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You may or may not heard of hardtack. It’s not very delicious, it doesn’t even look too inviting, nor will you find the recipe on any cooking show. But knowing how to make it could make or break your survival plans.

Food that lasts forever is every prepper’s dream. The desire to preserve food is engraved in our DNA. It has been very important for our survival since ancient times. Long-lasting food is among several things that allowed us not only to survive but thrive and create civilizations.

Hardtack has a significant place in our history, especially when it comes to sailing. It was an integral part of sailor’s and soldier’s diets. Even though it is not essential as it used to be, there are several reasons why you should know what it is and how to make it. Besides tradition, almost ever-lasting properties make hardtack useful and popular among survivalists, homesteaders, and preppers. It is still a significant part of a regular diet in some parts of Canada and Alaska.

Truth be told, today we have many options to preserve food for a pretty long time. Drying, freezing, dehydrating, fermenting, and canning can extend the shelf life of food immensely. Many food manufacturers will do the job for you, so you can buy ready-made meals that can last long. Still, some of these products are very expensive. Also, it is cool to DIY.

What Is Hardtack

One thing is for sure: hardtack is one of the very few things you can eat that can last almost forever. Some people say it is a sort of biscuit while others say that it is a type of bread. Well, it takes flour, water, and salt to make it. So, it can fit both opinions.

Historically, people have called it “cabin bread”, “pilot bread”, “sea biscuit” and many more names. While it’s not necessary to classify it, it is obviously a flour product that allowed, and allows people to avoid hunger when there’s no fresh food available. Anyway, a biscuit can be considered as some sort of bread.

By the way, the word biscuit comes from the Old French. It is derived from Latin and means “twice-cooked”. Historically, hardtack was baked twice, sometimes even four times to get the hardest and most durable “treat”. 

As for the name “hardtack”, it comes from British sailor slang for food. The slang word was actually “tack” and the “hard” part was added later for apparent reasons. While hardtack has been made and eaten basically everywhere around the world, make no mistake – it really is hard. It is so hard that in Germany it is known as “panzerplatten”, which means armor plates. Therefore, it needed to be soaked or cooked to become softer and edible.

So, there you go: hardtack is a sort of survival bread or biscuit. We can only imagine what it meant to sailors on long voyages or to soldiers. It was eaten more or less worldwide, when there were no edible plants or meat available. This small cracker, rich in calories, was a lifeline for navies and armies for centuries until the introduction of canned food. 

how to make hardtack

The Easiest Hardtack Recipe

Hardtack is so great not only because of its unbelievable shelf life. It is also very easy to make and as affordable as it gets. All you need is a little bit of flour, water, and salt. And an oven to bake it. Today, people often add some other ingredients such as seasonings, oil, honey to improve taste and make it softer. While all combinations are allowed, it is very likely that any addition of moisture would decrease the shelf life of the product

We’ll share a traditional recipe and it’s your choice if you want to enrich it with spices or herbs. However, whatever you do, you’re not going to make a delicacy. Hardtack is a hard and tough cookie, made to help you survive. It is no sin though, to try to make it more enjoyable.

What You Need

  • 2 cups of flour
  • 1 cup of water
  • 2 teaspoons of salt
  • Rolling pin
  • Mixing bowl
  • Fork or chopsticks to make holes

Step 1: Mixing the Ingredients

Pour flour and salt into the large bowl and mix it. Then you should slowly add small amounts of water. As you add water, keep mixing your dough. It will be hard and very sticky. You can try using a mixing spoon or other tools, but you’ll probably end up using your hands only.

Keep mixing and kneading until you get a nice ball of dough. It should be pliable but firm. So, you want the dough neither dry (it may crumble), nor sticky (it means that there’s too much water in it). To make it perfect, add a little bit of water if it’s too dry or a little bit of flour if it is too sticky.

hardtack ingredients

Step 2: Preheat the Oven

Once you get some experience, you’ll be able to do all the prepping work while the oven is preheating. For the first time, it’s safer to mix the ingredients first. Preheat the oven to 375 to 400°F

Step 3: Roll the Dough

Back to the kneading. Make sure that your dough has reached a uniform consistency. Now, you can start rolling the dough. You can use a rolling pin or improvise with a glass bottle or something similar. If your dough is sticking to the rolling pin, sprinkle a little bit of flour to prevent it. 

Roll the dough until it is around ¼ inch thick. You should also try to shape it to get a square or rectangular shape. Naturally, the dough would spread into a sort of circular shape, but we are not making a pizza. You can do this roughly. It is just for the purpose of easier cutting and not having many leftovers. (Though I strongly recommend baking those leftovers too. We’re not running a baking contest here, but preparing for survival.)

rolling dough for hard tack

Step 4: Cutting the Dough

Cut the dough into squares approximately 3 inches by 3 inches. There’s no right or wrong shape and size, but these are roughly traditional dimensions. That’s the size that allows you to put it in a mug of coffee, beer, soup, or whatever people used to make it softer and edible. It also allows for easy packing.

So, this is a traditional way, but one of my friends likes to use molds to create small bunnies, elephants, and other fun shapes. Slight changes of shape and size make no difference in getting these crackers hard as a rock.

Step 5: Poking Holes

The secret of hardtacks durability lies in the absence of moisture. To make them super dry and worthy of their reputation, you need to poke holes in each biscuit. These holes allow moisture to escape while you bake your cookies.

You can use a fork or anything that can make small holes. You don’t have to be extremely precise, but the holes should be relatively evenly spaced through the crackers.

survival bread holes

Step 6: Baking

Now, your hardtacks are ready for baking. Lay them onto the baking sheet and leave some space between them so that they don’t touch or overlap. They don’t expand much, so you don’t have to leave too much space between them.

Bake them for 25-30 minutes on each side. The exact time depends on your oven. The best way to control the process is to do it visually. As soon as the crackers start to turn yellowish-brown, they are done. Be careful because it won’t take too long before you scorch them. So, as soon as they start to change the color, get them out of the oven.

Step 7: Cooling the Hardtack

When you remove them from the oven, allow them to cool completely. At this stage, you don’t want it to pick up the moisture from the air so cool it in a dry place. And voila! You have made your first traditional, survival crackers. Now you are ready to set sail for the new adventure.

Step 8: Storing the Crackers

Even though you have made durable, ever-lasting cookies, you need to store them properly. Any airtight container will do. Some preppers store them in vacuum-sealed compartments to make them last forever. Maybe it’s an overkill, but better safe than sorry.

Anyway, the most important thing is to keep them away from excessive moisture and these crackers will last a longer time than you will ever need.

Conclusion About Survival Bread

Hardtack is one of the best choices for stockpiling food. It is easy to make, affordable, and lasts long. It is small but high in calories. While the taste is not very delicious, you won’t mind it when you’re hungry.

I also like the traditional part of the story. We are following traditions of long ago. Christopher Columbus’s and Magellan’s voyages might have looked quite different without this ancient unleavened sailor bread. Of course, it wasn’t the only thing they ate on long voyages.

Maybe we have already discovered all continents and distant lands, but reviving old traditions has its charms, too. And some of the old ways are useful even today. Hardtack is one of those things that would never go to oblivion as long as we face surviving challenges. So, whether you want to emulate ancient sailor’s ways or you’re just prepping for the tough times, you should make and bake some hardtacks.