Hardtack crackers are an easy to make, inexpensive cracker that can be stored for many years as long as it’s kept dry. Used historically in military campaigns such as the Civil War, and on long ocean voyages, hardtack has a proven track record of providing sustenance in the absence of perishable foods for self-reliant individuals of the past.
These crackers are lightweight, take minimal time and energy to make, and can be stored in waterproof/airtight containers in a survival kit, vehicles, pantries, etc., for use in an emergency. Although it’s not sensible to rely on a diet comprised solely of hardtack crackers, the point of this food item is to continue to provide the survivor with calories and other basic nutrients to continue to function until other food sources can be obtained. Also, like bannock and other basic survival food staples, this recipe isn’t set in stone. Improvisation and revision is encouraged and if you have specific recipe, feel free to share with the world so someone else out there can benefit from your experience.
How to Make
Hardtacks require the following resources to make:
- Flour – You can use white, wheat, soy, etc., as the specific type of flour. This is purely up to personal preference and will only slightly change the nutritional value.
- Salt – This ingredient wasn’t used in most historical recipes of hardtack’s but make them taste better and has little to no effect on the shelf life of these crackers.
- Water – If you’re making this recipe in the field or after an emergency/disaster, just ensure that the water source is clean. If in doubt bring the water to a boil to purify it.
- Optional ingredients include sugar, shortening, olive oil, etc. If you want to experiment with different spices or additives, just be mindful this will dramatically decrease the shelf life of the hardtack. If the intended use is to store in a kit or pantry for long term preparedness, it’s best not to use any additional ingredients. If you’re making hardtacks for a specific activity such as a weekend of camping, hiking, hunting, etc., then feel free to throw in extra ingredients to enhance the flavor.
Once all the ingredients have been gathered, mix them together. To make a batch which will 8-9 crackers, use 4 cups of flour, 4 teaspoons of salt and up to 2 cups of water.
Mix these ingredients into dough and knead the dough into ½ inch thickness in an ungreased baking sheet. Use a pizza cutter to cut the dough into squares approximately 3”x3” large. Using a fork or some other pointed object, make approximately 10-16 holes on each square. Take care not to fully penetrate the dough but instead, make the holes about ¼” deep. Turn the dough over and repeat this step of placing holes on the other side of the dough.
Next, bake the dough at 375 F for 30 minutes. Then turn the dough over and bake an additional 30 minutes. After it’s done cooking, the hardtack should be slightly browned on both sites and have a brittle texture. Make sure you allow at least 20-30 minutes for it to cool completely. If you’re cooking the hardtack with the intention of long term storage in a kit or your pantry, this is the most important step. The reason being, if the hardtack is stored before being fully cooled, it may still retain some moisture which will encourage mold and dramatically reducing its shelf life.
After the hardtack has been fully cooled, they’re ready for consumption. Anyone who’s ever handled or eaten hardtacks knows just how hard it actually is. Part of the reason you keep the dough only ½“ thick is to minimize the likelihood of chipping a tooth when eating it. If you make it any thicker, you run that risk or damaging your teeth when you try to eat it. Historically, hardtacks were dipped in coffee, soup brine, mixed with the fat of frying bacon/eggs, etc. By mixing it with a liquid, it’ll soften up and be much easier to consume.
Hardtacks are another great way to practically prepare for an emergency or survival situation. Because they’re so cheap and easy to make, you can easily add them to any type of survival kit, pantry, or store them in a vehicle. They will last many years if cooked and stored properly and although they’re not intended to live off exclusively, they can get the survivor through the tough times until additional resources can be located. If you have or know of additional hardtack cracker recipes, please share them so others may also benefit from your knowledge!