Hardtack was one of many names given to this very long-lasting cracker. The soldiers often referred to them as “worm castles” because of the “meat” they sometimes discovered in their “bread.” To Grandpa Carter, they were "jawbreakers"-- for very good reason. So good luck to you if you decide to share these with your friends.

You only need three ingredients: 3 cups of unbleached flour, 3 teaspoons salt, and 1 cup of water.

The list of equipment is three times as long! You'll want a 2-quart bowl, a spoon, a rolling pin, a breadboard, a table knife, 2 baking sheets, a ruler, and a nice, clean, rust-free, eight-penny nail (or as Grandpa Carter might say "just a nice-size one"). Oh, yes--I forgot--it's essential to have an oven, too.

Instructions? Well, those are simple, but not necessarily easy:

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. In the bowl, stir the flour and salt together. Add the water and mix until the dough gets too stiff to stir. Knead that dough, turning it over, pressing, pulling, and tugging at it for at least five minutes, adding a little more flour so it stays very dry, finally rolling it with the rolling pin until it is a big rectangle, only 1/2-inch thick. (You'll need to press really hard, and may find it a bit frustrating.)

When you finally get it rolled, use the knife to cut that rectangle into a dozen 3-inch squares. Then, being very careful not to puncture your own skin, hold the squares, one by one, in your hand, punching 16 holes through each piece of dough with the big nail. Place the squares on the ungreased baking sheets. Bake for 30 minutes until crisp and lightly browned. Cool before storing in a closed container for as long as you dare.

Make more anytime you're up to it. Believe me, there's nothing like 'em!


To learn much more about the cuisine, culture and conflict in the days of the American Civil War, check out Just Following Orders: Escape from Guerrilla Warfare in 1863