The Final Word from the Pequot Mess

The Question arises constantly as to the correct recipe for hardtack. Here it is:

Flour - Water - a little salt

Mix together to obtain an elastic but not sticky dough, Roll to inch thickness, bake in 400 degree oven until slightly brown. Allow to cool (may still be somewhat soft). Put in 200 degree oven until hard. Prick with nail or sharp instrument,




Assistant Commissary General of Subsistence - [Lt. Col. C.L. Kilburn "Notes on Preparing Stores for the United States Army and on the Care of the Same, etc, with a few rules for Detecting Adulterations" Printed 1863]

Under Hard Bread

"Should be made of best quality of superfine, or what is usually known as extra superfine flour; or better, of extra and extra superfine, (half and half.) Hard bread should be white, crisp, light and exhibit a flaky appearance when broken. If tough, solid and compact, is evident the fault is either in the stock, manufacture or baking; it should not present the appearance of dried paste. If tough and pasty, it is probably manufacture from grown wheat, or Spring wheat of an inferior kind. In all cases it should be thoroughly cooled and dried before packing. Kiln drying, where practicable, for long voyages, is particularly desirable; but if really and thoroughly dried in the oven, hard bread will keep just as well and its flavor is not destroyed. To make good hard bread, it is essential to employ steam; hand work will not do.

The dough should be mixed as dry as possible; this is, in fact, very essential, and too much stress can not be placed on it. Good stock, dry mixed, and thoroughly baked, (not dried or scalded) will necessarily give good hard bread. If salt is to be used, it should be mixed with the water used to mix the dough. Both salt and water should be clean. Bread put up with the preceding requirements should keep a year; but as a usual thing, our best bread as now made for army use, will keep only about three months. Good, bread, packed closely and compactly should not weigh, net, per barrel, more than 70 or 80 pounds; should it be heavier that 80 it indicates too much moisture. The thickness of the biscuit is important; it should not be so thick as to prevent proper drying, or so thin as to crumble in transportation. The quality of stock used for hard bread can be partially told by rules mentioned in the article 'Flour,' as far as they apply. The term 'sprung' is frequently used by bakers, by which is meant raised or flaky bread, indicating strong flour and sound stock. The cupidity of the contracting baker induces him to pack his bread as soon as it comes out of the oven, and before the moisture has been completely expelled by drying. Bread of this kind hangs on breaking; it will also be soft to the pressure of the finger nail when broken, whereas it should be crisp and brittle.

The packages should be thoroughly seasoned, (of wood imparting no taste or odor to the bread,) and reasonably tight. The usual method now adopted is to pack 50 pounds net, in basswood boxes, (sides, top and bottom 1/2 inch, ends 5/8 of an inch,) and of dimensions corresponding with the cutters used, and strapped at each end with light iron or wood. The bread should be packed on its edge compactly, so as not to shake.

Bread thoroughly baked, kiln dried, and packed in spirit casks, will keep a long time but it is an expensive method. If bread contains weevils, or is mouldy, expose to the sun on paulins, and before re-packing it, rinse the barrel with whiskey."

This description leaves the dimensions wide open and dependent on the size of the bread. My experience has shown that bread baked to Billing's (Hardtack and Coffee) dimensions, 2 7/8" X 3 1/8" X 1/2" will weigh one pound for 10 crackers. They were packed in rows (Standing up) four across and three down, about 42 long. BUT this is only for this sized cracker, baked perfectly, and the crackers did come in many sizes. The dimensions in the Dixie Leatherworks plans are, I believe 9" X 13" X 23" internal dimension. This size does accommodate the Billings cracker nicely and looks very close to the pictures I have seen. The strapping should be of Ash.