Hardtack

Hardtack from GH BentIf you read Civil War diaries or novels, or tales of high seas adventure in the age of wooden ships and iron men, you know that our protagonist was forever crushing wormy hardtack with a rifle-butt in the forlorn hope of gaining some nourishment for another day's travails. 

This sorry stereotype fails to take into account that the vast majority of hardtack eaters made it home alive, or at least they did not perish of malnutrition. Hardtack kept hundreds of thousands of soldiers and sailors alive for centuries, in a day when the military budget was not limitless.

Hardtack was made in those days, and still is made, by G.H. Bent Bakery in Milton, MA better known for overstuffed sandwiches and decadent cookies of a decidedly 21st-century style.

"I don't eat museum pieces!" you cry. "Why do I care?" you cry.Well, if you don't care, then by all means stop reading. But there are relict recipes worth knowing that still call for hardtack. You can consider it a specialty for historical reenactors, but even 18th century foodies occasionally made something of excellence in an impoverished pantry.

One example is Fish and Brewis, a Newfoundlander recipe I first tried on the coastal freighter M/V Taverner off Labrador in 1994. OK, I'll admit it's not on every menu these days. But it was delicious (in its artery-busting way), and I could never make it since then...until I discovered a hardtack maker right in my own backyard!