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History Cookbook: Hardtack (Ships Biscuits)

This recipe is in category Tudors
About this recipe
Healthiness : (1533 votes)
Comments: Take care when removing the biscuits from the oven - let them cool before moving them to a tray.
Preparation Time: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 30-40 minutes
Number of servings: 16 biscuits
Serving suggestions: You'd be better off with digestives or shortbread!

The name hardtack refers to the iron hard biscuits that were stored on ships during the Tudor and later periods. They were a staple part of the diet. They were made from a simple unleavened mixture of flour, water and salt, rolled out thinly and baked slowly until very hard and dry. We have added milk instead of water to our biscuits, and a little buitter, to make them more edible.

If cooked slowly, these biscuits are a challenge for even the healthiest of teeth. The sailors must have softened them in some liquid to be able to eat them. Cooked properly, they are hard not brittle and no good for dunking in tea as they are still rock hard afterwards.

However, in former times, maybe the maggots helped to break them down. As voyages progressed, the food would become infested with worms, maggots and other creatures. Ferdinand Columbus, describing one of his father’s voyages, wrote:

"Food had become so wormy that sailors waited to dark to eat … so they could not see the maggots."
The original ingredients for hard Tack:
  • 1 lb flour
  • 1/2 pint water
  • 1/2 tablespoon sea salt

Optional to suit more modern tastes:

  • 2 oz butter (This was not used in the original recipe, but it will makes the biscuits easiert to eat. You can leave it out if you wish but the biscuits will be very hard). 
  • Use 1/2 pint skimmed milk insted of water.
  • Weighing scales
  • Measuring jug
  • Mixing bowl
  • Saucepan
  • Sieve
  • Rolling pin
  • Cup
  • Baking tray
  • Wire tray
Making and cooking it
Always wash your hands before preparing food Always wash your hands before preparing food.

  1. Measure out the flour and place in a mixing bowl
  2. Measure out the milk and butter and place in a saucepan
  3. Melt the butter in the milk over a very low heat
  4. Add the sea salt to the flour and mix
  5. Add the milk and butter then the flour and mix until you have a dough, kneading the dough until all the flour is absorbed (it should be a thick, shiny, stiff mix)
  6. Roll the dough out until fairly thin
  7. Cut the biscuit shapes using a cup rim
  8. Place on a baking tray and prick all over to let out any air when cooking
  9. Bake slowly at only a moderate heat  (A moderate heat is 350°C, 177°°F, Gas 4 )until golden brown (30-40 minutes - the time will depend on thickness of the biscuits). The biscuits should be dry right through or they might go mouldy when you take them to sea.
  10. Turn off the oven and leave to cool. Store in a dry place until needed.
Hardtack (Ships Biscuits) - print view  Hardtack (Ships Biscuits) - print view

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Name: Asdf 21st May 2018
These biscuits don’t look very nice.
Name: Mike 30th October 2017
You may want to change those temps. 350 C is over 600 F, but if you flip the C and F it comes out right.
Name: Steve 22nd June 2017
Made these with a little more salt and a mix of water and milk and they came out pretty nice, not hard at all. Also ended up seasoning the dough and they were fantastic :)

Now I can do something with the leftover fried chicken breading I have!
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