The bread that kept the navies afloat!
And I doubt that you will see it for sale at most ren faires that you attend but it is certainly a food that everyone ought to try at least once. It is a food that certainly earns its name as in its post-cooked state it will break your teeth from your head. It is the food that saved many a crew from starvation as they crewed ships of the Age of Sail across the oceans. It has been packed in bags and haversacks of soldiers over the years and carried over land and sea as a food for everyone from the serfs of Great Britain to Spanish sailors traveling to the Americas.
Peoples diets in the Middle Ages and even into the Renaissance were relatively bland. Hardtack is a perfect example of that bland diet. Two main ingredients: flour and water. Mix thoroughly and bake. If the cook wanted to get fancy… salt was added. After it was baked, you had a cake of flour that was easy to digest (unless you had a gluten problem) and would fill you up as the flour hit your stomach. Imagine a Saltine cracker without the flavor and a lot harder and a lot thicker. Think flattened round cake that has been pressed down and cooked slowly until there is no moisture left in it – oh yeah – and they left out the sugar and all of the flavorings.
I am going to focus on the Age of Sail for an explanation of how the people used hardtack. The sailors would line up for meal time onboard ship. They would be given a round of hardtack, some stew of some kind and their rum ration for the day. Now, you can’t just chew into the hardtack, that will crack your teeth. The sailors would take the hard tack and break it up and soak it in the stew they had gotten, they would soak it in water to get the granules of flour to be more palatable, they would soak it in brine – yes seawater – to get it to soften up. The cooks, knowing the displeasure that hardtack could bring to the crew, would sometimes cook the hardtack with meat to give it some flavor and to soften it up – like a hash. And of course, they would also soak the hardtack in rum. I think this might have been the best way to eat this almost inedible, edible substance.
Want to make your own?
- 4-5 cups of flour
- 2 cups of water
- 3 tsp of salt (optional)
Mix the ingredients. Make sure that your mixture is fairly dry. Roll it out to a uniform thickness of about a 1/2 inch. Cut the pieces into roughly three inch by three inch squares. Poke some hole sin both sides and then cook on each side for about 30 minutes in a 375° oven. Enjoy, if you can.