Introduction: Gluten-Free Hardtack Survival Rations (version 2)

"Hardtack" or "hard tack" is a type of food ration employed during many military conflicts, including the Civil War. It involves combining wheat flour, water, and sometimes salt to create a very hard, dense cracker with an extremely long, almost indefinite, shelf life. Traditionally the dough was cooked slowly over very low temperatures to remove most of the moisture. Although original Civil War era hardtack is assumed by some to have contained almost no fat, the flour itself likely contained fat. The flour logically would have come from locally ground wheat, making it "whole wheat" flour, which contains more fat than processed enriched white flour used today.

Civil war era hardtack can be found in several museums (e.g., here). The hardtack remains intact and edible, demonstrating the extraordinary shelf life of this simple, life-sustaining food ration.

A variety of recipes are available via the Internet and cookbooks for different adaptations on the basic hardtack recipe... cooking via a modern stove, using different quantities of salt, using different cooking temperatures, and even cooking for different lengths of time. However, all of the recipes are based on using enriched white flour or whole wheat flour. What about preparing hardtack rations for people with wheat or gluten intolerances? My Instructable is about how to create and store non-wheat-based hardtack rations, both in preparation for the apocalypse as well as post-apocalypse, for people who cannot eat wheat products due to diseases, such as celiac disease, or gluten intolerance.

This Instructable is inspired by key factors that cause foods to spoil -- exposure to heat, moisture (water), oxygen (air), and light. The more you can prevent or limit such exposure(s), the longer you can typically preserve a food for any scenario, survival or otherwise. This Instructable also explains how to use an alternative fuel (fire-- via charcoals) to cook this food in the event there is no electricity available.

Step 1: Why Prepare for Wheat Allergies?

People with wheat or gluten allergies have difficulties consuming wheat-based products. Imagine following a strict wheat-free or gluten-free diet during your life so that your gastrointestinal system remains happy and functional. Then imagine being thrust into a whole new dietary nightmare post-apocalypse, where you are already simply trying to survive but cannot find edible grains that don't send your intestines into overload. Most people won't be able to cope with never-ending bathroom stops, debilitatingly painful cramps, constant pain and nausea, diarrhea and/or constipation, dehydration, and a multitude of other unpleasant symptoms while simply trying to survive. Yes, people with mild gluten intolerance may be able to adapt to the reintroduction of gluten and wheat products into their diets, but the speed at which they will have to adapt will not be conducive to them being very functional or helpful in their survival group for several weeks post-event.

Many people who store food for long-term emergencies store whole wheat berries, which have a very long shelf life when properly packaged and stored (often in white 5-gallon buckets that are vacuum-sealed and/or include oxygen absorbers to limit exposure to both light and air). People with long-term food storage also often store large quantities of various types of whole oats, which also can last 25+ years with proper storage. However, once these grains are ground into flour, their shelf lives significantly decrease. Flour has a shorter shelf life due to the grinding process exposing the grain's fat content to oxygen (air), light, moisture (water), and temperature fluctuations, all of which increases the rate at which the fat goes rancid.

One way to plan to help people with wheat/gluten allergies survive is to prepare special foods in advance of an apocalypse and carefully store them for long-term use in the future. However, it is also very feasible to produce such food products in a post-apocalypse environment given the right ingredients, tools, and skills. One such food, hardtack, has a proven history of being beneficial for long-term storage due to its near-absence of moisture (water). Its impressive shelf life can be extended by reducing exposure to oxygen (air) and light using certain storage methods. Moreover, electricity is not required to create this survival food... it can be cooked using more traditional methods using fire (e.g., charcoals, over an open fire, or in a primitive "oven" created out of earth).

Step 2: How to Prepare Gluten-Free Hardtack (Pre-Apocalypse)

One option for creating a gluten-free "flour" base for hardtack is the use of ground nuts, such as ground almonds. Nut flour is very nutritious and can be adapted for use in place of wheat flour in some recipes. However, the higher fat content of nuts and nut flours complicates their long-term storage. For example, whole wheat flour has about 1 gram of fat in 1/4 cup, while enriched white ("all purpose") flour has about 0.3 grams of fat in 1/4 cup. However, 1/4 cup of almond flour has a whopping 14 grams of fat! As a result, almond flour (ground almonds) only has a shelf life of about a year (unopened [i.e., not exposed to oxygen/air), but that can be extended by storing the almond flour in the refrigerator or freezer.

No recipes currently exist, to the best of my knowledge, for the creation of hardtack using ground almonds in place of whole wheat flour, so here is my adaptation of various traditional versions of hardtack using almond flour to replace the wheat flour.

  • First, freeze the almond flour for at least 48-72 hours to destroy any possible bugs, larvae, or eggs that have potentially contaminated the store-bought flour. Allow the flour to return to room temperature before use.

Step 3: Mixing the Almond Flour Hardtack (Pre-Apocalypse)


2 cups of almond flour

1/4 - 1/3 cup of water (2 - 3 fluid ounces)*

1/2 - 1 teaspoon of salt (optional)

Additional almond flour for rolling out the dough (to coat the cutting board and rolling pin)

  • Preheat the oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Measure the almond flour into a medium size mixing bowl.
  • Add the salt (optional). Combine the dry ingredients using a fork.
  • Gradually add the water, a few tablespoons at a time, while thoroughly mixing with a fork after each addition.
  • ONLY add enough water until a soft dough is formed.

* This recipe requires much less water than most other hardtack recipes due to the higher amount of fat in the almond flour compared to the wheat flour.

Step 4: Rolling Out the Almond Flour Hardtack (Pre-Apocalypse)

  • Use some additional almond flour to coat a cutting board and a rolling pin to reduce sticking.
  • Put the ball of dough in the middle of the board and roll it out until it is approximately 1/4-inch thick, adding extra flour, if needed, if the dough is too sticky.

Step 5: Cutting Out the Almond Flour Hardtack (Pre-Apocalypse)

  • The hardtack dough can be divided into portions using a knife, cookie cutter, biscuit cutter, or even just a simple juice glass (after dipping the glass lip into the flour so it won't stick).
  • The juice glass I used to cut the dough into circles was about 2.25 inches in diameter.
  • Be sure to save all scraps of dough to roll out again so that nothing goes to waste.
  • I ended up with 15 hardtack rounds (with the last round being hand-formed).

Step 6: Preparing to Bake the Almond Flour Hardtack (Pre-Apocalypse)

  • Transfer the hardtack rounds to an ungreased cookie sheet.
  • Using whatever tool you have handy (in this case, the end of a beater from a hand-mixer), poke some small indentations into each of the rounds to keep them from puffing up.

Step 7: Baking the Almond Flour Hardtack (Pre-Apocalypse)

  • Put the cookie sheet on a rack near the center of the oven and bake for a total of 4 hours (at 250 degrees Fahrenheit).
    • After the first hour of cooking, the hardtack rounds will change to a more pale white color (as pictured in the 1st photo above).
    • After the second hour, the hardtack rounds will be very slightly browned on the bottom (as shown in the 2nd and 3rd photos).
      • After 2 hours, remove the cookie sheet from the oven and turn the hardtack rounds over to cook on the other side (as shown in the 3rd photo).
  • After 4 hours, remove the hardtack rounds from the oven and let them cool on the cookie sheet on a wire rack.
  • The cooled almond flour hardtack rounds will remain pale in color with a little bit of browning on the bottom and will be extremely hard due to their minimal water content.

Step 8: Storing the Almond Flour Hardtack (Pre-Apocalypse)

  • Once the almond flour hardtack rounds have cooled, they can be stored using a variety of methods.
    • However, due to the higher fat content of almond flour hardtack, the shelf-life will be shorter than that of traditional wheat-based hardtack. The shelf life can be maximized by reducing the hardtack's exposure to oxygen (air) and high temperatures.
  • Almond flour hardtack rounds can be individually wrapped in plastic wrap and sealed in a resealable plastic bag with the date written on it.
    • These plastic bags can be stored at room temperature (in the dark and in a bug-proof and rodent-proof container such as a glass jar), but it would be ideal to store them in the freezer to slow the deterioration of the fat in the hardtack as the fat will eventually become rancid over time with exposure to warmth and oxygen (air).
    • The almond flour hardtack rounds should be rotated and eaten based on the oldest date first (oldest consumed first). Frozen almond flour hardtack should be checked (e.g., one individually wrapped round from the oldest plastic bag should be examined and eaten) for freshness and palatability at least every 6 months.
  • Another option for storing the almond flour hardtack is using thick, opaque mylar bags with oxygen absorbers.
    • Small batches of almond flour hardtack (individually wrapped in plastic wrap or wrapped in nothing at all) can be stored in food-safe, opaque, metalized mylar bags that increase shelf life by blocking light and oxygen (air). After the almond flour hardtack is placed inside a mylar bag, an oxygen absorber can be inserted in the bag prior to using heat to seal the mylar bag closed. The heat source can be as simple as a clothes iron or a hair straightener; it doesn't have to be an expensive, fancy tool.
    • If you do not have oxygen absorbers but do own a vacuum sealer, you can use to vacuum sealer to remove the oxygen (air) from the mylar bag prior to sealing.
    • The mylar bag can be dated on the outside and marked with its contents prior to storing in a rodent-proof container (such as a sealed 5-gallon bucket) or stored in the freezer.
  • Preparing and storing one batch of gluten-free, almond flour hardtack every 2-4 weeks will create a large stockpile of available wheat-free grain options for people who have wheat/gluten allergies once the power goes out (temporarily or permanently). However, this version of hardtack will have a shorter shelf life once exposed to regular temperatures than hardtack made using a flour with a lower fat content.

Step 9: Preparation of Almond Flour Hardtack (POST-Apocalypse)

In the event that you have a large supply of almonds (and a manual/hand-crank grinder) or almond flour on hand post-apocalypse, they can still be transformed into almond flour hardtack that will likely have a longer shelf life than either almonds or almond flour alone (of course, depending upon the quantity of the ingredients you have on hand).

Assuming there is no electricity or major fuel source available, the hardtack can be cooked in a cast iron dutch oven, such as the ones pictured, either directly in a very small fireor using charcoal lighted in a charcoal chimney starter. The hardtack can be placed in a single layer in the bottom of the dutch oven and then cooked with the lid on. The use of pre-heated charcoal briquettes to match the size of your cast iron dutch oven can produce the temperature desired.

  • Pour charcoal briquettes into the top of the chimney starter.
  • Light a fuel cell or crumpled piece of paper on fire in the base of the chimney starter and wait about 15 minutes.
  • Because this recipe takes several hours to cook, it will be necessary to replace the coals below the dutch oven and on the lid approximately every 45 minutes to an hour.
  • For example, if using a 10-inch cast iron dutch oven, it would require roughly 10 charcoal briquettes under the bottom of the dutch oven and 5 charcoal briquettes on top of the dutch oven lid to achieve an internal cooking temperature of 250 degrees Fahrenheit for approximately 45-60 minutes at a time.
  • Ideally make a large batch of hardtack if using the cast iron dutch oven method due to the quantity of charcoal briquettes needed to maintain the temperature for 4 hours. You could create multiple layers of hardtack inside the dutch oven using pieces of aluminum foil to separate the layers (with each sheet of aluminum foil acting as a stacking "cookie sheet").

Likewise the hardtack can be cooked using alternative methods such as a solar oven (even one homemade from a cardboard box and aluminum foil), on a cookie sheet over a grill (fire), or in a pan propped up on 2 bricks over a fuel cell or group of candles (wax or oil lamp "candles"; fire).

Almond flour hardtack made post-apocalypse would need to be consumed more quickly given the lack of a method to freeze the hardtack and the inability to significant limit exposure to oxygen (air) and moisture (water). However, it could be made in batches and then used as rations by people during short scavenging or hunting trips as long as the hardtack could be kept dry (protected from moisture/water) and pest-free.

Step 10: Another Gluten-Free Hardtack Option = Whole Oat Flour Hardtack (Pre- or POST-Apocalypse)

Using stored whole oats (including those available pre-apocalypse with a 25+ year shelf life) and then grinding them into oat flour with an electric or manual grinder to make hardtack is a viable option for preparation of whole oat flour hardtack both in advance of an apocalypse as well as following such an event. Ground whole oat flour is commonly available in the health food aisles of major grocery stores, making production of whole oat flour hardtack convenient and inexpensive pre-apocalypse.

The recipe for whole oat flour-based hardtack includes the same cooking time and temperature and the same proportions of ingredients (2 cups whole oat flour, optional salt) but would require more water, approximately 1/2 - 3/4 cup (4 - 6 fluid ounces), due to the lower fat content of oat flour (2.25 grams of fat in 1/4 cup).

Whole oat flour hardtack would have a longer shelf life than almond flour hardtack, much closer to that of the original whole wheat hardtack due to its similar fat content. Storage of whole oat flour hardtack is the same as whole wheat flour or almond flour hardtack. Above is a photo of a recent batch of whole oat flour hardtack I made where I simply cut the rolled dough into rough rectangular pieces, as often suggested in recipes. That cooked batch of whole oat flour hardtack has been stored in nothing but resealable plastic bags (to somewhat limit oxygen [air] exposure), with hardtack pieces individually wrapped in plastic wrap, for over three months, to date (12/9/16), in an open cardboard box (indoors) without any adverse effect on the texture, smell, flavor, moisture content, etc., compared to the day it was first made (9/4/16). None of it was frozen or stored in mylar bags, yet it remains shelf-stable and edible due to its extremely low moisture (water) content. Just like drying meats (e.g., making jerky or dried fish), removing the water content of foods is one way of preserving them.

Step 11: Conclusion & References

    The thing about hardtack is that it's an amazingly simple, versatile, and historically-proven useful survival food that still has implications for today. Probably just about any edible ground grain, nut, or seed could be substituted for the "flour" in the recipe, so it can be made from practically whatever you can find in your surroundings or while scavenging (with a little knowledge about how to work with certain grains, nuts, and seeds) -- acorns, sunflower seeds, pecans, cashews, peanuts, oats, buckwheat, quinoa, millet (think cheap birdseed), popcorn kernels, rice, sorghum, etc. (although some other grains do contain gluten such as barley, spelt, triticale, rye, and kamut, and sometimes processed oats, which can be cross-contaminated with gluten by being ground on the same machinery as gluten-containing grains, if you are concerned about gluten intolerance or celiac disease).

    Even if you don't have a manual grain grinder available, you can grind seeds, nuts, and grains by crushing them into a powder by hand between 2 rocks, using a mortar & pestle found in a home or pharmacy, using metal tools like a knife handle or a hammer to pound them against a hard surface, or even using the rounded end of a hard stick, a walking stick, or a cleaned leg bone/joint from an animal to crush the nuts, grains, or seeds against the base of a heavy bowl or indentation in a rock. And, if baked for immediate consumption instead of long-term storage, other ingredients could be added based on availability to make it more palatable...spices, fat, etc. The possibilities are almost limitless. Just remember to do everything possible to limit exposure to key factors that will reduce its shelf life -- moisture (water), oxygen (air), light, and high temperatures.

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