Still available commercially (well, in Newfoundland, anyway), hard-tack is essentially a flour and water cracker that has a long shelf life because all the moisture has been cooked out of it. This makes it ideal food for transporting on long journeys without refrigeration, so if you're a cowboy, sailor, or soldier, you're familiar with hard-tack. How long a shelf-life? It's said that American Civil War aficionados will not only bake hard-tack, but collect authentic (and still unspoiled) 19th century rations.

You can make it yourself, if you like-- whip up a batch for your re-enactor pals:

  • 2-3 cups water (or milk)
  • 8 cups plain flour
  • 8 tbsp lard (or shortening)
  • 3 tsp salt
  • optional: 5 tsp sugar 1 tsp molasses

    Mix ingredients and knead to form a dough. Start with the minimum amount of liquid and add just enough to get the dough to work. Flatten out or roll to 1/2 inch thickness. (Thinner if you want it crispier or easier to eat, but then you're sacrificing historical authenticity) Cut into 3 inch squares, punch holes with an ice pick or 10 penny nail, 3 rows of 3 holes per square. Bake at 400 degrees Farenheit for 45 minutes. Let the tack cool uncovered to let any moisture escape. A second baking the next day at a lower temperature should help. Any moisture left in the biscuit could lead to spoilage.

Now, as for eating it-- you'll want to add moisture. Dunk it in your coffee, drop it in a pan of stew, or wrap it in a wet towel to soften it up... and prepare your teeth for a workout.

Sources: Purity Factories Limited, <> (4 January 2002)
Rick Frustaci, "Hard Tack," The 15th New York Cavalry Home Page, <> (4 January 2002)
Raymond Moore, "Hard Tack Crackers," <> (4 January 2002)
<> (4 January 2002)