Hard Tack


Did you know there was recently written an entire history of salt? It was a very good book, one of my favorites. It was filled with tons of interesting facts, like, armies were paid in salt, that the word salary has its origin in the word salt. 
I don’t know why I found it so usual that information about salt could fill a book. Perhaps the image of a pinch of salt kept my thoughts small.
 The phrase “an army moves on its stomach” so long as there is salt has an complicated double meaning. Salt is needed for salary, salt is needed for the traveling food, and then again, sometimes an army low-crawls to advance to the enemy.
Food for soldiers is a serious affair. In my short time in the army, the only comforting time were the three regular breaks for eating. 
While on post the days could be filled with tedious training and exhausting drills, but there was always the expectation for the break for food. 
Breakfast, lunch and dinner were stable places of security. The servings were plentiful if not always creative. The calories were high and usually tasty. There was something at breakfast that was announced as SOS, a mysterious dish that referenced defecating on a shingle, but it was still delicious. 
Everything changed when going out in the field or on maneuvers. Oh, there was a field kitchen where the food was hot. Hot was the operative word, because most times it was a one pot dish, a stew of things that have been “stewing” so long that they have lost all color. It the words of George Carlin, “could be meat, could be meat cake.”
The real test for an army on the march were the unrefrigerated, and uncooked MRIs. Meals Ready Instantly, or at least we thought that was the meaning. It was always questionable if they were really meals. 
Later on in my service I was stationed in an underground bunker. A nuclear hidy hole that was big enough to contain most of the leadership of the Pentagon. 
I never really thought about it but there must have been at list of who gets to go down in the cave, and who has to stay topside. Some general of procurement or supply had to watch as entire families of the cabinet secretaries were allowed to go down to safety, but his lifetime of service was about to evaporate in a nuclear mist. 
Of course I was going to be safe as well. Stuff had to operate, things had to be fixed. Can’t have generals poking around with soldering guns and oscilloscopes. 
So one of things that was curious were the hundreds of thousands of pallets of MRIs that lined the cave walls. I hope there was a rotation system to keep things fresh. Maybe not.
The future of the nuclear survivors was a picture of generals and staff, picking through the available MRIs for tasty bits to eat. And they must have been at least enough food for several generations. 
It was a dark thought, piles of empty packages, the bleak expectation of the next meal. The sameness repeating endlessly. 
At least topside there was a chance that one could forage a random chicken or some eggs. Here in the dark confines of the cave there were a few bats, and maybe a few insects that they fed on.
Well, thank God, peace reigned, and it occurred to me more than once that the generals advised diplomacy over war, because they didn’t want to eat underground. 
And that reminds me, I recently discovered the recipe that kept both armies in the Civil War in tip top fighting condition. In particular the South used this food because they were on the move most of the time. 
I had read about “hardtack” and wonder just how it provided all that was necessary to keep an army in the field. I had also read that the solders complained about the taste, but that would be a natural soldier response. 
It was funny how such an important staple had simply disappeared. I had read about hardtack in stories about sea travel, and armies all through Europe. The entire world had eaten hardtack and I had never seen a single package in any grocery, no matter where I traveled. 
When I was backpacking seriously I often thought I should pack some hardtack, why not? Instead, I packed rice and freeze dried meals, because of the weight. But I really didn’t know how much hardtack weighed, I never had an example. 
Well, problem solved, I found another book. It was a book that had recipes that had been lost, recipes that the early pioneers had used when moving West. It had the recipe for hard tack.
I was very excited, finally I had the secret to a remarkable food that had keep men in the field for four years straight. 
It was three cups of flour, to cup cup of water. Or to put it another way, three tons of flour to one ton of water. The recipe was this 3-1 mixture. That’s it, oh yeah, and a pinch of salt. 
Wow, just flour. 
Admittedly the baking was also unique. It was baked at least twice. Once, the usual time for any flour recipe, 30-40 minutes of high heat. Then a second bake of lower heat for hours and hours. Enough time to drive every bit if moisture out of the bread, so that it wasn’t bread anymore. More like a brick. 
Yeah, that’s what the sailors and soldiers ate. Bricks of flour.

If you want to be more accurate, in order to eat hard tack you must first hit it with your rifle butt, several times.
Food for thought.