In the Martin & Sylvia story "Pirates," pirates have invaded the local “Lake Days” celebration, complete with head scarves, gnarly beards, and thick pirate accents. Martin, Sylvia, and Daddy each play a part, captaining their pirate canoes and invading a friend’s sailboat to try to steal some pirate treasure.
I’ll confess, when I first saw “pirates” were the theme, my heart started to beat faster. “I’ll bet pirates ate some very exotic food!” I thought, as I hurried to research.
As a kind tip from me to you: Don’t google “what did pirates eat” if your stomach is the least bit queasy. I’ll spare you the more graphic parts, but generally, while the first week or so out of port wasn’t bad, things went downhill quickly from there. Without modern refrigeration, pirates were largely stuck with odds and ends they could catch from the sea and stores of meat that — even salted and cured — went rank all too quickly on a long voyage.
The most palatable “pirate food” I could find was hardtack.
In North American history, hardtack is more closely associated with the American Civil War. Because hardtack is essentially an extremely dry, thick cracker, it made an easy-to-transport ration for soldiers, who would soak it in coffee or crumble it up and fry it in grease to make a kind of pancake.
Whether you’re a pirate or a soldier, hardtack is definitely more “historical experience” than it is a culinary delight. I’ve added a little butter to this recipe for extra flavor — not technically correct as it would make the crackers go rancid in truly long-term storage — but it’s still very plain. On the plus side, though, the simple dough is easy enough for small hands to take a turn at kneading, and drizzled with a little honey, the resulting cracker is a million steps up from the other “pirate food” alternatives.
1 cup flour (for the gluten free version use Bob's Red Mill Allpurpose GF flour)
approximately ½ cup water
1 teaspoon salt
½ tablespoon butter, chopped into small bits
Preheat your oven to 350°.
In a medium bowl, mix the flour, salt, butter, and ¼ cup of the water. Mix with a spoon until a loose dough forms, and then pour out onto a floured cutting board.
Sprinkling with additional water as needed, use your hands to bring the dough together into a ball. Knead it for about 5 minutes — it won’t ever be as smooth and silky as a good pizza dough, but it should have some elasticity.
Roll the dough out to about ¼ inch thickness, cut it into large squares, and place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a Silpat. Use the narrow end of a chopstick to prickle the tops.
Bake for 20 minutes, then carefully remove the hardtack from the oven, flip it over, and return it to the oven for approximately 20 more minutes. Keep a close eye on it for the last 5-10 minutes to be sure the edges don’t get too brown.
Allow the hardtack to cool slightly before serving. Historical purists will want it plain, but serve it with honey for everyone else.
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About the Author
The Sparkle Kitchen Series is created by Meryl Carver-Allmond.
Meryl lives in a hundred year old house near the prairie with her sweet husband, two pre-schoolers, one puppy, one gecko, and about ten chickens. While she's been writing since she could pick up a pen, in recent years she's discovered the joy of photography, too. She feels lucky to be able to combine those skills, along with a third passion--showing people that cooking for themselves can be healthy and fun--in her weekly Sparkle Kitchen posts.
When Meryl isn't writing for Sparkle Kitchen, you can find her on her personal blog, My Bit of Earth, where she writes about chickens, babies, knitting, gardening, food, photography, and whatever else tickles her fancy on any given day.