Making Pilot Bread or Hardtack


Today I was reading a book on camping written in 1877.  It discussed food and showed a suggested quantity of food for two men for one week camping and hiking.

  • Ten pounds of pilot-bread
  • Eight pounds of salt pork
  • One pound of coffee
  • Two pounds of sugar
  • Thirty pounds of potatoes
  • A little beef and butter
  • A few gingersnaps

It was suggested that you eat the potatoes first and save the pilot bread.  This will reduce the weight you are carrying.

Army Hardtack or Pilot Bread Recipe


  • 4 cups flour (preferably whole wheat)
  • 4 teaspoons salt
  • Water (about 2 cups)
  • Pre-heat oven to 375° F
  • Makes about 10 pieces

Mix the flour and salt together in a bowl.  Add just enough water (less than two cups) so that the mixture will stick together, producing a dough that won’t stick to hands, rolling pin or pan.  Mix the dough by hand.  Roll the dough out, shaping it roughly into a rectangle. Cut into the dough into squares about 3 x 3 inches and ½ inch thick.

After cutting the squares, press a pattern of four rows of four holes into each square, using a nail or other such object. Do not punch through the dough.  The appearance you want is similar to that of a modern saltine cracker.  Turn each square over and do the same thing to the other side.

Place the squares on an ungreased cookie sheet in the oven and bake for 30 minutes.  Turn each piece over and bake for another 30 minutes.  The crackers should be slightly brown on both sides.

The fresh crackers are easily broken but as they dry, they harden and assume the consistency of fired brick.

See also  Found My Old Dill Pickle Recipe

Now in the past hardtack was kiln dried much like green lumber is for hours in a brick kiln.  It stored so well that when President “Teddy” Roosevelt sent the “Great White Fleet” around the World in the  1907’s, Surplus hardtack left over from the War Between the States was included in their supplies. It was probably over 50 years old at the time.

The first time we tried the above recipe it failed and the hardtack got moldy.  We baked it in the oven as directed and when it cooled, we stored it in a plastic bag.  This was two mistakes.  One, it needs to be cooked longer if you intend it for long-term storage.  Two, store it in something that breaths like a paper bag for a few days.

Have fun chewing on them.



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8 thoughts on “Making Pilot Bread or Hardtack”

  1. I read or heard somewhere that the Civil War soldiers would soak their hard tack in their coffee or other liquid before eating it.

  2. i have also heard and read that hardtack could be used as a gruel, and added to soups and stews to give it some “body” (thickener). also, because it is so hard it is handy to carry in a pocket and eat on the run and because it is so difficult to chew/eat it fills you up faster as it requires more work to actually eat it. it also stimulates the saliva glands…like putting a stone in your mouth..keeping the mouth moist you can get by if you are in short supply of water.

  3. Making Pilot Bread or Hardtack | Preparedness Advice Blog is a good post. I enjoyed reading this article. If you want, please visit my personal web-site.

  4. Yes, soldiers did soak their crackers in coffee, as well as frying it in bacon grease which will also soften it up some… it can indeed be crumbled up or pounded and used as a thickener for soups and stews, and when softened, fried slightly in bacon grease, and then spread with some molasses and/or brown sugar, makes for a tasty dessert…. have lived many a weekend dressed in Federal blue, eating hardtack, bacon, and coffee out of my haversack as a Civil War reenactor.. Soldiers had a few sayings, Nothing in it to go bad, and nothing in it to taste good, and if you bit something soft, it was probably a ten penny nail

  5. Would these store well using a food saver, or do they need to breathe? I was considering making some for long term storage, but don’t want to pack bricks.

  6. I just learned that the concoction my nine year old daughter loves to bake up and use as pizza crust has a name, and is useful. I’ve just given her the assignment to make several batches shaped in rounds to fit in #10 cans.

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