Hard Tack Trail Bread
(As featured in the March 2009 issue of Practically Seeking)
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!
The Trail Bread in the photo above has been sitting
in our kitchen for almost six weeks now, one sealed in a ziploc bag,
and the others just sitting on the open shelf, and none have
shown any signs of mold or deterioration.
The key here seems to be the honey. The more honey you add the harder the bread will become and, presumably, the longer it will last. It appears to act as a natural preservative and stabilizing agent, the honey's natural antibacterial properties preventing any unwanted "growth" on the bread. When you go to finally eat your Trail Bread, dipping it in a liquid (preferably a warm drink, like coffee) will soften it up and make it chewable once again.
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 subsitiute a 1/4 cup of the white flour without any problem.
- 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 back since February 15 with no ill effect.
Step-by-step Instructions for making Hard Tack Trail Bread:
- Gather your ingredients of 1 cup white flour, 1 cup whole wheat flour, 1 cup cornmeal, and 2 cups of honey, and pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees. (Feel free to experiment with substituting different types of flour. We're substituting a ¼ cup of the white flour with Amaranth flour.)
- Grease a muffin⁄cupcake tin in preparation for the batter. This
will keep it from sticking. (You could also use paper cupcake liners,
so long as you spray them well with a good no-stick cooking spray. Otherwise
you'll never get the papers off!)
- In a large bowl, thoroughly mix together the white flour, whole wheat flour, (any additional flours) 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 ½ full with batter. (Makes about 18 cakes.)
- Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes, until cakes are golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
- Turn the finished cakes out from the pan and allow to cool. While still warm the cakes will be realtively soft, but as they cool they will lose their spongy texture and within a few days will become hard as rock! 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 might regret it!
So take some Hard Tack along on your next
a little trail-worthy sustenance,
and Have Fun!
(Many thanks to our friend Dan Atkinson
for sharing both his Trail Bread and his recipe with us,
so that we could pass it along to you!)