Civil War Hardtack
Have you ever taken a bag of snacks with you on a road trip? If you lived in the 19th century, you might have taken hardtack instead. Hardtack was a kind of cracker that sailors, Civil War soldiers, and the pioneers carried with them so they would have something to eat if they found themselves in a place where food wasn't available. The high salt content in the dough acted as a preservative, giving it the ability to stay good for long periods of time. It's said that a well-made batch of hardtack could stay edible for a few years!
What You Need:
- 2 c. whole wheat flour
- ½ to 1 c. water
- 6 pinches of salt
- 1 tbsp. vegetable shortening or oil
- Rolling pin
- Cookie sheet
What You Do:
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
- Have your child mix the flour and salt in a bowl with her hands or a large wooden spoon.
- Help her slowly add water to the flour and salt, using just enough so that the dough will form – it doesn't have to be the full cup. Make sure the dough won't stick to her hands or utensils. It should be dry to the touch, but still squishy.
- Have her roll out the dough, shaping it into a large rectangle that's about ½ in. thick.
- Cut the dough into equal-sized squares. Try making them small enough to throw in your pocket or pack before you trek across the battlefield.
- Have your child carefully use a pointed implement like a kebab skewer, fondue fork or a steak knife to press 4 rows of 4 small indents across each piece, so that it looks like a saltine cracker. Be careful not to poke all the way through!
- Have her lay out the squares on a cookie sheet and bake for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, remove the cookie sheet from the oven. Turn each piece over and bake for another 30 minutes.
- Turn the oven off and let the hardtack cool on a wire rack.
Despite its reputation as a tasteless, dry food, hardtack is still a pantry staple in a few countries like Japan and Canada. The most enthusiastic buyers in the United States are Civil War re-enactors, who buy it in order to better understand what life was like for the Union and Confederate troops.