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Making Hardtack: A DIY Guide to Survival Biscuits

If you ever find yourself in an SHTF situation, you’ll be grateful that you’ve stockpiled hardtack. It’s more than just food, it’s survival.

In this guide, you’ll learn how to make your own hardtack, store it, and stockpile it. It’s easy, requires only a few ingredients, and it’s your ticket to endurance.

Get ready to master the art of making the ultimate survival biscuit.

Origins and History of Hardtack

You might find it fascinating that hardtack has ancient roots and has been a staple for soldiers during times of war.

It’s a piece of history that’s still relevant today, especially in modern prepping.

Let’s take a look at its origins, its roles in historical events, and why it’s still a vital part of survival strategies.

The Ancient Roots of Hardtack

While it’s often associated with sailors and soldiers in recent centuries, hardtack’s roots go back to ancient times. Once you make your first batch, you’ll be tapping into a hardtack recipe that goes back 6,000 years.

Egyptian sailors would set to sail with a sea biscuit they called dhourra. The Romans made wide use of a hard biscuit called bucellatum. During the Crusades, the Throne fed their soldiers with a biskit of muslin that consisted of a mixture of grains. Noblemen were fed biskits made from a finer flour.

Commercially available hardtack started being produced in the 1600s and you can buy it today if you don’t want to make your own.

Whether you’re using a traditional hardtack recipe or something modified by nuts or spices, you’re eating something that people have been living on for millennia.

Hardtack During War Times: A Historical Perspective

Although it’s a simple biscuit, when you consider the role of hardtack in times of war, its historical significance and the role it played in sustaining soldiers is impressive. Known as a sea biscuit or ship’s biscuit, hardtack was a key survival food, relied upon by sailors and soldiers alike for its long shelf life.

As part of their diet, in the 1700s, British Naval sailors were allotted hardtack rations of 1 pound per day. In the 1800s, the U.S. Navy prescribed 14 ounces per day for a sailor. American Civil War soldiers were rationed 9 or 10 hardtack biscuits each day and often found themselves sucking on a chip from a biscuit so that their saliva could soften it enough to be eaten.

Hardtack dough was normally baked twice until it was rock hard, but for long sea voyages it was baked 4 times and the preparation would start as much as 6 months before the ship set sail. To make it more palatable and edible, hardtack biscuits softened best in coffee or stew.

Hardtack in Modern Prepping: Why It’s Still Relevant

In modern prepping, hardtack’s not just a remnant of the past, it’s also a great survival food, especially when you’re dealing with limited supplies, power outages, or natural disasters. As you build up your prepper pantry, think of hardtack as your insurance policy – a little less tasty, but necessary.

Made with just wheat flour, water, and salt, also known as cabin bread or pilot bread, traditional hardtack boasts a long shelf life of up to 25 years when stored correctly. Should you choose to add a dash of cinnamon or oregano for a flavor twist you will shorten its shelf life to a few months. Storing hardtack will be an important part of your survival plan.

hardtack recipe of flour water and salt

What does hardtack taste Like?

So, you’re curious about how traditional hardtack tastes? If I told you there was a song called “Hardtack Come Again No More” would that help? Probably not…

It’s not that it tastes bad, but after a month of eating hardtack biscuits that are plain, bland, and taste almost like unsalted soda crackers, you’re going to get tired of it.

But don’t worry, there’s a whole world of possibilities when it comes to seasoning and flavoring this survival biscuit.

The Simple Flavor Profile of Hardtack

You’ll notice that hardtack has a minimal flavor profile with just a hint of salt. The traditional hardtack recipe is an unleavened bread, made from either white flour or whole wheat flour.

Before eating hardtack, soak it in broth, soup, or coffee to soften and add flavor. A mixed hardtack variant might include spices or sweeteners, but traditional recipes stick to the basics. The salt in the recipe is a preservative, and spices of any sort will shorten its shelf life.

Because it has a bland flavor profile it’s an excellent addition to a soup to add bulk and carbohydrates for energy. By itself, it won’t take away from the flavors of whatever it’s served with.

Enhancing the Taste: Seasoning and Flavoring Options

While hardtack’s flavor profile is quite basic, you can experiment with various seasoning blends and flavoring options to enhance its taste. As we’ve stated a couple of times, anything you add before baking will shorten the shelf-life. But if you have a solid rotation plan here are some possibilities…

Using self-rising flour, you’ll add something to the flavor, but your finished product won’t be as compact. Vegetable oil can add a different texture and subtle flavor, but the oil will make the biscuit go bad in months, not years. When it comes to salt content, don’t reduce it, but you might add a bit more.

Soldiers and Sailors from just a few centuries ago were known to soak hardtack biscuits in brown sugar and whiskey to make a “pudding”.

Before baking, enhancing the taste of your sea bread can be as simple as adding herbs or spices. You’ve got the option to include chunks of salt pork for a smoky, savory twist. Some have added crushed nuts for protein and flavor. If you get creative with seasoning and flavoring options in your hardtack recipes I’d suggest that you do your own shelf-life testing to verify your storage method.

How long can you live on Hardtack?

The big question is, ‘how long can I survive on hardtack?’ To start with, you cannot survive forever on hardtack alone. Sailors have suffered scurvy when they’ve had to do that.

What hardtack biscuits can do for you is help stretch your other survival food further.

Start by calculating your daily caloric requirements. Your typical 3″x3″ hardtack biscuit that’s about 1/2″ thick and made with whole wheat flour is going to give you roughly 260 calories, a little over 50 grams of carbohydrates, and less than 1 gram of fat.

Your survival plan should include supplementing hardtack with other survival food to ensure a balanced diet.

Understanding the Nutritional Longevity of Hardtack

Unlike less robust foods, hardtack’s simplicity lends it a long shelf-life. Picture a lumpy pancake, but instead of being fluffy, it’s as hard as the aptly named sheet iron crackers. You’d typically poke holes into the dough before baking it, to ensure it dries out entirely. This, coupled with its low moisture content, prevents mold growth.

Hardtack isn’t a culinary delight, it’s a low-cost survival food loaded with carbs to keep you going when there’s nothing else. These factors make it a worthy addition to your prepper pantry.

Calculating Daily Caloric Needs with Hardtack

When incorporating hardtack into your survival diet, each biscuit contains about 260 calories, so eating 3 per day would give you a third of your minimum daily caloric intake needs.

In order to live on at least 3 hardtack biscuits/day you’re going to have to find ways to make it tastier. But flavor alone isn’t going to be enough. You’ll need to find ways to add critical vitamins like vitamin C, and you’ll need proteins and fats to achieve some level of balance in your emergency rations.

Supplementing Hardtack with Other Survival Food Sources

While hardtack’s longevity is impressive, it’s essential to supplement your survival diet with other food sources to ensure your body’s nutritional needs are met.

A sample meal for two that includes hard tack could be a can of soup shared by two people with each having a hard tack biscuit. The canned soup will give each person 200-250 calories, and the ship biscuit will give you another 250-260 calories. That’s a 450-500 calorie meal, which is pretty light if you’re doing any real survival work or if you’re on the move.

Your prepper pantry should also hold canned fruits, vegetables, and protein-based foods as part of your survival plan. Pemmican is a great compliment. Canned goods, dried fruits, nuts, meats, and seeds will play a vital role, offering the vitamins and minerals hardtack lacks. Hunt, fish, or trap if possible for fresh protein.

You can experiment with hardtack recipes to add flavor and other nutrients, but if you do that you’re going to have also collect shelf-life data on those mixtures.

traditional hardtack recipe

How can I make hardtack?

You can make hardtack fairly easily by following a simple traditional hardtack recipe that only requires flour, water, and a bit of salt.

It’s as easy as mixing the ingredients, rolling out the dough, and baking it until it’s hard.

The Basic Hardtack Recipe: Step-by-Step Instructions

Here’s a breakdown of the steps you need to follow in order to whip up a batch of basic hardtack.

First, you’ll need three ingredients: 3 cups of flour, 2 teaspoons of salt, and 1 cup of water. Combine these in a bowl, stirring until it forms a dough.

Next, roll it out with a rolling pin until it’s about a half-inch thick. Cut it into squares (a pizza cutter works best) and poke holes in each with a ka-bob or chop stick. Don’t skip the “holes” step because they’re key to the drying process. You’ll poke about 9 holes in a 3″x3″ square.

Set your oven to 350 degrees and slide in your hardtack. Bake the hard tack on a baking sheet until it’s lightly golden – about 30 minutes. You’ll flip them after the first 15 minutes.

Allow the hard tack to cool for several hours on a cooling rack. Once it has reached room temperature you can bake it a second time, but bake it for only 15-20 minutes and watch the color of the hardtack so that you don’t burn it. Again allow it to cool on the cooling rack. Some chose to allow it to cool for as much as 24 hours before sealing it for long-term storage.

Exploring Variations: Adding Nutritional Ingredients

Adding nutritional ingredients can give your hardtack an extra health boost.

You can add powdered milk for a calcium kick, or mix in flax seeds for omega-3. If you’re feeling adventurous, try infusing your hardtack with dried fruits for a sweet twist. Some have crushed almonds to add protein.

A variation worth trying is made with sunflower seed flour grown from your own survival garden. After drying and grinding the sunflower seeds into flour, you would swap the white flour in your hardtack recipe 1-for-1 with the sunflower seed flour. In 1/4 cup of sunflower flour, you’ll gain 8 grams of protein.

Anything you add will shorten the shelf-life of hardtack. Collect your own data, and start by assuming no more than 2-3 months as storage conditions vary.

How to Store Hardtack

After you’ve made your hardtack, the next step is proper long-term storage.

You’ll need an airtight container for long-term storage and a cool dry storage location. If you’ve added anything to the base hardtack recipe, regularly inspect and rotate your stock.

Let’s discuss these key points to maintaining your hardtack’s quality.

Choosing the Right Containers for Long-Term Storage

You’ll need to consider a few key factors when choosing the right containers for long-term storage of your homemade hardtack.

First off, the container’s material matters. You’d want something that’s airtight and moisture-resistant, like glass or food-grade plastic.

The goal is long-lasting, edible hardtack. So, don’t skimp on quality. You want a container with a good seal. You should consider vacuum packing, especially if you’ve added anything to change the flavor.

Lastly, consider size and shape. Chances are you’re storing a good amount. So, opt for small or medium-sized, stackable containers for efficient storage. This also makes it so that opening one container doesn’t expose a large amount of inventory to moisture.

Optimal Storage Conditions to Preserve Hardtack

Even with the perfect container, hardtack won’t last unless stored in optimal conditions, and those conditions depend on temperature, humidity, and light exposure.

To keep your hardtack fresh and edible, you’ve got to store it in a cool, dry place, out of direct sunlight. Here’s why: heat speeds up spoilage, humidity introduces moisture that encourages mold, and light can degrade nutrients.

Beyond the environment you store hardtack in, the question “Can you vacuum seal hardtack?” comes up, and the answer is “Yes”. In fact, if you add any spices to your hardtack biscuits, you should absolutely consider vacuum sealing as a means of increasing it’s shelf-life.

Regular Inspection and Rotation: Maintaining Hardtack Quality

By regularly inspecting and rotating your hardtack, you’re ensuring its quality and decreasing the odds that it goes bad on you by surprise.

When you check for signs of mold or insects, you’re protecting their provisions. A rotation plan also serves to help you evaluate your prepper pantry design.

When you store your hardtack biscuits, mark them with the date they were made, and whether or not they have any added spices. Keep a rotation log and calendar in your prepper pantry.

Hardtack – What NOT To Do

While making hardtack, there are a few pitfalls you’ll need to avoid. Not only can improper preparation lead to a less than appetizing biscuit, but contamination and spoilage can also become serious issues.

Common Mistakes in Hardtack Preparation

You’re likely to overbake your hardtack if you don’t keep a close eye on it during the baking process. That’s one common mistake you’d want to avoid. You don’t want to bake it past a light golden brown color.

It’s also possible to underbake your hard tack and leave moisture in it. For this reason, hard tack has often been twice-baked and allowed at least a full day or two to dehydrate in dry air.

Don’t be disheartened if your first batch isn’t perfect. It’s a learning curve we all have to go through.

Another common mistake is using too much water. It’s tempting to add more, but resist the urge. Your dough should be just moist enough to hold together, not soggy. If it’s too wet, you’ll end up with a tough, chewy biscuit that will certainly need to be re-baked.

Avoiding Contamination and Spoilage

In the pursuit of shelf-life, it’s crucial to avoid contamination and spoilage when storing your hardtack.

Store your hardtack in a dry, cool place away from direct sunlight. Use airtight containers to keep out moisture and pests.

It’s crucial to let your hardtack cool completely before storing it. Residual heat can cause condensation, leading to spoilage. Many preppers let their hardtack air dry for at least a day after baking before they store it.

Safety Precautions During Baking

Wear oven mitts. I know it sounds goofy but more than one baker has forgotten this step.

Use a baking timer so you don’t lose track and overcook your hardtack biscuits. They can catch fire, or fill your house with smoke.

how to soften hardtack

How To Prepare and Eat Hardtack

This stuff is some of the hardest stuff on earth! It will chip teeth! So you’re probably wondering how to prepare and eat hardtack…

Well, there’s more than one way to make hardtack edible…

Let’s discuss:

– Rehydrating it for a softer bite

– Incorporating it into meals creatively

– Emergency cooking methods

– Other survival foods that pair well with it.

Rehydrating Hardtack: Tips for a Softer Bite

You’ll find that rehydrating your hardtack can significantly soften its bite and make it more palatable.

Just soak your hardtack in water or broth for about 15 minutes.

You’d be amazed at how it transforms from a rock-hard biscuit to a softer, more edible meal. Remember to be patient and think ahead. It’ll take more than a minute or two. If you’ve got a small sealable container, close the hardtack biscuits inside with a bit of water before you start preparing your meal to give it time to absorb all the way through the biscuit by the time your meal is ready.

Creative Ways to Incorporate Hardtack into Meals

You can crumble it into soup or stew, but you’re likely to find it more enjoyable when used as a base for a hearty gravy smothered meat dish. Imagine tender pieces of beef or chicken, swimming in a rich, succulent gravy, with the subtle crunch of hardtack adding an unexpected texture. This can transform a simple survival food into a comforting, delicious meal.

Don’t stop there!

Have you thought about using it as a pizza base or maybe even in a dessert? Soften the biscuit, then smother it in spaghetti sauce and add a little pepperoni.

Emergency Cooking Methods for Hardtack

When you’re out in the wild with only hardtack as your food source, you’ll need to know how to cook it effectively and efficiently, but also how to make it palatable.

You can crumble it into a pot of boiling water to make a simple porridge.

Or toast it over an open flame until it’s golden and crunchy. Civil War Soldiers were known to soften it in coffee or soup.

Pairing Hardtack with Other Survival Foods

You often pair hardtack with other survival foods to enhance its flavor and nutritional content. It’s a staple in any survivalist’s kit, but let’s face it, it can be a bit bland on its own.

You can try crumbling it into soups or stews, which not only thickens your meal but also gives it a bit more substance. You can fry it in a pan with some pork fat to add flavor.

Or how about spreading peanut butter or honey on it? You’d be surprised how a simple spread can transform a plain biscuit into a delightful treat.

The Nutritional Value of Hardtack

You might wonder about the nutritional punch that hard tack packs. It’s more than just a survival biscuit; it’s a source of essential nutrients your body needs.

Consider how incorporating hardtack into your diet can provide a balance of nutrients while also serving as a long-lasting food option.

Breaking Down the Nutritional Content

Let’s delve into the nutritional content of hardtack. You’ll find it’s a surprisingly dense source of energy. Just one piece can provide you with a significant hit of carbohydrates, essential for keeping your energy levels up.

While hardtack isn’t high in protein or fiber, it’s got enough to help you push through. It’s low in fat and sugar, so it’s not going to give you any unwanted spikes or crashes. Because of the lack of vitamins in hardtack, you’ll need to complement it with other foods to ensure a balanced diet.

Hardtack as a Source of Essential Nutrients

What makes hardtack a great survival food, is that a few pieces can provide a significant portion of your daily carbohydrate needs. It’s not gourmet, but it won’t let you down when you’re in a pinch.

Hard tack makes it possible to store carbohydrates far longer than you can with just regular bread.

But carbs are it. There’s really nothing else. To avoid scurvy you’ll need to have other survival foods canned and stored in your pantry. To feed your muscles over the long haul, you’ll need to have sources of protein as well.

Your SHTF Plan should not overlook the importance of protein-rich foods and fresh fruits or veggies.

Balancing Your Diet with Hardtack

Our prepper pantry includes hardtack biscuits for just a few reasons: 1) They have great shelf-life, 2) They are economical to make and build inventory, and 3) They are an easy way to stockpile a vital part of a good prepper diet.

You should practice making hardtack, get it right, and start adding it to your prepper stockpile.