Originally written in the March 2009 – Issue 20 Newsletter of Practically Primitive (www.practicallyprimitive.com)
Imagine a bread that is healthy and nutritious, easy to make, simple to carry, requires no refrigeration and will last indefinitely on a shelf or in a backpack. How handy!
Of course, it also happens to be as hard as rock.
A staple of cowboys, hikers and backwoodsmen alike, Hard Tack Trail Bread is called hard for a reason! But when you’re on the long trail, out in the back country, or putting back emergency stores, this is exactly the sort of food you’ll want to have on hand.
Made from flour, cornmeal and honey, this quick and easy bread can be made plain or jazzed up. In the bread we’re making in the photos, we’ve substituted some of the white flour for Amaranth flour to increase the nutritional content and add a nice, nutty flavor. (You could also use acorn, millet, cattail, or any number of other “wild” flours to the same effect.) We are also using a blue cornmeal, just to see what color the bread will turn out!
We’ve had some sample pieces sitting in our kitchen for almost six weeks now, two open on a shelf and one sealed in a Ziploc bag, and none have shown any sign of mold or deterioration.
The key here seems to be the honey. The more honey you add the harder the bread will get and, presumably, the longer it will last. It appears to act as a natural preservative and stabilizing agent, the natural antibacterial properties preventing any unwanted “growth” on the bread. When you go to finally eat your Trail Bread, dipping it in a warm liquid like coffee will soften it up and make it chew able once again.
How to make “Hard Tack” Trail Bread
- 1 cup white flour
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- 1 cup cornmeal
- 2 cups of honey
- 1 Tablespoon of salt
- Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees
- Grease a muffin⁄cupcake tin in preparation for the batter
- In a large bowl, thoroughly mix together the white flour, whole wheat flour, and cornmeal
- Take the 2 cups of honey and heat them carefully until the honey has become thin and runny. Do not allow it to come to a boil
- Pour the honey into the flour mixture and combine until the honey has been completely mixed in with the flour. If the batter is too thick, add some hot water, a little at a a time, until the batter is of a thin enough consistency to drop off a spoon
- Fill each greased cupcake holder about 1⁄2 full with batter. (Makes about 18 cakes.)
Alternatively you can make the batter a little thicker by adding less honey and roll it out on a greased cookie sheet about 1/4″ thick. Perforate the dough with a fork to make “break-lines” after it is baked. This is the more traditional Civil War “Hard Tack” look.
- Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
- Remove from the pan and allow to cool.
This bread requires NO refrigeration and will last almost indefinitely — but once it hardens be sure to soak it in some milk or coffee or some sort of liquid first, or your teeth will regret it!
Tips & Tricks for making your Trail Bread:
- Work quickly once the honey has been added, and keep some hot water handy.
- As the honey cools, it begins to get thicker again, making the batter much more difficult to deal with.
- Don’t be afraid to experiment with different flours. Many highly nutritious “alternative” flours, such as Amaranth, Spelt, Garbanzo Bean and Arrowroot are commercially available and in most cases you can easily substitute a 1/4 cup of the white flour without any problem.
- If you want to add some protein to the Hard Tack consider adding some powdered peanut butter into the flour mixture.
- Trail bread requires no refrigeration and can be kept for a very long time and remain edible. (We know of someone who ate some after 5 years!) Just don’t forget, the mice like it too!
- A cotton or burlap sack is a more traditional storage container for your hard tack, but we’ve had one sealed in a Ziploc for months with no ill effect.