AskDefine | Define hardtack

Dictionary Definition



1 very hard unsalted biscuit or bread; a former ship's staple [syn: pilot biscuit, pilot bread, sea biscuit, ship biscuit]
2 a mountain mahogany

User Contributed Dictionary


Alternative spellings


  1. A large, hard biscuit made from unleavened flour and water; formerly used as a long-term staple food aboard ships


Extensive Definition

“Sea biscuit” redirects here. For other uses, see Seabiscuit (disambiguation).
For the series of nuclear tests, see Operation Hardtack.
Hardtack (or hard tack) is a simple type of cracker or biscuit, made from flour, water, and salt. Inexpensive and long-lasting, it is and was used for sustenance in the absence of perishable foods, commonly during long sea voyages and military campaigns. The name derives from the British sailor slang for food, "tack". It is known by other names such as pilot bread (as rations for bush pilots) , ship's biscuit, sea biscuit, sea bread (as rations for sailors) or pejoratively "dog biscuits", "tooth dullers", "sheet iron" or "molarbreakers".
Because it is so hard and dry, properly stored and transported hardtack will survive rough handling and endure extremes of temperature.


To soften it, it was often dunked in brine, coffee, or some other liquid or cooked into a skillet meal. Baked hard, it would keep for years as long as it was kept dry. For long voyages, hardtack was baked four times, rather than the more common two, and prepared six months before sailing.
In 1801, Josiah Bent began a baking operation in Milton, Massachusetts selling "water crackers" or biscuits made of flour and water that would not deteriorate during long sea voyages from the port of Boston, which was also used extensively as a source of food by the "gold diggers" emigration to the gold mines of California in 1849. Since the journey took months from the starting point, the town of Independence, Missouri, pilot bread was stored in the wagon trains, as it could be kept a long time. His company later sold the original hardtack crackers used by troops during the American Civil War. The company is still located in Milton and continues to sell these items to Civil War re-enactors and others.
During the American Civil War, 3-inch by 3-inch hardtack was shipped out from Union and Confederate storehouses. Some of this hardtack had been stored from the 1846–8 Mexican-American War. With insect infestation common in improperly stored provisions, soldiers would just drop the tack into their morning coffee, and wait for the insects to float to the top so they could skim off the bugs and resume consumption. thumb|230px|right|19th century hardtack, two different styles Overall, hardtack was a major food supply that was necessary to troops on both sides during the Civil War.

Modern use

Alaskans are among the last to eat "pilot bread" as a significant part of their normal diet, especially those in or from rural Alaska. Interbake Foods of Richmond, Virginia produces most, if not all, of the commercially-available pilot bread under the "Sailor Boy" label — 98% of its production goes to Alaskans. Originally imported as a food product that could stand the rigors of transportation throughout Alaska, like powdered milk, pilot bread has become a favored food even as other, less robust foods have become available. Alaskan law requires all light aircraft to carry "survival gear", including food; the blue-and-white Sailor Boy Pilot Bread boxes are ubiquitous at Alaskan airstrips, in cabins, and virtually every village.
Commercially-available pilot bread is a significant source of food energy in a small, durable package. A store-bought 24-gram cracker can contain 100 calories, 20% from fat, 2 grams of protein and practically no dietary fiber. Two-pound boxes sold by Wal-Mart, Costco, Fred Meyer and other local stores in Anchorage cost roughly $4.00 in late 2007.
In the fall of 2007, rumors spread throughout Alaska that Interbake Foods might stop producing pilot bread. An Anchorage Daily News article published November 6, 2007, reported the rumor was false, to the relief of many. Alaskans enjoy warmed pilot bread with melted butter or with soup or moose stew. Pilot bread with peanut butter, honey, or apple sauce is often enjoyed by children.
Those who buy commercially-baked pilot bread in the continental United States are often residents of Indian reservations or Oregonians and others who stock up on long-lived foods for disaster survival rations. Japanese also keep pilot bread in their disaster kits. Hardtack can comprise the bulk of dry food storage for some campers. Pilot bread, sometimes referred to as pilot crackers during advertising, is often sold in conjunction with freeze-dried foods as part of package deals by many freeze-dried survival food companies.
Hardtack was a staple of military servicemen in Japan and South Korea well into late 20th century. It is known as Kanpan in Japan and geonppang (건빵) in South Korea, meaning 'dry bread', and is still sold as a fairly popular snack food in South Korea.
Many people who currently buy or bake hardtack in the United States are Civil War reenactors. One of the units that continually bakes hardtack for living history is the USS Tahoma Marine Guard Infantry of the Washington State Civil War Association. British and French reenactors buy or bake hardtack as well.
Hard tack is also a mainstay in parts of Canada. Located in St. John's, Newfoundland, Purity Factories currently bakes two varieties.

See also


External links

hardtack in German: Hartkeks
hardtack in Korean: 건빵
hardtack in Japanese: 乾パン
hardtack in Russian: Галеты
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