Let’s talk hardtack

This morning I woke up to a  version of this ; The Day Thou Gavest, Lord, is Ended, one of my all time favourite hymns.

I lay in bed listening to words and music that I hadn’t heard in years, and felt profoundly peaceful. The hymn was part of our New Zealand  Praise Be programme for Remembrance Sunday, on this second Sunday in November.  On Remembrance Sunday,  people throughout the Commonwealth  pay tribute, before God, to those who laid down their lives in war.  I haven’t been to a Remembrance Sunday service, in real life,  but the few scenes (and one  service sheet ) that I have seen, via the internet and television, always impress me with the beauty of their words and their music and their surroundings. Heavenly and divine aptly describe these church services where we honour peace and life, and, somehow, try to atone for the horror of war and conflict.

Now, although to a certain extent I am a person of faith, my spiritual life is more bread and butter than angels and divine inspiration, which means that, as I was  listening to the hymn this morning, my mind suddenly  jumped from wreaths on tombstones to one word…hardtack!  Yes, hardtack! Well…. it was nearly breakfast time, so quite natural that my stomach/brain would be reminding me of food. And, since an army is said to march on its stomach, I would guess most soldiers, of older times, also thought  more often of hardtack (what they would rather have, or what they could do with it!)  than their Maker.

Hardtack, as many of you may know, is a  type of plain cracker made from flour and water and salt and, in ages past, was used to sustain soldiers and sailors.  Hardtack was hard, very hard, and very long- lasting. It was a substitute for bread. In World War One, Australian and New Zealand troops ( ANZACS)  jokingly called their hardtack,  ANZAC wafers. They were also called ANZAC tiles.

According to this source,  http://definingnz.com/bully-beef-and-biscuits/ , the daily ration of an ANZAC soldier  was ”disablingly bad”  and included 7 ANZAC Wafers ( ie 7 hardtack biscuits).  Considering many soldiers  didn’t have a full set of teeth, or had false teeth,  eating the rations must often have required more energy than they had to spare. Apparently the Anzac biscuits (and the bully beef) were so inedible that, sometimes, they were merely nibbled on and then thrown in to No Man’s Land.

The Australian War Memorial  website offers a recipe for ANZAC wafers. However, I don’t suggest you try it, unless you  want to boost your dentist’s bank balance.

A happier and more nutritious alternative would be to try these delicious, crunchy rye crackers that I made, based on a  recipe  by New Zealand caterer, Ruth Pretty. I had to  bake the crackers about 15 minutes longer than suggested, to get the degree of cracker-ness that I like but, my goodness, they are good. No armed services personnel would throw these crackers in to No Man’s Land.

Rye Crackers

Rye Crackers

And, if you do make these crackers, or something similar, remember as you munch, that our service personnel once had more to fear than enemy fire. Remember too, that how we treat and train our armed services is often more  important than how we pray for them.

After bites; Captain Clark Gable had false teeth 🙂

Some viewers may not be able to see Praise Be for copyright reasons.

© silkannthreades

Often the soldiers managed no more than nibbling away at the edges before tossing the centres out into No Man’s Land. – See more at: http://definingnz.com/bully-beef-and-biscuits/#sthash.4Em0zDGB.dpuf
Often the soldiers managed no more than nibbling away at the edges before tossing the centres out into No Man’s Land. – See more at: http://definingnz.com/bully-beef-and-biscuits/#sthash.4Em0zDGB.dpuf
Our rations are 7 biscuits a day, a very little each of jam, tea & sugar & a very fat chunk of bacon. There is any amount of bully beef but only because it is poor & barely eatable. I have a struggle to get satisfied; it takes a lot of gnawing to fill up on biscuits & our 7 are as many as a man with ordinary jaws can manage. – See more at: http://definingnz.com/bully-beef-and-biscuits/#sthash.4Em0zDGB.dpuf
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59 thoughts on “Let’s talk hardtack

  1. ordinarygood

    My poor old teeth would not cope with Hardtack. Anzac biscuits which are soft and chewy—-yum.My Mum was a great baker but could never discern what made some Anzac biscuits spread flat on the tray while another batch, cooked in the same oven, with the same ingredients meant tough biscuits and then soft and chewy……I don’t think many got tossed into No Man’s Land though. Interesting post, thank you.

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      I am with your Mum on that puzzlement! But, as you say, however they turn out, they are always eaten.
      I keep wondering how my grandfather (with his false teeth) managed to eat those hardtack Anzac biscuits. Must have been horrible.

      Reply
      1. ordinarygood

        Some say the quality of the flour is the key to the outcome….lots of my WW1 ancestors had false teeth too. Our neighbours who are both in their 70’s had false teeth before they turned 21 years of age…..thank goodness times have changed on that “treatment.”

        Reply
        1. Gallivanta Post author

          Yes, many of my elderly relatives had all their teeth out by the time they were 21! It was just the done thing. 😦 There are merits to that situation though. I think I have half my life savings in my mouth 😀

        2. Gallivanta Post author

          And now that so much is invested in my teeth I want to look after the investment! But, actually, as with most things, if we do regular maintenance and take preventative measures, there is no need for our teeth to be more expensive to keep than a car! Speaking of which, one wouldn’t say, “oh, I saved myself such a lot of money by taking off the wheels of my car; no punctures, no mechanics bills….” Although it would be true, it slightly defeats the purpose of having a car.

  2. Pingback: Winners in my book | silkannthreades

    1. Gallivanta Post author

      That’s funny!!! I am sure the troops would have enjoyed that sort of hardtack. I think tack has some connection to the word tucker, as in food or food rations, so ,if rum was part of rations at some time ,then I can see how strong liquour came to be called hardtack. Perhaps I need a drop of hardtack to sort through all these possibilities 😀

      Reply
      1. Tracy Rhynas

        I Googled it, to see why it is called hardtack, but couldn’t find any history of the expression – virtually the only reference I found was in a list of “Everyday English and Slang in Ireland”, where it was said to mean neat spirits, usually whiskey. At least now if someone offers me hardtack I won’t be surprised if I get biscuits 😉

        Reply
  3. Sheryl

    It’s interesting how different countries have similar holidays–though the holiday names differ. Today is Veteran’s Day in the US. Remembrance Day sounds very similar to Veteran’s Day.

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      Yes, it is much the same, I am sure; only the name is different. And I think you get a holiday, whereas we do not in New Zealand, not until April that is when we remember our service people on Anzac Day.

      Reply
  4. ruth pretty

    Hello and yes they are lovely crackers. You mentioned that you needed to bake them 15 minutes longer than recipe said. They look much thicker than how we make them so that will account for the longer time. Ours are thin and crisp. i will try them thicker as that will be an interesting change. Keep cooking!

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      OH how lovely of you to contact me!!!. I thought I had rolled them out quite thinly but perhaps not finely enough :(. They are very delicious. They are keeping well (although I would have been quite happy to eat them all at once!) and are still beautifully crunchy. It was my first attempt at making this sort of cracker and I was pleased, very pleased with the result.

      Reply
  5. Clanmother

    Lovely, Lovely, Lovely!! Remembrance Day has always been a poignant reminder to me that there are dark times – that men and women of courage have stood resolute. May we remember their sacrifice and affirm our devotion to seeking peaceful outcomes.

    “The world is indeed full of peril and in it there are many dark places.
    But still there is much that is fair. And though in all lands, love is now
    mingled with grief, it still grows, perhaps, the greater.”
    ― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      That is the blessed, hopeful part…that there is still much that is fair… and, indeed, we must be devoted to growing that fairness, wherever and however we can.

      Reply
  6. mmmarzipan

    Had never heard of hardtack before! Here in Sweden hard bread is eaten around the clock, served on its own or with meals… and there are possibly hundreds of varieties. I am sure its longevity has something to do with the tradition!

    Reply
  7. utesmile

    Interesting! We had rememberance Sunday, I did find it hard though, I was in church and we sung hyms and had our silence and I just cried. First year ever I did that. I am so emotional and I just had to think of my dad all the time……
    I’ll have nice cup of tea now, and think of your Spanish cream! 🙂

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      So lovely to know that you were at a Remembrance Sunday service. I am quite sure I would have cried with you if I had been there. Remembrance services have a way of going straight to our hearts. It was a good time to think of your Dad 🙂

      Reply
  8. Mrs. P

    When I was teaching we took the kids to the fort on the Presidio (Fort Point) underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. The kids got to experience life living in the fort during the Civil War and one of the things we each got to eat was hardtack. I must say it was VERY hard and not very tasty.

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      That’s fascinating and so great that the children were able to have that tasting experience. I am actually very fond of a more civilized type of hardtack cracker which is sold in supermarkets here. They are called Cabin Crackers. They are hard but have been made tasty 🙂

      Reply
  9. vsperry

    I got shivers when the descant rose above the choir…organs and descants usually reduce me to a little puddle on the floor. And thank you for the hard tack history lesson. I have known about it, but did not know that your troops were confined to seven inedible pieces a day. War is difficult on so many levels. Now our troops eat MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat) which according to my sources aren’t too bad.

    Reply
      1. vsperry

        fascinating! I’m not sure what I like better, the different translations of MRE or the many acronyms bred of different types of food packaging for civilians. Hoooah!

        Reply
  10. Letizia

    I’d never heard of hardtacks either – I always learn so much from your blog. Loved hearing the hymn – listened to it while looking at the autumn foliage in my garden. Thanks for sharing it.

    Reply
  11. YellowCable

    I also lean a new thing – hardtack. I feel sorry for those poor soldiers to both have to fight against the real enemies as well as to fight to get this hard to eat food down. Your version with cheese looks more civilized 🙂

    Reply
  12. coulda shoulda woulda

    Gee whiz…and they expected them to let that sustain them? I don’t know where to start…But I agree as much as I believe in spiritual fodder I think money should be spent in equipping them better. But I wish there was no need for any soldiers.

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      I wish we didn’t need them either, not for fighting anyway. However, in peacekeeping and search and rescue and disaster work, our armed services are invaluable. We haven’t found a suitable alternative yet and, until we do, I think we need to support them to do the best work they can.

      Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      It’s rather an odd topic I have to confess but, in the process of researching, I also learnt interesting things about…. toothbrushes in the army….which is perhaps even stranger to think about.

      Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      That is fun! I haven’t been there but I know it is a popular place for people from here to visit when they go to England. A good Sunday to you too with lots of lovely food and no hardtack!

      Reply
  13. Travelling Kiwi

    Thank you for the reminder of one of my favourite hyms. To me it brings memories of evening prayers in the school chapel during my boarding school days – times of soft lighting and quiet reflection. It is perfect for Remembrance Sunday, perhaps especially for those of us whose uncles and grandfathers travelled a long way from home to take their part in the theatre of war. I particularly like the line ‘The sun that bids us rest is waking our brethren ‘neath the western sky.’
    Hard tack sounds very difficult to eat and digest. I wonder if the practice of dunking biscuits in tea originated in response to a diet of hard tack?

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      Yes, I like that line too. The hymn always seemed to bind us with family all over the world which is one thing I loved about it. Boarding school memories for me as well. The other pieces I liked on Praise Be this morning were Abide With Me and Sons of Gallipoli. I hardly ever get to listen to Praise Be so I was rather pleased that I heard it today on Remembrance Sunday.
      And, indeed, I also wonder if hardtack is responsible for our dunking biscuit habits.

      Reply
        1. Gallivanta Post author

          That’s an excellent post at Book Snob. Shows how important it is to gather in war stories from all perspectives. I wonder how it stacks up with the NZ WW1 experience though. All the ones in our family tree who returned were either physically or mentally (or both) scarred by the war.
          I noticed on the side bar of the blog that Book Snob is reading Ammonites and Leaping Fish: a life in time by Penelope Lively. I loved her two other memoirs. This one looks good too. http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/reviews/book-review-ammonites–leaping-fish-a-life-in-time-by-penelope-lively-8901977.html

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