A childhood ration of seafaring tales–many of which described long voyages endured on a diet of hardtack–left me with ambivalent feelings about the long-time staple food. It was a pleasant surprise, then, to discover an old Swedish recipe that’s both fast and easy . . . and produces delicious hardtack as well. What’s more, one batch will make eight 12 inch diameter discs which are great served “hot from the pan” with butter and make very convenient snacks to enjoy while camping or backpacking, too. What follows is the original and several variations of hardtack recipes.
Plain Ol’ Hardtack
To make a basic hardtack, mix 2 1/2 cups of old-fashioned oatmeal, 3 cups of unbleached flour, 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt, and 1 teaspoon of baking soda in a large bowl. Then, in a separate container, add 1 1/2 cups of buttermilk (or soured powdered milk mix) and 3 tablespoons of honey to 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons of melted bacon or sausage drippings . . . and combine this mixture with the dry ingredients. When the dough is thoroughly mixed, form it Into eight balls of equal size and roll each one out on a floured board (the thickness will depend on the size of your pans). Use a pegged rolling pin if such a (tool is available . . . if not, a standard rolling pin, jar, or large drinking glass will do.
Transfer each circle to a lightly greased pizza pan and pat and smooth the dough to fit. A meat tenderizing tool can be used to stipple–or dent–a pattern in the surface at this point if a pegged rolling pin wasn’t used … and you can mark the “pie” into squares, diamonds, or triangles with a regular pizza cutter, if desired.
Put the pans in the oven for 5 1/2 minutes at 450°F. Timing is crucial: The resulting “way bread” should be dry, but browned only around the edges.
When you remove your finished hardtack from the oven, let it stand for a moment .. . then use a pancake turner to place the discs on wire racks to cool, and put your next batch on the pans. (The pizza sheets will not need to be regreased to bake subsequent discs of dough.)
Finally, the hearty flatbreads should be stored in tightly covered containers to keep them crisp.
Rye or Whole Wheat Hardtack
Substitute 2 cups of rye flour, or 2 cups of whole wheat flour, for 1 cup of the oatmeal and 1 cup of the unbleached flour called for in the basic recipe. You can please your taste buds with a variety of spices, too: Perhaps 1/2 teaspoon of garlic salt in the rye mixture or 3/4 teaspoon of caraway seeds and 3/4 teaspoon of sesame seeds in the whole wheat mix might produce a hardtack that your palate finds particularly appealing.
You might want to experiment by substituting 1 cup of buckwheat groats (kasha) for 1 cup of the basic recipe’s oats, and 1 cup of millet (uncooked) for 1 cup of the unbleached flour . . . then adding 1/4 teaspoon more salt and spices as desired. The result will be a bit moist, as millet doesn’t absorb liquid. (If you’d like a drier bread, compensate by mixing in an additional 1/2 cup of unbleached flour.)
Sunflower Nut Hardtack
For extra-crunchy hardtack, try using 1 cup of sunflower seeds (chopped) instead of 1 cup of the oatmeal called for in the basic recipe. (You can make the same substitution in the rye or whole wheat mixtures.)
Replace 1 cup of the unbleached flour and 1 cup of the oatmeal included in the basic recipe with a total of 2 cups of cornmeal. Or, if you’re basing your conversion on the rye or whole wheat variations, you can simply let 2 cups of cornmeal replace 1 cup of rye (or 1 cup of whole wheat) and one cup of the remaining unbleached flour.
Any way you mix it, you’ll find hardtack–which was once the traditional army ration and navy ration–to be a handy, hearty treat that’s always nice to have around!