archived from the original on 2013-02-01. Retrieved 2023-03-11.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  28. ^ "INSCRIBED PIECE OF SPANISH-AMERICAN WAR HARDTACK". HorseSoldier.com. Retrieved 2023-03-12.
  29. ^ "Cocket". Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. 2nd ed. 1989
  30. ^ Ma, Bo; Goldblatt, Howard (transl.) (1995). Blood Red Sunset. Viking Penguin. ISBN 0-14-015942-8.
  31. ^ "Cabin". www.laebiscuit.com.pg. Archived from the original on 2017-09-03. Retrieved 2017-06-28.
  32. ^ Hunt, Joshua (13 July 2022). "Alaska Runs on Pilot Bread". Eater.com. Retrieved March 12, 2023..
  33. ^ Title AS 02.35.110. Uniform Air Licensing Act, Emergency rations and equipment.
  34. ^ Robertson, Gary (2014-10-01). "Northern Exposure: A Henrico firm's hardtack cracker has become a cultural staple for Alaskans". Henrico Monthly. Archived from the original on 2014-10-16. Retrieved 2015-01-08.
  35. ^ "Saloon Pilot Crackers". Diamond Bakery Official Website. Retrieved 2023-03-11..
  36. ^ "The Best Emergency Food Supplies That Last For Years". Forbes.com. Retrieved March 12, 2023..
  37. ^ Fasulo, Thomas R. "Olustee Battlefield Reenactment Everything from bacon and hardtack". Retrieved 2008-10-23..
  38. ^ "Cooking: How to make Hardtack". Third US Regular Infantry Reenactors. Retrieved March 12, 2023..

  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChambers, Ephraim, ed. (1728). Cyclopædia, or an Universal Dictionary of Arts and Sciences (1st ed.). James and John Knapton, et al. {{cite encyclopedia}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)

Further reading edit

External links edit