Hardtack, again...

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tombear

Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)
Jul 9, 2004
4,099
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Rossendale, Lancashire
At the moment I'm finishing the excellent "Jack Tar" by L&R Adkins so inspired by that and since I thought I had a big bag of stone ground wholemeal flour that was near or just passed its use by date yesterday I decided I'd make a batch of hardtack/ships biscuits to use it up.

Being a funny sort of day, the lads having gone back to school that morning after having them underfoot all summer I did a bit of interweb paddling and found a excellent article on hardtack.

http://colonialbaker.net/A Summary of Reproducing the 18th Century English Sea Biscuit.pdf

This lead me to waste a couple of hours on turning a biscuit press (from a lump of lime I think, it is from my scrap wood basket) and fitting it with 12 piano wire pins. Once the food grade linseed had dried I actually went in search of the flour. There was of course no sign of it, I must have binned it in a bout of H&S paranoia. What I did find was a unopened bag of wholemeal spelt that was a few months past it's use by. It seamed fine, no rancid smell from the oils in the wholemeal going off or signs on infestation.

Well, the Romans used a form of hardtack, bucellatum. There's no surviving recipe and all the made up reenactor ones added salt and fats to them, which are both detrimental to the longevity of the stuff and would add to the costs but would make them more attractive to modern man, or any man. Any road I decided to make it without either. It required a bit more water than the recipe in the link and I left it more than half an hour to stand to give the chaff or whatever it's called more chance to absorb the water incase it needed more adding. As it happens a large PEK meat tin make the right sized ( 3 3/4" dia) biscuit cutter so I carefully opened and emptied one of those, washed it well and made some holes in the other end to let air in. I'll make a proper period cutter when I've done a bit of research, for show and tell. Previously I made a square cutter that had the pins as part of the design, it's a pig to use as the dough does not easily drop out so I've gone back to two processes, cut out then ***** the holes. You could just as easily just poke the holes in with a chop stick or whatever but I wanted something to use as a prop as well as to, lord help me, eat.

Anyroad I ended up with 9 half inch thick biscuits which I baked in a preheated oven at gas Mark 5 (375f), with the shelves in the top two slot, for a hour. I pulled them out and turned them around a couple of times and each time I saw a appreciable amount of water vapor escape from the oven. After I'd switched off the oven I transferred them from the baking trays to a wire tray and stuck that back in the now fairly cool oven and left them overnight.

i'd read in other sources about biscuits being baked twice or in cases where they would be stored for a long time up to 4 times. So today I put the oven back on for another hour ( but not preheating it) while I got the sprogs up for school. Again I opened the door a couple of times to let any water out ( saw none ) and left the biscuits in the cooling oven while I went off and did a bit of shopping. Yep, I bought a couple of bags of Tescos stoneground wholemeal and will be doing 3 or 4 pounds of the stuff later.

i've transferred the spelt stuff to a drawstring cotton bag and after a week hanging in a dry place I think they will be as dry/stale as they will get and I'll put them into something airtight. What I should have done is weigh the dry flour so I could tell when all the water I added was gone. Since there will have been some wastage I'd aim for a lower weight than I started. If I recall right back in the day they expected 100lb of flour to make about 92 lb of finished biscuit.

in the past I've only made small batches of this stuff, mainly to see how it lasts but if I do a decent amount I'll actually practice using it as a portable form of flour. I'll save the fat from the next lot of bacon I cook and try frying biscuit in that and crumbling it in stews or pounding it for suet puddings.

I think its Shiptons who make a stone ground whole meal heritage wheat flour that when I can get some ( I detest paying postage on foodstuffs) should make the most authentic " age of sail " hardtack without having it ground special. Saying that I have been daft enough to grow patches of ancient grain in the past so maybe I will do that!

Herself has ordered me a copy of "Feeding Nelsons Navy" so I may get some more daft ideas from that!

ATB

Tom
 
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tombear

Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)
Jul 9, 2004
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And just to prov I am this dopey, a photo!
 

JamPan

Forager
Jun 8, 2017
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1
Yorkshire
Very interesting. I'll add that to my list of things to have a go at.

I guess at the minute they'd taste like dog biscuits. :)
 

tombear

Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)
Jul 9, 2004
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Rossendale, Lancashire
Cheers!

The next batch, the stoneground whole meal wheat ones, has had its first hour in the oven and will get another in the morning. It seams to have retained more weight/water so we shall see if it needs a 3rd go in the oven.

A 1.5 Kg bag has made 20 1/2" biscuits and a small sculpture.

ATB

Tom
 

tombear

Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)
Jul 9, 2004
4,099
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Rossendale, Lancashire
Weighed them when I got in at 2.30 and they still came to a little over 1.6kg so put them back in for another bake. Fortunately I checked them after 20 mins, big cloud of steam when I opened the door and the one in the hottest part of the oven was just hinting at burning so I switched off and pulled them all.

i think I'll do as they did at the bakeries in the various arsenals and just leave them somewhere dry to finish for a week, then re weigh them. The only time I've had them go mouldy is when I put some straight into a airtight container after they had cooled. There must have been plenty of moisture left inside despite seaming as dry as a bone on breaking one open before packing away.

I must go go through my period trecking gear and see how the older stuff is, there's one piece that's about 20 years old now, certainly over 19 as I did it before we got wed. Unfortunately the marker rubbed off the plaki bag years ago so I can't say exactly when it was made.

Ive some muslin I've washed to shrink it before making up some squares for cooking so I'll loosely wrap that around them on the wire trays to keep the dust and flies off.

ATB

Tom
 

tombear

Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)
Jul 9, 2004
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Rossendale, Lancashire
My copy of "Feeding Nelsons Navy" arrived this AM, so that will be my next read. While I was waiting I looked at some reviews and I'm rather looking forward to it. I've also got a charity shop copy of "Lobscouse and spotted dog" by Grossman and Thomas, a sort of cook book based on the sea stories of Patrick O'Brian. The food is supposedly based on period receipts but since they still insist on putting salt into ships biscuits and its based on novels rather than on new research I won't take it too seriously.

still not found a local source of the Shiptons flour I'm after, will need to do some googling.

ATB

tom
 

Janne

Guest
Feb 10, 2016
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Grand Cayman, Norway, Sweden
Interesting baking! How do they taste and how do you eat them?

I Scandinavia we made traditionally knäcke bröd ( cracker bread) for long term storage and use. Rye as wheat was not grown much in the lovely Scandi climate.
 

tombear

Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)
Jul 9, 2004
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Rossendale, Lancashire
I'll let you know when they have finished drying out. Previous batches, when nibbled on taste like the dark brown crust of a cheap loaf but salty. You'd break a tooth if you tried to bite a lump off and crush it between your nashers!

They are much more a ingredient to make other things and so take up the taste of whatever the other ingredients are. Think of them as a portable form of flour that won't spoil or spill as easily. I assume the baking and drying will get rid of most of the oils that you get in wholemeal flour that will eventually go rancid.

Bashed up into coarse crumbs its used in Lobscouse and other stews, ground up finer its used as flour along with suet for any number of sweet or savoury boiled puddings or to thicken soups.

Eatening them as is? Sometimes they were fried in pork fat left over from cooking bacon until they were soft, which I intend to try once I've some pork dripping to use other wise they were soaked in some liquid to soften them, coffee being common during the American civil war. Sounds vile to me.

incidentally I've found out that the term hardtack wasn't used before the 1830s and wasn't widespread until the 1860s and the American Civil War. Saying that the sources are U.S. and they have a tendency to ignore the rest of the world, I wouldn't be surprised if it turns out the term was widely used in the Crimea were vast amounts were used.

Atb

Tom
 

tombear

Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)
Jul 9, 2004
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Rossendale, Lancashire
That is a very good idea, herself has a big dehydrator. It'll set it up tomorrow AM after another weighing. If it was cold enough to merit having the heating on i'd put them straight on top of the radiators with some muslin over to keep the dust. Back in the day they were kept in a drying loft above the ovens.

ATB

Tom
 

Janne

Guest
Feb 10, 2016
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Grand Cayman, Norway, Sweden
I have (obviously) never tasted hardtack.
But I have read that the British Navy hardtack after a while got infested by weevils and other fauna. Was eaten soaked in beer to get palatable.

Also, when the Navy orders started drying up the manufacturers developed Water Bisquits / Crackers.
 

tombear

Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)
Jul 9, 2004
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Rossendale, Lancashire
The British army was still issuing it into at least the 1950s, possibly later. The Russian navy still does and it's still a staple in Alaska, Hawaii and parts of Canada.

Bizarrely before the end of the Napoleonic Wars the British knew how to stop the stuff going off and being infested with insects but for some reason kept storing the stuff in sacks, often reused ones that had just been shaken out, not washed or sterilised in any way to kill the insect eggs. The Americans had long since started storing their hard bread in sealed tins and the British who tried captured examples marvelled at how fresh and wholesome the stuff was! It wasn't canning as such as there was no heat treatment but it was enough to keep the stuff from going bad.

ATB

Tom

PS
There is a more edible sounding form of ships bread, often referred to as rusk which is simply a yeast loaf made from the same wholemeal flour sliced up and the slices baked again, the true twice baked that the french meant by biscuit or however they spell it. It wasn't as durable as the rock hard hardtack but much nicer to eat . My best friend at schools granny always had a old sweet tin full of it when we went round which we'd have with jam on, made from a normal medium sliced loaf. After doing the Sunday roast and switching off she'd spread slices over the shelves, close the door and leave it to cool.

Or buy a bag of Krisprolls from Asda, it's the same stuff basically!
 
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Janne

Guest
Feb 10, 2016
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Grand Cayman, Norway, Sweden
Krisprolls made by Pågen ?
Swedish, from Malmö in southern Sweden. I miss the white wheat ones, can not stand the only ones they import hete, the Whole grain.

When I studied decades ago, I lived about two blocks away from the factory. You could buy slightly broken ones for next to nothing. Lovely with butter and jam.
 

tombear

Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)
Jul 9, 2004
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Rossendale, Lancashire
Those are the puppies! Before I had to dramatically cut down on my carbs I ate many a bag of them, with butter and jam. I'm pretty sure we only get the " healthy" wholegrain ones here which is a shame. I can't imagine them taking rough handling very well, I used to break a fair proportion of them just getting them back in the car a couple of miles, let along them rolling about in a sack for a year aboard a sixth rate!

ATB

Tom
 

SaraR

Full Member
Mar 25, 2017
642
394
Ceredigion
Yeah, really enoys me that you can get the boring rockhard crisprolls just about everywhere in the UK but no one sells the proper crumbly slightly sweet cardemom ones that I love.
Same with crispbread, you can get the 'compressed sawdust' ones but not any of the the yummy ones. Good crisp bread can be enjoyed as is without the slightest feeling of chewing dust.
(*rant over*)
 

Janne

Guest
Feb 10, 2016
12,368
2,264
Grand Cayman, Norway, Sweden
Exactly the same on this Island.
Plus, the Wasa cracker bread is made in Germany. Not the same taste, far from it.
You can not get the proper Golden Wheat crisprolls even in Norway.

But on the positive dide we have many different brands of Water Biscuits / modetn hardtack here. Brst brands are from Jamaica.


Yeah, really enoys me that you can get the boring rockhard crisprolls just about everywhere in the UK but no one sells the proper crumbly slightly sweet cardemom ones that I love.
Same with crispbread, you can get the 'compressed sawdust' ones but not any of the the yummy ones. Good crisp bread can be enjoyed as is without the slightest feeling of chewing dust.
(*rant over*)
 

tombear

Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)
Jul 9, 2004
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Rossendale, Lancashire
Well, that worked a treat, I put 10 biskits ( the most usual UK 18th/early 19th C spelling for the stuff I made ) on to two trays of her selfs dehydrator, set it got 70 degrees and 10 hours and left it to itself. When I weighed them just now they had dropped to 1.42 kg from the 1.63 they were yesterday so since I started with 1.5 of flour I think that will do me. I'll leave them over night to cool in the machine.

I found that a random six biskits weighed 15 3/4 oz which is as near to the regulation pound a day as makes no difference so I'll vacuum pack two lots of 6 for posterity and chuck the other 8 into a draw string linen bag I've washed and ironed hot to kill any bugs and use them for experimenting along with the batch of spelt ones that have been hanging up in the shed for nearly a week.

Somewhere I have the details on how long dried oatcakes last. Oatcake were the great staple of the northern English up to the start of the twentieth century. I've made them from scratch but theres not a lot of point to it when Tescos at Haslinden has them delivered about twice a week from Stoke. If I want a more authentic to this area thrown oatcake ( taste just the same to be honest but are oval shaped rather than round like poured oatcakes ) there's a stall on Colne market that sells them both soft, like the Staffordshire oat cakes Tescos sells, and dried, what's called " hard " around here. There's a salty beef potted meat concoction called "stew" that's traditional eaten with " hard" and this stall sells that ax well, from what I've seen, to the elderly. It used to be a popular form of pub grub but too salty for me. They charge at least twice as much for these thrown oatcakes, even more for the dried, as the mass produced Staffs ones so I rarely get them so haven't experimented with them for trail rations rather than bread. Currently the only live fire place in our house is in a room used for storage so I've no place to dry them in front of a fire ( traditionally they were either dried on a rack In front of the fire or in large numbers on a special rack that was hung just below the roof Up against the chimney either on bars or strings running from side to side. However there's nowt to stop me putting them in the dehydrator ( now someone's put the idea in my head ) and it just so happens we got three packs of six oatcakes this afternoon!

Although they were not mass made in factories like ships biskits they were made on campaign from ration oatmeal, famously one of the Yorkshire regiments, the 33rd Foot, was known as the Havercake Lads, recruiting in the oat growing part of the county. The dried Havercakes ( just a local name for oatcakes) are quite brittle so would not last any ware as long as biskits but are infinitely more eadible. Then can be broken up and added to soups and stews or eaten with cheese or meat on top. Soft oatcakes only last a few days, dried ones much longer. It's in some of my books but the best way will be for me to dry some and see for myself.

ATB

Tom
 

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