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Hardtack or Ship's Biscuit


A thick, very hard, salted wheatflour biscuit baked so as to remove almost all water. Usually soaked in water or broth to eat. Also known as 'sea-biscuit' or 'ship's biscuit' or 'hard bread'.

Inexpensive and imperishable, hardtak was long a staple for sea voyages and military campaigns. At the time of the Armada in 1588, the daily allowance on board ship was 1lb of biscuit plus 1 gallon of beer and hardtack is still an item in some military ration packs. The fact that the biscuits could be stored away for emergency use means that very old examples are often found, and generally just as edible after a couple of centuries as they were when fresh.

Original Receipt from The Royal Naval Museum

Recipe To produce a similar plain ships biscuit, a medium coarse stone-ground wholemeal flour should be used.

Add water to 1lb wholemeal flour and 1/4oz salt to make a stiff dough. Leave for 1/2 hour and then roll out very thickly. Separate in to 5 or 7 biscuits. Bake in a hot oven approx. 420 degrees F for 30 minutes. The biscuits should then be left undisturbed in a warm dry atmosphere to harden and dry out.

Biscuits are still purchased for the Ministry of Defence for use in operational ration packs but not for general messing.

Hardtack Biscuit from 1852 at Kronborg castle, Elsinore, Denmark
Image: Paul A. Cziko

'Operation Hardtack' was the name given to the series of 72 nuclear tests conducted by the United States in 1958 as new bomb designs were rushed-out before a test moratorium.

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