I could mean a hard tack on my sail boat, but actually I want to introduce you to the hard tack the Pilgrims ate as one of their staples during their 66 day voyage on the Mayflower. As many of you know, I am writing a historical novel about one Pilgrim in particular, and as a treat (?) for one of my critique groups reviewing the early chapters, I made some for them to try.
Hard tack is is a simple type of biscuit or cracker (my friends who tried it said it tasted like a Saltine), made from flour, water, and sometimes salt. In the absence of perishable food, it’s a cheap and long-lasting source of sustenance, commonly used during long sea voyages, land migrations or military maneuvers. It derives from the slang word for food used by British sailors: tack. Synonyms are cabin bread, pilot bread, sea biscuit, sea bread, ship’s biscuit, or ship biscuit, and it has also been sarcastically called dog biscuits, molar breakers, sheet iron, tooth dullers and worm castles.
It is baked HARD, and can keep for years if kept dry. For example, during our Civil War, hardtack shipped to Union and Confederate storehouses had been made and stored during the 1846–48 Mexican-American War. For long voyages, hardtack was baked four times, rather than the more common two (as in the recipe I will provide), and was usually made months before it was needed. Hard tack is softened by dunking it in brine, coffee, or any liquid of choice.
Soldiers during the Civil War would often get hard tack with insect infestation, usually of weevils. They would crumble it into their coffee, the insects would float to the top, where they could be skimmed off, and the coffee plus sodden hard tack then eaten.
Here is my hard tack recipe, made in the traditional way without sugar, butter, and milk.
3 cups of white flour
2 tsp salt
1 cup of water
- Preheat oven to 375o.
- Gradually mix in the water until a dough is formed that doesn’t stick to your hands. One cup is just about right.
- Roll out the dough into a square no more than 0.5 inches thick
- Cut the dough into 9 squares.
- Using a nail, make a 4 x 4 grid of holes deep into the dough in each of the squares.
- Put the squares individually on an ungreased cookie sheet.
- Bake for 30 min.
- Turn the squares over and bake for another 30 min.
- Allow the squares to cool thoroughly before attempting to eat!
My group found this hard tack interesting, and two of them asked for the recipe. One wants it for her diet and the other wants to make it for cruises on his sailboat. Go figure!