Thursday, June 18, 2015

Ship's Biscuit

In preparation for the demonstration for the Cub Scouts, I baked up a batch of Ship's Biscuit.  Later generations came to know these as hardtack, but in the 18th century, as far as I know, they were simply called ship's biscuit, or simply biscuit.

The recipe is very simple: flour, a pinch of salt, and enough water to make a pasty dough.  Form into cakes about 3/4" thick and about 2" by 3" in size. Place on a lightly-greased pan or cookie sheet. Bake at 350* for at least 30 minutes, turn, and bake for at least another 30 minutes.  Taking them out of the oven, leave them out to cool and "cure" for a day or two.  They will become nearly as hard as rocks (and only slightly more appetizing than rocks when eaten dry and by themselves), but they will keep for a long time - years, in fact.

If soaked in milk or gravy, or crumbled up to thicken a stew or soup, they become much more palatable.

As anyone who grew up reading C.S. Forester's "Hornblower" series knows, the British Navy shipped these biscuits all over the world on naval vessels, packed in barrels.  Tapping the biscuits on the edge of the table supposedly drove out the weevils that infested them, or one could eat the bugs for the added protein, of course, but I suspect most would have to be pretty hungry for that.


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