Hardtack Recipe

The diet of soldiers fighting in the Civil War was most likely high in calories, but low in vitamins. Fresh fruits and vegetables were hard to come by when an army was on the march. Constant rations of salt beef, beans, coffee, and hardtack could jeopardize a soldier’s health. Both Yankee and Rebel soldiers would often forage the countryside for fresh vegetables and fruit to round-out their diets.

Civil War hardtack from 1862.

Civil War hardtack from 1862.

Salt beef (also called salt horse) was a standard army ration during the Civil War. It was pickled beef preserved in very strong salt brine. The soldiers had to soak the salt beef in water to get rid of the salty brine before they could cook and eat it. The pickling process would often fail and moldy, rancid, salt beef was common.Hardtack was a typical item in the diet of both Billy Yanks and Johnny Rebs. Hardtack was a quarter-inch thick square of baked unleavened flour. The soldiers often joked about hardtack. One joke the soldiers told was that the only protein in their diet came from the worms found in the hardtack.

Recipe For Hardtack

Here is a recipe for that common Civil War food, hardtack. This is only one of many hardtack recipes to be found.

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups of flour
  • 2/3 cup of shortening
  • 2 teaspoons of salt
  • 1 cup of water

Instructions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Combine flour and salt, begin mixing in shortening a little at a time. Use the mixer on medium setting. Add more water or salt as needed, to obtain a similar consistency to Playdough.
  3. Roll the Hardtack dough into a thickness of about 1/2 inch.
  4. Cut dough into squares of 3 inches by 3 inches by 1/2 inch.
  5. Poke 16 holes into each biscuit. An old ballpoint pen might work best.
  6. Put biscuits on a non-greased cookie sheet and bake in the pre-heated 400 degree Fahrenheit oven for 20 to 25 minutes per side.

If the biscuits come out soft, don’t worry… they will become hard in a day or two!

Hardtack Described

For both Billy Yanks and Johnny Rebs, a common food was hardtack. Hardtack was a quarter-inch thick square cracker or biscuit baked from unleavened flour, water, and salt. It was inexpensive and durable, qualities making it suitable for military campaigning.

Although hardtack was often a source of energy and sustenance during the Civil War, it usually was a target of scorn for the soldiers. Here on August 1, 1863 Sergeant Lawrence Van Alstyne, of the 128th New York Infantry U.S.A., describes hardtack in an entry from his diary:

“A year ago to-day I cradled rye for Theron Wilson, and I remember we had chicken pie for dinner with home-made beer to wash it down, To-day I have hard-tack. Have I ever described hard-tack to you? … In size they are about like a common soda cracker, and in thickness about like two of them…. But… The cracker eats easy, almost melts in the mouth, while hard-tack is harder and tougher than so much wood. I don’t know what the word “tack” means, but the “hard” I have long understood….. Very often they are mouldy, and most always wormy. We knock them together and jar out the worms, and the mould we cut or scrape off. Sometimes we soak them until soft and then fry them in pork grease, but generally we smash them up in pieces and grind away until either the teeth or the hard-tack gives up. I know why Dr. Cole examined our teeth so carefully when we passed through the medical mill at Hudson.”

Civil War hardtack from 1862.

Civil War hardtack from 1862.

Preserved hardtack from U.S. Civil War, Wentworth Museum, Pensacola, Florida.
Photo by Infrogmation, Infrogmation of New Orleans

The caption of the hardtack picture reads:
Hardtack from Atlanta area, 1862.
T.T. Wentworth, Jr. Collection
The standard Army ration of bread was issued as hardtack, which was supposed to have a longer shelf life than regular bread. The crackers were often so wormy that soldiers nicknamed them “wormcastles.”

Here is a post with a recipe for hardtack. Try it, you might like it!