Object of The Month: January 2018 – Dietary Regulations / Hard Tack Biscuit
If, like many of us, you’ve decided to kick-start your new year with a healthy eating regime, then you might be looking around at the latest dieting fads or celebrity workouts, but Cornwall’s Regimental Museum would like to serve up some historically inspired suggestions to get you on your way.
Back in 1775, during the American Civil War, patients recovering in the infirmary would regain their strength with a diet high in water gruel – breakfast every morning consisted of one pint of the thin cereal mixture – and some patients could look forward to a second helping for their supper. Broth is also a key component of this liquid-heavy diet.
There were some treats in store however – those on full rations could look forward to a little cheese or butter three times a week, and everyone had a daily ration of one pint of small beer – a low alcohol drink that was less likely to cause illness than the unclean drinking water of the day.
If you like to be able to eat on the go, then you could stock up on hard tack, a simple biscuit made chiefly of flour and water, baked multiple times to harden it, meaning it could last for long stretches of time without perishing.
The durability of hard tack made it the ideal food for sailors at sea for long periods of time, or soldiers away on campaign, and its origins can be traced back at least as far as the Romans, whose soldiers carried a biscuit called bucellatum.
To enjoy a hard tack biscuit, it needs to be soaked in liquid or boiled – when dry they could crack teeth and were likened by troops to dog biscuits. Keeping them dry to store them was crucial however, as they could easily go mouldy or become infested with maggots.
The museum’s example, manufactured by Huntley & Palmer, is thought to date to the First World War, which makes it over 100 years old, and has thankfully been well preserved! If you’d like to try some hard tack, lots of recipes and instructions are available online.
See our Object of the Month for December 2017 here: Princess Mary’s 1914 Christmas Gift Tin