Hardtack | Recipes from American History

In the 1600s the discovery of unknown territory was at its peak, with many explorers setting forth from European nations in search of new land. While the exploration of the unknown territory was exciting, there were a few drawbacks to the thrill of adventure. Being on a ship for weeks on end could be extremely dull and the food on such vessels was hardly gourmet.

Because no one could be really sure how long a ship would be at sea, the food supply for the sailors was meant to last for a long time. When in port, sailors would enjoy fruit and vegetables, but out at sea it was a different matter. Vegetables and fruits spoiled easily so they were usually eaten as fast as possible, although no fruit put the sailors at greater risk of contracting scurvy from lack of vitamin c.

Most meals on board ship consisted of meat (which was salted and dried so that it wouldn’t spoil) and hardtack; a mixture of flour, water, and salt baked to a rock-like consistency. The salt in hardtack provided necessary nutrients to the sailors and was made so it could last for forever if the need arose. Literally. The oldest piece of hardtack existing today is displayed in a museum in Florida and was made in 1851. Unfortunately because it was so hardy, hardtack was impossible to eat. Sailors had to soak their pieces in broth or water to make them more palatable, but no one ever called it delicious. Even though it was no treat, hardtack has played a huge part in American History and fed American sailors, soldiers, and civilians for hundreds of years.



  • 3/4 c. flour
  • 1/4 c. water
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

1. Preheat the oven to 375 F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a small bowl combine the flour, water, and salt to make a dough. The dough should be soft but not sticky; if it’s too wet add more flour a tablespoon at a time. Place dough on a lightly floured surface and roll out to 1/2” thickness. Cut into 3”x 3” squares and place on parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes on one side, then flip and bake 15 minutes on the other, until dough is golden brown and hard. Remove from oven and let cool. Dip in broth or water to soften before eating.

My students like that Dave Raymond details the ‘why’ and not just the ‘when’ of historical events. ~ Judy

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