Is Hardtack just a Big Cracker?

I considered this thread for General Questions, but it’s food after all.

So, hardtack = giant cracker? Was Long John Silver’s parrot the first to say, “Polly wanna cracker.”? (If indeed the animal did say that. I haven’t read Treasure Island in decades. I know it said, “Pieces of Eight” but other than that, I don’t know.)

It’s a kind of cracker/biscuit. It’s a stable ration for long term storage back when there was no refrigeration/freeze drying/vacuum sealing like today.

You used to be able to buy hardtack (that is, hardtack that was produced recently, not stuff from the Civil War) at the gift shop at various Civil War battlefield museums. Maybe you still can. I bought some as a teenager on a Boy Scout trip. As I recall the taste was kind of like eating uncooked dry pasta. Except it was too thick and hard to actually bite into, so you had to just kind of gnaw on it or suck on it. I understand soldiers would typically dunk it in their coffee or similar, which I imagine would help soften it up, much like cooking pasta.

Or wine. Had a friend in college who’d have “Board Game, Wine and Hardtack Fridays”. We’d park our hardtack in a glass of Pinot to soften.

(NO, I don’t know why she was enamored of the stuff. She was a classy lady otherwise…)

Oh, forgot to address the OP’s question. Yes, it is a big-ass cracker. A dry, thick, barely edible cracker.

The shocking part about this is the word “she”.

You can still buy hardtack today, it is usually called “pilot bread” e.g
Sailor Boy Pilot Bread Crackers, ithey cost about $5a pound.

Harder than saltines and usually without salt on top. They dont go stale.

Ways to eat them:http://tundratantrum.blogspot.com/2008/03/thirteen-ways-to-eat-sailor-boy-pilot.html

Interesting. I’ve read about hardtack in sea stories, and I’ve seen re-enactors eating it at encampments, but I never knew that someone was selling a modern incarnation of it as “Pilot Bread”. Apparently it’s big in Alaska, but I’ve never been there.

If you’ve ever had an infestation of pantry moth (larvae) in your dry goods, you’ll know that crackers are really, really attractive to them. IIRC, Civil War accounts of soldiers subsisting on hardtack was that dunking it in hot coffee not only softened it, but also expelled most of the insects harboring inside - and the ones that remained in (possibly killed) served as protein. Urp.

I would think that the Civil War Reenactors don’t go THAT far for the authentic experience, but some of those guys get super duper hard core, so I wouldn’t be so sure.

You just have to remember to choose the lesser of two weevils. (Thank you Russell Crowe)

Steve1989’s videos in which he opens MREs and other military rations from the past, and eats them if they seem to remain at all edible, are pretty entertaining…“let’s get this on a plate. Nice!”.

He’s one of my subscribed channels.

I’ve made hardtack, and eaten hardtack made by others. It was essentially as other have noted - a type of food made primarily for it’s ability not to spoil or be destroyed in transportation until it would be delivered to the unit. It’s not a cracker as we’d envision it today. It’s a really hard cracker, that is virtually uneatable until it’s soaked in hot coffee or hot soup or hot something. Uneatable from the standpoint that you could break a tooth on the thing it’s that hard. And it’s devoid of any flavor except salt.

That doesn’t make sense. You are going to expel insects into the coffee you’re drinking so they aren’t in the food you’re eating?

They’re not as noticeable when the shells are softened.
:deadpan:
ETA: And when they’re dead, they don’t try to escape through the gaps in your teeth.

If I remember the Ken Burns documentary, the idea was to expel the insects from the biscuit, and then skim the insects off the coffee surface. Apparently, bugs float and don’t affect the flavor of the coffee.
That’s according to a quote from a soldier’s letter home.

Me, too. Him and gundog.

My parents had a military surplus or civil defense can (a sealed tin) as part of their emergency supplies in the 1960s. (Army green, a large, sort of rectangular can, maybe 4 gallons?). They opened it when we were discarding stuff, and it was some sort of stable dry cracker.

“Nice little hiss.”

One of the things they taught us in USAF survival school, that I can vouch for personally from time spent with the Army, is that you never want to eat a live insect much bigger than a ladybug. Much better to crush/kill them first.

If the bug is still alive and gets the idea it’s going down your throat it’ll spread its legs and hold on for dear life. Even a small roach or moth sized critter caught sideways in your throat can suffocate you. Or at least make for a bad few minutes before you kill it in place or dislodge it. Sounds funny until you see it happen to somebody.

This is why you need to chew your food thoroughly.