In hard times food becomes the second most important commodity right behind water. During most of Human history Hardtack or ship biscuit has been the go to ration for soldiers and sailors of old on their arduous missions. Hardtack and its many derivatives have fed the masses for thousands of years.
Name me a war and someone was supplementing their diet with some sort of hardtack.
What is hardtack? Hardtack is a simple dough made of flour, salt and water. Rolled out to a ½ inch thick, cut into 4-5 inch squares and poked with holes like a saltine. They are placed on a cookie sheet and baked at 400 degrees F for 1 hour or more until dry as a bone. The internet is chuck full of hardtack recipes. Some differ greatly as to ingredients, baking temps and cooking times.
The big question you end up with is what the hell do you do with it?
Well… On a personal note I love making a Civil War favorite with Union Soldiers, “hellfire stew.”
Hell fire stew
Hell Fire Stew is one of the few recipes solders actually wrote down and one of the few dishes that are palatable to modern tastes. The simplest version of Hell fire Stew is as follows.
2-6 hardtack crackers (crushed)
Soak the crushed hartack pieces in hot water until soft as meat (this could take several hours, dependng on how large the pieces). Once the hardtack has softened drain from the liquid and fry in hot Pork Grease (Salt Pork and/or Bacon grease is best). Brown and serve.
Modern variations of Hell Fire Stew include a Can of pinto beans, a can of mixed vegetables to add some color and a bit of flavor.
I personally soak my hardtack with hot Beef or chicken broth. I throw in a couple of onions fried brown. The variations are limitless.
The Salt Pork and/or Bacon grease is important and don’t leave it out of the recipe. Seasonings are salt pepper and what ever suits your fancy. Keep it simple because hardtack will pick up strong flavors. I avoid using garlic. You on the other hand my like it.