Hardtack As Dog Food – Historical Food Fortnightly

Hardtack Recipe - Historical Food Fortnightly

Hardtack,  also called ship’s biscuit, is a hard cracker made with flour and water. It was used on long sea voyages, and soldiers in the American Civil War were sometimes supplied with hardtack rations instead of flour. But hardtack is also an early form of dog food: ‘Dog-biscuit is a hard and well-baked mass of coarse, yet clean and wholesome flour, of an inferior kind to that known as sailors’ biscuit; and this latter substance, indeed, would be the best substitute’ (The Quarterly Journal of Agriculture, 1841, p. 244). Hardtack will keep much longer than flour (in museums there’s still hardtack which is over hundred years old! 😮 )- so it’s my entry for the Historical Food Fortnightly challenge 12 (food preservation).

Soaking hardtack
Dry hardtack on the left, soaked hardtack on the right

To eat hardtack, it must be soaked in water: either in hot water for some hours, or in cold water overnight. The hardtack will increase in size while soaking.

A recipe for hardtack from Mrs Beeton’s Household Management book (published in 1861):

Sea or Ship Biscuit

are made of wheat-flour from which only the coarsest bran has been separated. The dough is made up as stiff as it can be worked’.

Ingredients:

  • ca. 6 cups flour
  • ca. 1 cup water

Knead together flour and some water. Gradually add more water if necessary till the dough has the consistency of firm play dough. Then roll it out till it’s 0.5″/ 1cm thick and cut it into 3″ x 3″/ 7cm x 7cm squares. Pierce 4 x 4 holes into each cracker (this will make it easier to break the hard thing later 😉 ). Preheat the oven to 375°F/ 190°C and bake the hardtack for about 30 minutes on each side.

18th c hard flour dumplings, hardtack, game of checkers
18th c flour dumplings, hardtack and game of checkers

I tried hardtack soaked in broth with 18th hard dumplings (video recipe). The hardtack tastes alright, but it’s not the best thing in the world. 😉

hardtack dog food dog biscuit history
Dog food on the left, and human food on the right

Our food was very similar on that day: 😉 My dog had soaked hardtack, cottage cheese and cucumber – she loves cucumber! 🙂 – and I had cucumber salad with soy yoghurt and chapati bread. My dog loved the variation to her usual food – she devoured the soaked hardtack greedily. 😀

Here I’ve written more about dog food and dog biscuit history from the Roman to the Edwardian times.

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