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 "molar breakers".
Because it is so hard and dry, properly stored and transported hardtack will survive rough handling and endure extremes of temperature.
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, 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 G. H. Bent 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.
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 those who stock up on long-lived foods for disaster survival rations. 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 re-enactors. 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 re-enactors 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 three varieties. The first variety is a cracker, similar to a cross between an unsalted saltine and hardtack, is the "Crown Biscuit". It was a popular item in much of New England and was manufactured by Nabisco until it was discontinued in the first quarter of 2008. It was discontinued once before, in 1996, but a small uprising by its supporters brought it back in 1997. This variety comes in two subvarieties, Flaky and Barge biscuits. The second is traditional hardtack and is the principle ingredient in fish and brewis a traditional Newfoundland and Labrador meal. The third variety is known as Sweet Bread. This variety is slightly softer than regular hardtack due ot a higher sugar and shortening content and is eaten as a snack food.
CIVIL WAR BUFFS GIVE HARDTACK A NEW LIFE THE TOUGH CRACKERS, ESPECIALLY THE WAY ONE MASSACHUSETTS COMPANY MAKES THEM, ARE JUST THE TICKETFOR RE-ENACTORS.(Front)
Aug 05, 2000; Hardtack crackers, once a staple for hungry Union soldiers in the Civil War, are dry as a bone, hard as a brick -- and all...