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Portables U.S. Army "Hard Bread" - 1863 Specifications

u.s. army "hard bread" - 1863 specifications
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(from 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)

Also Known As: Hard Tack

Ingredients:

extra superfine flour​
clean water​
clean salt​
Instructions:
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.​


A Traditional if Unpublished Recipe: -- Flour, water, and a little salt. Mix to obtain an elastic, but not sticky dough, roll to 1 inch thickness, cut into 3 and a quarter by 3 inch pieces, poke holes in dough, then bake at 400 degrees until slightly brown. Allow to cool. Return to 200 degree oven to remove all moisture.

Dip in coffee or hot broth to soften, otherwise bust your teeth. You were warned!

Note: This is one of the few recipes that does not have a "period" source in a recipe book. The reason for this is that hardtack was never intended to be made at home, nor in the field. It was only manufactured by large commercial bakeries for shipment to the troops when fresh bread was not available.
 
Last edited:

FedericoFCavada

First Sergeant
Joined
Jan 27, 2015
Location
San Antonio, Texas
After some of my attempts at baking my own "ship's biscuit" resulted in a lot of moldy tiles of "hard tack," It was recommended that I omit the salt, since that tends to attract moisture... The key is the second or third "baking" to entirely desiccate the stuff. It is rather grim to eat. I've left busted pieces in the bottom of a coffee container and then spooned them out. I have also soaked them in milk for a lengthy time and used them in a casserole as the starch layers... I've even broken the hard tack apart and wrapped it in a linen sack with other ingredients and boiled the whole mess into a period "pudding." Given the sheer quantity of salt pork issued out as rations, one method of downing this stuff is "skillygallee." Put soaked pieces and crumbs of hard tack into hot lard or bacon grease and fry until golden. Then eat it.

People may recall reading that during the Vicksburg campaign, some Union soldiers detached from the commissary and supply train basically looted and foraged all of the food they required from area farms. By the time they reconnected with their logistics train, they were actually desperate for hard tack because they'd only been eating meat, poultry, and orchard fruits or some vegetables without any carbs...
 

bdtex

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I've even broken the hard tack apart and wrapped it in a linen sack with other ingredients and boiled the whole mess into a period "pudding."
I have seen living history videos here in CWT showing how Civil War mess cooks crumbled it up and used it as an ingredient in various concoctions. Some of the concoctions looked and sounded quite tasty.
 

FedericoFCavada

First Sergeant
Joined
Jan 27, 2015
Location
San Antonio, Texas
Yes, important observation. Poor folks often suffered from pellagra, a deficiency of niacin from eating literally nothing but maize/Indian corn/ Zea mays.

I've read descriptions of people from the Southern states desperate for "hopping john" or rice and beans. We now know that rice and beans can sometimes accomplish a complimentary dietary function for protein.
 

FedericoFCavada

First Sergeant
Joined
Jan 27, 2015
Location
San Antonio, Texas
I have seen living history videos here in CWT showing how Civil War mess cooks crumbled it up and used it as an ingredient in various concoctions. Some of the concoctions looked and sounded quite tasty.
Yes, I think it can be whipped into one or another tasty concoction or recipe. Before it was called "hard tack" there were prior or previous descriptions of it in naval stores for for long distance travel. One of the crazy aspects is that simple flour stored in a barrel or cask will get supremely spoiled and insect-ridden long before hard tack does. So all hard tack is is a preservation method that holds the wheat flour in a sort of dehydrated form.

Sutlers who bake and sell their own product often jokingly record that their fresher sort of hard tack is entirely free from insect infestation, because "bugs cost extra."
The famous Massachusetts hat maker, Matthew Brenckle, has this informative and entertaining article at the USS Constitution web site that among other things, demonstrated that in naval stores, the large black-headed "maggot" recorded as a "bargeman" in naval lore is actually the apex predator or top of the food chain of the hard tack!

https://ussconstitutionmuseum.org/2014/07/16/some-notes-on-navy-biscui/

A 1997 entomologist article covers similar denizens of food supplies in the Civil War:

https://www.montana.edu/historybug/civilwar2/infested.html
 
Joined
Jun 7, 2021
Yes, I think it can be whipped into one or another tasty concoction or recipe. Before it was called "hard tack" there were prior or previous descriptions of it in naval stores for for long distance travel. One of the crazy aspects is that simple flour stored in a barrel or cask will get supremely spoiled and insect-ridden long before hard tack does. So all hard tack is is a preservation method that holds the wheat flour in a sort of dehydrated form.

Sutlers who bake and sell their own product often jokingly record that their fresher sort of hard tack is entirely free from insect infestation, because "bugs cost extra."
The famous Massachusetts hat maker, Matthew Brenckle, has this informative and entertaining article at the USS Constitution web site that among other things, demonstrated that in naval stores, the large black-headed "maggot" recorded as a "bargeman" in naval lore is actually the apex predator or top of the food chain of the hard tack!

https://ussconstitutionmuseum.org/2014/07/16/some-notes-on-navy-biscui/

A 1997 entomologist article covers similar denizens of food supplies in the Civil War:

https://www.montana.edu/historybug/civilwar2/infested.html
Thanks for sharing these links. Very interesting!
 

FedericoFCavada

First Sergeant
Joined
Jan 27, 2015
Location
San Antonio, Texas
Research on the origins of brewing has it now that the Sumerians apparently made a desicated "bread stuff" stored on racks long term... When it got well past its prime, it was ground up and used as part of the grain bill for making the "wort" of the sorts of "beer" they consumed, from clay vessels.
 
Joined
Jun 7, 2021
Research on the origins of brewing has it now that the Sumerians apparently made a desicated "bread stuff" stored on racks long term... When it got well past its prime, it was ground up and used as part of the grain bill for making the "wort" of the sorts of "beer" they consumed, from clay vessels.
That would make a whole new interesting thread. How folks used up food that was past its prime, because you know, you never wasted food! I've thought, with no proof, that jams and jellies are just over ripe fruit and lots of sugar.
 

FedericoFCavada

First Sergeant
Joined
Jan 27, 2015
Location
San Antonio, Texas
That would make a whole new interesting thread. How folks used up food that was past its prime, because you know, you never wasted food! I've thought, with no proof, that jams and jellies are just over ripe fruit and lots of sugar.
Oh, I think there is some proof here and there... Sidney Mintz's classic Sweetness and Power offers a good social history of sugar. Some of the 19th century methods of ingesting sugar are surprising to us... Simple sugar syrup was apparently cheaper for a good long while than jams and jellies. It is known, or perhaps myth?, that über-thrifty ("cheap?") Scots in Dundee were not about to take the loss on a ship-full of oranges from sunny Spain and Portugal that arrived spoiled/ rotted... So Dundee Marmalade was born, using all of the fruit, including the rinds. Port wine, similarly, was a method of spiking wine with brandy to prevent spoilage on long ocean voyages.

There are a slew of mostly forgotten dishes involving day-old bread... One expedient is to make bread-crumbs of course. In rural Spain, hard, stale bread was "refreshed" with hot water, squeezed out, and drizzled with oil and garlic and eaten as a sort of porridge. Same process, fried in oil and served as a sort of bread-based-version of hash browns still accompanies blood sausage/morcilla and a fried egg. Old bread could be turned into croutons and added to soups of course. In Portugal, there is a whole plethora of so-called "açordas" that are basically types of gruel made from day-old bread. Italian and Arabic cuisine re-uses stale bread in salads.

Zweibäck or rusks still survive, but these desiccated breads used to be much more prevalent. In the very northern-most parts of Sweden, the local "tunnbrod" was baked pretty much once a year. The "loaves" had a hole through the center. A pole or lath was placed through all the loaves, and then hung up. This helped ensure that rats and vermin that couldn't fly could not reach the stuff, and there it hung, being broken off and taken down as needed...

One feature of raising hogs in American agriculture, I might suppose, is that literally anything unfit for human consumption can be used to feed 'em... And as people who ingest or eat things like "scrapple" or "fat back" or what-have-you can attest: With hogs, everything can be eaten except the squeal...
 

7thWisconsin

Sergeant Major
Joined
Nov 21, 2014
I´ve broken hard tack up and fried it in the leftover grease from salt pork. When golden brown, they´re like the little crispy, salty fries that linger in the bottom of the container. I´ve also broken it up and put it in soup base with crumbled up jerky, which makes a surprisingly easy and tasty soup.
While boiling some up in coffee one morning, a pard sat down and asked ¨What are you having for breakfast, crackers?¨ A second pard, deadpan and without emotion said ¨I´m offended by that.¨ Best comeback ever.
 
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