Saturday, September 27, 2008

Brewis tangent: Hard Tack and ship's biscuit

According to Wikipedia:

Hardtack (or hard tack) is a simple type of cracker or biscuit, made from flour, water, and salt. Inexpensive and long-lasting, it is and was used for sustenance in the absence of perishable foods, commonly during long sea voyages and military campaigns.[1] The name derives from the British sailor slang for food, "tack". It is known by other names such as pilot bread (as rations for bush pilots), ship's biscuit, sea biscuit, sea bread (as rations for sailors) or pejoratively "dog biscuits", "tooth dullers", "sheet iron" or "molar breakers".[2]

Because it is so hard and dry, properly stored and transported hardtack will survive rough handling and endure extremes of temperature.


To soften it, it was often dunked in brine, coffee, or some other liquid or cooked into a skillet meal. Baked hard, it would keep for years as long as it was kept dry. For long voyages, hardtack was baked four times, rather than the more common two, and prepared six months before sailing.[3]


Modern use

Alaskans are among the last to eat hard tack as a significant part of their normal diet, especially those in or from around Alaska. Interbake Foods of Richmond, Virginia produces most, if not all, of the commercially-available pilot bread under the "Sailor Boy" label — 98% of its production goes to Alaskans. Originally imported as a food product that could stand the rigors of transportation throughout Alaska, like powdered milk, pilot bread has become a favored food even as other, less robust foods have become available. Alaskan law requires all light aircraft to carry "survival gear", including food. The blue-and-white Sailor Boy Pilot Bread boxes are ubiquitous at Alaskan airstrips, in cabins, and virtually every village.
Commercially-available pilot bread is a significant source of food energy in a small, durable package. A store-bought 24-gram cracker can contain 100 calories, 20% from fat, 2 grams of protein and practically no dietary fiber. Two-pound boxes sold by Wal-Mart, Costco, Fred Meyer and other local stores in Anchorage cost roughly $4.00 in late 2007.
In the fall of 2007, rumors spread throughout Alaska that Interbake Foods might stop producing pilot bread. An Anchorage Daily News article[4] published November 6, 2007, reported the rumor was false, to the relief of many. Alaskans enjoy warmed pilot bread with melted butter or with soup or moose stew. Pilot bread with peanut butter, honey, or apple sauce is often enjoyed by children.

Those who buy commercially-baked pilot bread in the continental United States are often those who stock up on long-lived foods for disaster survival rations. Hardtack can comprise the bulk of dry food storage for some campers. Pilot bread, sometimes referred to as pilot crackers during advertising, is often sold in conjunction with freeze-dried foods as part of package deals by many freeze-dried survival food companies.
Hardtack was a staple of military servicemen in Japan and South Korea well into late 20th century. It is known as Kanpan in Japan and geonppang (건빵) in South Korea, meaning 'dry bread', and is still sold as a fairly popular snack food in South Korea.

Many people who currently buy or bake hardtack in the United States are Civil War reenactors.[citation needed] One of the units that continually bakes hardtack for living history is the USS Tahoma Marine Guard Infantry of the Washington State Civil War Association. British and French reenactors buy or bake hardtack as well.

Hard tack is also a mainstay in parts of Canada. Located in St John's, Newfoundland, Purity Factories currently bakes two varieties. A cracker, similar to a cross between an unsalted saltine and hardtack, is the "Crown Biscuit". It was a popular item in much of New England and was manufactured by Nabisco until it was discontinued in the first quarter of 2008. It was discontinued once before in 1996, but a small uprising by its supporters bought it back in 1997.

Read the rest here.

Don't forget our current Recipe Redux Contest. How about a few contemporary recipes for hard tack to make the brewis?


REDEFiNE iT: Dictionary of Newfoundland English is brought to you by the Newfoundland based audio book publisher Rattling Books.

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