As you may all know, one of my big beeves is that often when people go about recreating some bit of food from the Mormon pioneers, they start with a recipe that isn't anywhere close to reflecting what the pioneers actually ate. Further, they don't think to question where the recipe came from ("provenance" as the antiques folks say). If something is printed in a Church publication, it must be True, they think. And as our last post revealed, this is not always the case. So here are just a few thoughts regarding the errors in the previous post.
First, as Sherm noted, hard tack was not ever intended to be "delicious." Its main requirement was that it keep long term. These are mutually exclusive ideas. For it to keep long term, it had to be dry as a bone, and contain nothing that would spoil. Fats, oils and milk-based ingredients spoil or go rancid. Likewise, rolling the dough out thin also means it will not last long. Thin crackers break into tiny little crumbs.
If the cracker is not thin, it will take some time to dry thoroughly. If it is not completely void of moisture it will spoil. To facilitate drying, pierce each cracker with a toothpick on a half-inch grid. Because it needs to dry thoroughly, we can't bake it at 400 degrees F. Instead, it needs to bake very slowly at a lower temperature (perhaps 200-250) for a long time (at least a couple of hours).
"...it will stay fresh as long as it is kept dry." Hmmm... actually, its not supposed to stay fresh. It's supposed to be dry. And truth be told, sailors often said that a cracker has to ripen at sea. The ripening references crackers that have gotten slightly soggy from ocean humidity, and then become infested with weevils. As the weevils tunneled through the cracker (note the implication of a thick cracker), it weakened the cracker so that it could be broken up more readily. In Melville's Moby Dick, Ishmael talks about sailors throwing such crackers into the rendering pot to fry in whale oil, making a tasty meal.
On the other hand, Melville doesn't mention "...jam, peanut butter, cheese, meat spreads, or whatever you like. Try seasoning the crackers by adding onion powder, cheese, barbecue sauce, bacon bits, herbs, or spices to the dough." The utter poppycock of this notion should be apparent on the face of things.
If you make hard tack, it should break a tooth and choke a camel. On the other hand if you want to make something tasty, why not find a credible recipe for a pioneer-era cookie? It just seems silly to try to make a sea biscuit into a cookie.
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