Fighting a war requires more than just guns, ammo, uniforms, etc... you also need to keep your soldiers fed. During the beginnings of the US, technology was not advanced enough to store food particularly well and so they went with fairly basic fare. Soldier rations during this era varied considerably but generally contained bread/ hardtack/ flour, fresh or salted meat/ pork, peas/ beans, any a few other supplemental items. Hardtack often provided the bulk of a soldier's calories, around 1500+ kcal, and that's what we're going to recreate today. It was often pre-prepared by bakers but in dire cases soldiers made it themselves around open fires, called fire-cakes.
Step 1: Ingredients
Hardtack is just about the simplest recipe imaginable. All it consists of is:
- 3 cups of Flour (about a soldier's daily allowance)
- 1 cup of Water
- 2 teaspoons of Salt (if it was available)
Step 2: Preparing
Making it is similarly simple:
- Preheat your oven to 375°.
- Mix the dry ingredients and add water until you have a dough that isn't sticky
- Roll it into a square less than half an inch thick.
- Cut the dough into nine squares and add a 4x4 grid of holes to each.
- Bake the squares for 30 minutes, flip, and cook them another 30 minutes.
- Your done!
Step 3: Eating
Thanks to it's rock like consistency, eating it raw is fairly impossible. Soldiers used a couple of different tactics:
Breaking it up
Using something hard, hardtack can be broken up into smaller pieces. These pieces are easier to eat directly.
Hardtack can soaked in water or other liquids to make it more edible.
Soldiers often made the rest of their rations into a soup or stew. This could be used to soak the hardtack or be thickened using the broken up hardtack or raw flour.
This is technically a Civil War invention, but it is the most interesting option. After softening the hardtack with water, they would fry it in the fat remaining after cooking salt pork.
Step 4: Primary Sources
These are some quotes from sources during that time:
"One pound of beef, or 3/4 of a pound of pork or one pound of fish, per day. One pound of bread or flour per day. Three pints of peas or beans per week, or vegetables equivalent, at one dollar per bushel for peas or beans. One pint of milk per man per day. One half-pint of rice, or one pint of Indian meal per man per week. One quart of spruce beer, or cider, per man per day, or nine gallons of mollasses per company of one hundred men per week. Three pounds of candles to one hundred men per week, for guards. Twenty pounds of soft, or eight pounds of hard, soap for one hundred men per week." - Militia Law of 1775
"...but how to cook flour without oven, frying pan, or something, how even to make it into dough? Some heated stones after mixing the dough in dirty handkerchiefs; some baked in the ashes. One creative soldier made the dough into a long rope, which was then wrapped spirally round a ramrod, the ramrod being laid horizontally before the fire on two small wooden forks set in the ground. By turning the ramrod, all parts of the dough were by turns exposed to the fire and so baked, being broken off in pieces when done." - Berry Benson