how to make hardtack featured image

How to Make Hardtack

When thinking about survival situations, food is always a priority.  Sure you can hunt, fish, or gather food.  However, having food available for bugging in or bugging out is an even better option.  In my endless hunt for survival foods, I am primarily looking to fulfill a few needs.  One is that the food must last a long time.  Another is that it must be lightweight and compact. A third would be that it must satisfy some dietary need that is hard to fulfill otherwise.

Hardtack is basically a dried biscuit that fits the profile of a good survival food.  If kept dry, hardtack can last up to 150 years, so it is ideal for your pack or your food stockpile.  Because it is dried, it is compact and lightweight.  It is also high in calories and carbohydrates.  Those are two commodities that are hard to come by in a survival situation. Another benefit of hardtack is that it is easy to make in almost any conditions.

Making Hardtack (Basic Recipe)

The process of making this food is incredibly simple.  This is one of the reasons it makes for a great survival foodYou can make hardtack with only two ingredients:

  • flour
  • water

…and you can make it in almost any conditions. Whether you have a gourmet kitchen, a gas grill, a camp stove, or a rustic campfire you can make this staple. In addition, you’re also going to need:

  • a little bit of salt
  • a bowl to mix the dough in
  • and a fork

Let’s see the easy steps:

Start with two cups of flour and slowly add water. Your goal is to make it into a consistent dough that you can roll out and cut.  If it gets too watery, add more flour.  There is no point in kneading the dough since we are not making bread:

step 1 - adding flour

step 2 - mixing the flour

On a floured table, roll out your dough with a floured rolling pin until it is about ¼ inch thick. Then you can cut it into whatever shapes and sizes you like.  Think about storage and purpose.  You will want larger pieces if you might use it as a plate for other food.

If you are packing it into a small space in a pack, you will likely want smaller pieces.  It is important that all the pieces be the same shape and size so they cook at the same rate. You can use a ruler to cut a straight edge, or you can use cookie cutters, a jar, or a glass to cut various shapes.

step 3 - rolling the dough

Preheat the oven to 250F.

You next need to dock the biscuits. This means poking holes in the dough so it will dry properly and will not rise.  You can use a fork, a nail, chopsticks, or a knife to poke evenly spaced holes all the way through the dough.  As a general guide, you should cut 16 holes in a 3 inch by 3 inch square.  This is the recipe used during the civil war.

step 4 - poking holes

Place the biscuits on an ungreased baking sheet, and make sure they are evenly spaced. Cook them for two hours and then flip them over to cook for two more hours.

Remove the biscuits from the baking sheet and place them on a cooling rack until they are room temperature.

Repeat the baking process cooking for another two hours on one side and two hours on the other side at 250F. Move back to the cooling rack until room temperature.

Here’s the full video on how to do it:

Variations

Hard tack in this form has very little flavor.  There are things you can do to make the finished product more flavorful.  However, keep in mind that the lack of moisture is what makes hardtack last as long as it does.  You cannot modify the recipe in any way that adds moisture or it will spoil sooner.

Salt is an ingredient that was often added to hardtack. Not only does it add flavor, but the human body needs some level of salt in the diet to keep functioning.  Other grains can be added to the flour for texture and flavor.  Spices can be added or a little honey can give your hardtack a sweet taste while also adding valuable sugars. Dairy products like butter or cream can be added, but they will likely go rancid within a few weeks.

Storage

There are two primary reasons why hard tack might not last as long as you would like.  One would be if moisture gets to the biscuits.  Any moisture can cause mold to form which would render the hardtack inedible.  You are best to keep your hardtack in an airtight container or bag.  Store your containers in a cool, dry place to ensure it keeps as long as possible.

The other potential issue with hardtack is damage from pests.  These biscuits are a perfect food source for bugs like weevils or for mice or rats.  For this reason you should try to keep your supply up off of the ground.  I also prefer hard, airtight containers to keep out the insects and pests that could ruin my stash.

How to Eat Hardtack

With most recipes there is no need for a section on how to eat the finished product.  However, hardtack is an exception.  The biscuits are so hard that you often have to get creative to find a good way to eat it.  As stated before, hardtack can be softened with liquids.  This could be water, coffee, milk, vinegar, or any other liquid.  It is sometimes added to stews or gravy to help thicken the dish.  Some people have been known to soften hard tack and then fry it in grease or oil.  This is one of the tastier preparations of this food.

If you are going to eat hardtack without preparing it in some way, there is a proper way to do it.  Break off a small piece and let it sit in your mouth to soften for a while.  Eventually you will get a softer consistency that you can chew.  Also be sure to have some water on hand as the flour will suck all the moisture out of your mouth.

History

This survival food has a long and proud history of proving its value.  Both the ancient Roman and the ancient Egyptian civilizations used hardtack, and typically gave it to their soldiers as rations.  It is ideal as a ration for soldiers for the same reasons it is ideal for survival situations.  Sailors crossing vast oceans would take hardtack with them for the journey.  It was baked four times to be sure it would survive the moisture from the sea.  Often the biscuits would have to be soaked in pickle brine, coffee, or water to soften them enough to eat.

Civil War soldiers were rationed several large biscuits per day and often used them as plates to eat perishable food.  They would then snack on the biscuits as they hiked.  The Union Army would bake the biscuits twice and then let them sit for six months before issuing them to soldiers.  This would ensure they were properly dried. Southern states were short on flour because of blockades put in place by the North, so when flour was available they made huge batches.

In Conclusion

The more time that passes as a survivalist and prepper, the more I think about things like food preservation.  Whether we are talking about venison, fish, berries, mushrooms, or hardtack, it appears that dehydration is the key to long term preservation.  Keeping food cold is fine in certain circumstances.  However, without electricity there are times that keeping food cold is very difficult.

By removing the moisture from a food, you eliminate the possibility of fungus or bacteria growing in that food.  That is all that hardtack is.  It is a form of bread with all of the moisture removed. In addition to lasting years and years, this survival food is lightweight and versatile.  It is perfect to add to your bug out bag or to save for times when other food is not available.  There are dozens of ways to make and prepare hardtack to give you a variety of flavors and textures.

There is a good reason why soldiers and seamen have carried hardtack for thousands of years.  When you are pushed to the limit and need vital energy, it is a great option for a snack.  Over the years hardtack has been known as pilot bread, cabin bread, ship biscuit, sea biscuit, and sea bread.  It has had so many nicknames because of how prolific it has been in the survival of man in the worst possible conditions.

Not only do I like to keep some around the house, but I always like to take some with me on any camping or hiking trips.  If you get a chance, make some up and integrate it into your prepping or survival strategy.

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About Ryan Dotson

Ryan Dotson
My name is Ryan Dotson and I am a survivalist, prepper, writer, and photographer. I grew up in the Ozark Mountains and in the foothills of the Pocono Mountains. My interest in survival started when I was in Boy Scouts and continued as my father, uncle, and grandfather taught me to hunt and fish. In the last few years I have started taking on survival challenges and have started writing about my experiences. I currently live in Mid-Missouri with my wife Lauren and three year old son Andrew.

2 comments

  1. Thank for posting about ( Hard Tack) now we have the basic`s , how about researching what would be the best tasting hard tack?. ask for people to send you their recipes . I never made hard tack but that`s about to change. again Thank you.

  2. My husband and I did Civil War re-enacting and I thought it would be fun to make our own hard tack. I didn’t know about the 2nd 4 hour baking process in your recipe. I only baked it once. I used a hammer to break it down into crumbs for my camp stew, I also soaked it in coffee. However, one nice thing about hard tack is its versatility. It is so hard it can be used for plates for your flack jacket. Just kidding on that, but I’ll bet it could be done. We ended up adding some garlic salt to our hard tack and that made them more palatable. I sealed some up in my vacuum sealer and some in just a zip lock bag. That was probably 4 years or so ago and they’re still as hard as the day I put them in.

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