In the world of refrigeration and preservatives that we live in today, we don’t think a lot about how long our food lasts. Sure, canned food and beef jerky are still a part of our diets, but in general we aren’t thinking about enduring long periods of time without a source of food. When I look at the diets of sailors, soldiers and explorers a few hundred years ago some items come up again and again. A ration of rum was certainly expected. But so too was hardtack.
Hardtack is made from flour and water, with some salt to help preserve it and hopefully make it more palatable. But taste wasn’t the priority with hardtack, it was to have something to sustain you when fresher food wasn’t available. Dip it in water, tea or if you were lucky whiskey or rum to soften it up to save what was left of your teeth.
Hardtack was called many things, depending on who was using it for food. Army Bread, sailor’s bicuits, and a large assortment of derogatory names was used to describe this staple. Ultimately it was often the only thing between carrying on and starvation.
Thinking about traditional foods like hardtack help me appreciate being alive today. Life is much easier now, and our food is so much more available and palatable than it was not that long ago. I’m going to have a turkey wrap for lunch today, with avocado. I’ll be sure to savor it.