I first found this recipe while looking for hardtack recipes.  It was an instant hit because, you see, hardtack is…well, not very tasty. Its seriously just flour and water (perhaps a pinch of salt), baked and then ‘seasoned’ (by 1863 Union specifications, kiln-dried).

I’ve written about adaptations to this recipe on this blog before, which referenced this recipe. This post originally is from my (now defunct, because I’m moving everything over here) Civil War reenacting and Victorian Era Natural History blog, posted on 3 June 2012.

Back in the day, hardtack had the character consistency of a weevil infested hockey puck.  To make it somewhat palatable, soldiers would place their ration of hardtack in their fire buckets overnight.  The water would re-hydrate and expand the hardtack and in the morning the soldiers might break it up and turn it into “biscuits”.  Hardtack might also be ground up and used to thicken stews and soups or broken into chunks to cook in stews and soups as “dumplings”.  If soldiers needed to eat their ration of hardtack in a rush, they poured boiling hot coffee over it which killed off the weevils and re-hydrated the hardtack enough to keep all of one’s teeth in place.

Okay, so maybe loosing a tooth in it is a stretch.

Or maybe it isn’t–scurvy is caused by the lack of vitamin C, resulting symptoms that include spongy gums and loose teeth, and the diet of Civil War soldiers (on both sides) wasn’t very nutritious.  Diseases from bad diets (as well as from poor hygiene, bad water, skeeters and loose morals*) were responsible for 2/3 of the 600,000+ Civil War deaths.  The soldier’s diet trifecta consisted of hardtack (or johnny cakes for the Rebs), salted pork and coffee was only occasionally supplemented (mainly while in camp and garrison) with canned goods, rice, beans, and fresh produce or meats (less so for Confederate soldiers as the war dragged on).

So, we really like this stuff instead:

A Sailor’s Diet

In one container combine the following:
2 1/2 cups old-fashioned or quick oats.
3 cups unbleached flour.
1 1/2 teaspoons salt.
1 teaspoon baking soda.

In a separate container, mix:
1 1/2 cups buttermilk.
3 tablespoons honey.
1/2 cup melted bacon drippings or shortening.

Combine the two sets of ingredients. When the dough is thoroughly mixed, roll it out on a floured board to a thickness of about a quarter inch. Cut out circles of dough with a large drinking glass dipped in flour and put them on a lightly greased cookie sheet. Bake for about 5 1/2 minutes at 450° F. Let the hardtack cool on a wire rack before serving with jam or jelly.


Cooking Notes:
1)we add twice the honey the recipe calls for
2)we use butter in place of the shortening

*Soldiers during the Civil War, on both side, frequently frequented prostitutes.  Gonorrhea and syphilis were pretty common, and eventually lethal, due to lack of effective treatment. In fact, there is even an entire (quite interesting) book on the subject (though not entirely without controversy), called The Story the Soldiers Wouldn’t Tell: Sex in the Civil War by Thomas P. Lowry, M.D.