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Survival Friday: DIY Hardtack for Those Really Hard Times

Avatar for Jodie Weston Jodie Weston  |  Updated: August 24, 2021
Survival Friday: DIY Hardtack for Those Really Hard Times

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crackersOne of the dilemmas we face in a long term SHTF situation is the lack of food.  For that reason, many of us stockpile grains. Grains have a long shelf life, are nutritious and will keep us going when fresh food is not available.  In an ideal world, we will mill our grains and bake up homemade bread in our cast iron pots that are cozied up to the campfire.

Sounds good and even a bit romantic.  Alas, although wheat and other grains can be milled into flour, yeast is a bit less hardy and after a few years, my not be viable.  So what are the alternatives?  There is sourdough of course.  And then there is hardtack, a cracker like bread made without yeast whatsoever.

What exactly is hardtack?  According to Wikipedia:

“Hardtack (or hard tack) is a simple type of cracker or biscuit, made from flour, water, and sometimes salt. Inexpensive and long-lasting, it was and is used for sustenance in the absence of perishable foods, commonly during long sea voyages and military campaigns.”

frying hard tack

Today, Above Average Joe shares a bit of the history of Hardtack along with a recipe for making it yourself.  As you will read, his recipe is made in an oven but as you know, any self-respecting prepper will know that you can also bake almost everything in a Dutch Oven outdoors over the file.

But let’s see what Joe has to say.

Survival Food 101: Hardtack

Pilot bread, ship’s biscuit, shipbiscuit, sea biscuit, sea bread , “dog biscuits”, “tooth dullers”, “sheet iron”, “worm castles” or “molar breakers”.

Hardtack has had many different names throughout the years but its importance has never changed.

Hardtack has actually been around since the time of Egyptian Pharaohs, but if you have heard of it,  you probably know it better from the Civil War period.

During the war, squares of hardtack were shipped to both the Union and Confederate armies, making a staple part of a soldier’s rations.

Typically made 6 months beforehand, it was as hard as a rock when it actually got to the troops.

To soften it, they usually soaked it in water or coffee. Not only would this soften it enough for eating, but any insect larvae in the bread would float to the top, allowing the soldiers to skim them out.

Soldiers and sailors the world over have used hardtack as a way to stave off hunger.  It was one of the main sources of food used when Christopher Columbus set sail and eventually landed in America.

It is such a basic item that I am amazed that no one I know under the age of 50 understands its importance, let alone  how to make it.

Hardtack is simple, it has three basic ingredients and takes roughly a 1/2 hour of cook time to prepare.

This is one of the most cost effective long term survival foods that you can make.

It just isn’t very carb friendly…

Check out the recipe below:

You can make hardtack almost identical to what sailors, troops, and pioneers have been eating (minus the weevils!) by following this simple recipe:

  • 4-5 cups of flour
  • 2 cups of water
  • 3 tsp. of salt

Mix the flour, water and salt together, and make sure the mixture is fairly dry.

Then roll it out to about 1/2 inch thickness, and shape it into a rectangle. Cut it into 3×3 inch squares, and poke holes in both sides. Place on an un-greased cookie or baking sheet, and cook for 30 minutes per side at 375˚

As far as cooking goes, your done!

the next step is just to walk away.

You’ll want to let it dry and harden for a few days.

When it has roughly the consistency of a brick, it’s fully cured. Then simply store it in an airtight container or bucket.

To prepare for eating, soak it in water or milk for about 15 minutes, and then fry in a buttered skillet. You can eat it with cheese, soup or just plain with a dash of salt.

This basic hardtack should keep for years as long as it is kept in an airtight container.

If it ever gets soft I would recommend tossing it and making a new batch.

Do you have any suggestions for hardtack or recipes for other lost or forgotten survival foods?

Note on variations:

Some people add spices and other ingredients to hardtack. While some may be harmless to the shelf life of hardtack, others could make it go rancid quite fast. Never add dairy products or animal fats to your recipe. Items that you could add include nutritional yeast. This helps make the hardtack have a better nutritional profile.

You can also add more salt or even add a little black pepper to make it taste a little different.

Gluten-Free Version

You can definitely make gluten-free hardtack by simply substituting gluten-free flour for the standard wheat flour. I cannot be sure what the shelf life would be but it stands to reason that it would be similar to that made with wheat flour. Adding a small amount of xanthum gum can help it retain a good consistancy rather than just crumbling.

You may need to adjust the amount of water you use as well. Some gluten-free flours tend to take more water to get to a good consistancy.

About Joe

A little about me (‘Above Average’ Joe): I am just an average guy with a passion for learning. .I am excited to share the things I learn with you but I am most interested in learning from you. Survival Life is more than just one man. It is a growing and living community of individuals; all with the desire to be prepared to survive and thrive no matter what this world throws at us. I want to welcome you to the Survival Life community and look forward to growing with you! Thank you, Gaye, for inviting me to share the Survival Life with your readers!

170px-Japanese_Hardtack_KanpanTHE FINAL WORD

After reading Joe’s article about hard tack, I did a little research and discovered that hard tack was indeed prone to worms (yuk) so often the soldiers would toast it first so at least the worms would be cooked.  If they were lucky, they were able to wash their hard tack down with whiskey.

Regardless, hardtack is one of the easiest survival foods to make and has an outstanding shelf life as long as it is kept dry and you can keep bugs out of it. Vacuum sealing biscuits of hardtack might be a good idea in modern times. When times are hard, you will be glad you took the time to have some great extra survival food.

If you are interested in learning more, read Of Worms and Weevils: Hard Living on Hardtack.

Next up?  How about some Johnnycake?

Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!


If you have not done so already, please be sure to like Backdoor Survival on Facebook to be updated every time there is an awesome new article, news byte, or free survival, prepping or homesteading book on Amazon.  In addition, when you sign up to receive email updates you will receive a free, downloadable copy of my e-book The Emergency Food Buyer’s Guide.

From the Bargain Bin: I hope that I am prepared for hard times ahead.  I don’t know if I will be eating hard tack, but most certainly, the following items will help me get by.  I own all of these items.

Lodge Logic 12-Inch Pre-Seasoned Skillet: Cast iron items were at the top of the list. My readers love cast iron and so do I. Also at the top were Lodge Set of 2 Pan Scrapers and the Lodge Max Temp Handle Mitt.

All New Square Foot Gardening: I put in a Square Foot Garden last year and was pleased with the results. It is not too early to start planning for spring planting.

Clara’s Kitchen: Wisdom, Memories, and Recipes from the Great Depression: If you don’t know about Clara, be sure to read Depression Cooking: A Visit to Clara’s Kitchen.

Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking: At an average cost of 50 cents a loaf, this bread is easy, delicious and inexpensive to make.

Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day: 100 New Recipes Featuring Whole Grains, Fruits, Vegetables, and Gluten-Free Ingredients: Ditto.

How to Live on Wheat: Everything you need to know about wheat.

Fiskars 7855 8-Inch Hatchet: The Fiskars products are easily sharpened and will last a lifetime. Oh, and while you are at it, you might also like the Fiskars Axe & Knife Sharpener .

Kaito Voyager KA500 Solar/Crank Emergency AM/FM/SW NOAA Weather Radio: A lot of different hand crank radios were sold but this was by far, the most popular.

Emergency Mylar Thermal Blankets (Pack of 10): I do believe in helping my neighbors in the community so a supply of these will be handy to hand out to those in need. You will be surprised at how warm these will keep you. Be sure to test one out in advance so that you have the confidence to trust the blanket in an emergency.

Holding Your Ground: Preparing for Defense if it All Falls Apart: I You NEED this book if you care about defending your homestead.

DIY Superpal Combo KitShop the Emergency Essentials Monthly Specials: The monthly specials at Emergency Essentials feature discounts of up to 35% off sometimes a bit more.

One item I can recommend available is their Do It Yourself SuperPail Combo. It includes 8 x 6-Gallon Buckets with Lids, 8 x Metallized Storage Bags and a 10-Pack of Large Oxygen Absorbers.

Don’t forget that you do not need fancy equipment to seal the metalized bag. A cheap hair iron will do the job.

Storing Rice in Mylar Bag_09

Conair Flat Iron 2″ Ceramic Straightener: I use a hair iron to seal my Mylar bags. Forget about a hose and a vacuum sealer. A cheap hair iron works great – just be sure to get one with 2” plates.

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5 Responses to “Survival Friday: DIY Hardtack for Those Really Hard Times”

  1. You might look into Norwegian recipes for “flat bread” (flatbrød), supposed to last 30 years. Like hardtack, but very very thin, which makes it crunchy and more edible, sort of like a flavorless tortilla chip.

  2. As a child, we had what we called “japotties”, which I later found out was correctly called chapotis, I believe. Anyway, it was flour, salt and water mixed to a consistency of biscuit dough that is kind of soft and sticky. Mom would just stretch/spread it out in a frying pan and fry it up both sides. There are darker spots where it touched the pan and blonde where there wasn’t full contact. Anyway, served up with butter and syrup, we ate them and loved them. I still make them sometimes, and yes, my dogs go crazy for them too. It will be one of my survival foods if times get tough. I figure that it will be an easy way to cook it up. Here in Texas there is so much humidity that sitting something out to dry is not possible. It just sucks the humidity out of the air!

  3. LOLOL I made hard tack a few months ago, just to test it, I couldnt bite through it, I soaked it in hot water and it really didnt soften much at all, my dog however loves them! So for me a cheap dog treat, I might add some chicken stock next time I make them instead of water for him. 🙂

    • “Fiskars 7855 8-Inch Hatchet: The Fiskars products are easily sharpened and will last a lifetime. For less than $25, what is not to like?”

      Could there be a reason this item is mentioned on the same page as the hardtack article? Some of my baking efforts went hardtack on me and my Fiskars 28″ Splitting Axe came in handy. Same principle, just overkill.

      Chicken stock is food, human food as well. You may also add other grains/flours, garlic, a dash of Cayenne and other yeast-suppressing ingredients usually not found in yeast bread. And remember to bake a few extra for your four-legged buddy.

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