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How to Make Good Tasting Hardtack

Hardtack is one of the survival foods of the American frontier. Movies and television often portray hardtack as being a bad-tasting, tooth breaking assault on the taste buds, but this is not at all true. This being said, traditional hardtack is nothing to write home about taste-wise. It is basically made of flour, salt, and water; mixed into a dough, rolled out, and baked. Simple to make, full of carbs, but not very tasty. The recipe that I am giving you here adds just four simple ingredients that make a world of difference in the taste of the final product. It’s so good, that if I lived in Beverly Hills, I’d call these handmade artisan-bread crackers; but, I live in the backwoods of East Texas so I guess I’ll just call it hardtack. Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients

1 ½ cups of all-purpose or whole wheat flour
1 cup quick oats oatmeal (not instant)
1 teaspoon of salt
¾ teaspoon of baking soda
¼ cup of sugar
1/3 cup of vegetable shortening, lard, or oil
¾ cup of warm water

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Preparation

In a mixing bowl combine the flour, oats, salt baking soda, and sugar and mix thoroughly

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Add the shortening and cut it into the dry ingredients

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Add the warm water and stir the mixture until you have a uniform dough.

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The dough will probably be pretty sticky at this point. Sprinkle it with small amounts of flour as you kneed the dough. Keep adding flour until the dough no longer sticks to your fingers.

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Divide the dough into two balls and set it aside.

Sprinkle your cutting board with flour and rub flour on your rolling pin.

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Place one ball of dough on the cutting board, sprinkle flour on top of it, and roll the dough out thin; about an eighth of and inch thick.

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Use the bumpy side of a meat tenderizing mallet to press indentions into the dough. If you dip the head of the mallet into flour after every third of fourth use, it will keep the head of the mallet from sticking to the dough. If you don’t have a mallet, use a fork to poke indentions into the dough. These aren’t just for looks. They help the cracker cook evenly inside and out.

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Now take a pizza cutter, or just a regular knife, and cut out your crackers. I make mine about two inches square.

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Place the squares of dough on a lightly greased baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees F. until the crackers are golden brown. On my old stove this is 18 minutes, but I’d start checking at 15 minutes if I were you. Meanwhile you can roll out and prepare the other ball of dough for baking.

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Take the hardtack out of the oven and let it cool.

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You’re now ready to bag it up and hit the trail, or if you’re in Beverly Hills, you’re ready to grate some sweet onion and break out the Beluga caviar. So happy trails or bon appetite, whichever is appropriate.

 

Starting Vegetable Plants in Pots

Most beginning gardeners and many old pros buy tomato plants, pepper plants, and other vegetable plants at the nursery or feed store to set out in their gardens. This is a real time saver and bedding plants are not super expensive, so it’s an easy way to get a garden going. But, if you get deeply involved in gardening, and especially if you save your own heirloom seeds; you are going to eventually want to learn how to germinate your on plants in seed pots. There are several advantages to doing this. It is a little cheaper than buying plants (as long as you don’t factor in your labor), it enables you to start plants from seeds that you have saved, it allows you to raise varieties of plants that are not readily available at most stores, it’s good practice for post meltdown survival gardening, and it’s fun. Following is a brief tutorial on how I start plants for my garden. Please note that this is not the last word on starting plants. There are many different ways to do this, one being just as good as the other. This is just the method that happens to work for me. To know when to start your seeds just look up the outdoor planting date in your area and start your seeds six to eight weeks before this date. So, let’s get started.

First you will need seed. This can be seed that you have saved or seed that you have bought. If it is seed that you have saved it must be non-hybrid. If you are buying the seed, it can be any kind; although I always recommend non-hybrid, heirloom seed so that you can save seed for the next growing season.

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You will need pots to start the seeds in. There are many different kinds of pots to choose from. You can use peat pots, ceramic pots, terracotta pots, plastic pots, or little plastic multi-pot seed trays. I have even seen people who make their own origami pots out of old newspaper. The only thing that I would recommend about pots is that you use the smallest ones possible. A one or two inch pot is plenty big enough and it will make your potting soil go a lot farther.

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You can make your own potting soil but I usually buy mine. A thirty pound bag of potting soil will last me three or four years and the cost is negligible, just make sure that you buy good quality potting soil. Cheap potting soil will be full of uncomposted bark and sticks the size of firewood. I buy Miracle Grow potting soil which is pretty fine and seems to work well. As soon as I open a bag of potting soil, I transfer the contents to a lidded five-gallon bucket. This keeps the potting soil from drying out and it is easier to use than digging around in a semi-torn up plastic bag.

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Start preparing your pots for planting a day or two before you seed them. Fill each pot with potting soil and press it down firmly, then top it off with some more potting soil and press that down.

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When your pots are all full, water them gently but thoroughly and allow to sit over night. I use an old vegetable oil bottle with holes punched in the top for watering. This tends to trickle the water onto the soil so that you don’t wash your seeds up after you’ve planted them.

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The next day you can plant your seeds. I use a short piece of ¼” dowel rod to poke the holes. I make two or three holes, about a quarter inch deep in each pot.

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I drop one seed in each hole.

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Then I carefully push the soil in on top of each seed and press the soil down gently with my finger tip.

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Here’s a friendly piece of advice: make all the holes and put seeds in all of them before you start covering any of the seeds up. If you try and cover the seeds as you go, and if you are anything like me, you will end up double planting one pot and leaving another pot empty. I speak from experience on this.

As soon as you have a set of pots planted, put a small marker in one of the pots to show what you planted. I use little plastic markers that I cut from an old loose-leaf binder and write the name on it with permanent marker so that it won’t wash off when I water. Don’t skip this step. You will forget what you have planted. Again, I speak from experience on this.

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Now it’s time to start germinating. I am told that the ideal temperature for seed germination is around 80 degrees F. If the temperature is lower the seeds will still germinate, it will just take longer. As long as you keep them from freezing at night, you will be ok. You can set your pots outside if the day is warm, and bring them in and set them in a window if the weather is cold. You will definitely need to bring them in at night if the weather is cold.

I have an attached greenhouse but I never heat the whole greenhouse. Instead I use a small germinating tent inside of the greenhouse that I can heat at night with one light bulb. The tent consists of a metal framework with four shelves and a clear plastic tent that slips over the framework. It has a zipper front for easy access. I bought it on Amazon for thirty-five or forty dollars. One light bulb will keep it from freezing even when the outside temperatures are in the upper twenties. Colder than that and I bring the plants inside.

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You need to check your seed pots daily and keep them moist. Don’t drown them; just trickle a little water in to keep them from drying out. Keep an extra close eye on peat pots as they seem to wick the water away faster than plastic pots.

Your seeds will usually sprout in about five to seven days, but don’t freak out if it takes a little longer. After the seeds sprout you will want to give them a little plant food about once a week. Some people mix slow release fertilizer in with their potting soil to avoid this, but I prefer to mix up a little Miracle Grow and water it in once a week. I know, this isn’t sustainable gardening; but one tablespoon of Miracle Grow mixes with a gallon of water, and I’ve been using the same little box on Miracle Grow for about five years now, so it’s pretty close to sustainable for me. I’m sure that there is an organic alternative to Miracle Grow if you want to go that route.

When your seedlings are about an inch tall you will need to remove the two weakest ones from the pot (this is assuming that you planted three seeds and that they all germinated).

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When the plants are six to eight weeks old they can be planted in the garden. I usually take the seedlings out of the germinating tent and leave them in the unheated greenhouse for a couple of days to harden them off a little. I try to plant them in the morning so that they will have the benefit of a day in the sunshine to get used to their new climate.

Make Kale Chips for a Healthy and Delicious Snack

These days, many people are looking for healthier alternatives to some of the snack foods that we have been eating for years. I have found kale chips to be a great substitute for the potato chips and corn chips that I used to eat with my lunch. Kale is an amazing plant. In my part of the world (East Texas) it will grow year round. Kale is very low in calories, has just a tiny bit of fat, and no cholesterol. It is loaded with vitamin A and vitamin C, and it supplies a good amount of vitamin B12, calcium, iron, and magnesium. Kale is a little pricey at the grocery store, but if you have a little space, it is easy to grow. It’s such an attractive plant that you could grow it in your flower beds, and even the snootiest neighbors wouldn’t complain.

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To turn your kale into tasty chips is simplicity itself:

First cut and wash a bunch of kale. Then cut the kale into chunks and place it in a bowl.

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I season my kale with soy sauce and garlic. I use a quarter cup of soy sauce and three-quarters cup of water, and mix in a teaspoon of garlic powder.

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Pour this mixture into your bowl of kale, and then hand toss the kale until it is evenly coated with the mixture.

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Load your dehydrator with the kale (I use a Nesco counter top dehydrator) and turn it on. If you don’t have a dehydrator your can use your oven. Just set it very low; less than 200 degrees F. and prop the oven door open.

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Keep an eye on the kale as it will dry quickly. My dehydrator takes about an hour and a half.

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When the kale is crispy-dry, turn off your dehydrator and let the kale cool. Place it in an airtight plastic bag and start snacking.

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Caring for Onion Sets Prior to Planting

I, like most people I know, plant my onions from sets that I buy at the feed store. You can start onions from seed, but it’s much easier to buy the small bunches of onions that are about five or six inches tall and just stick them in the ground. Here in East Texas we plant onion sets around mid-February. My dad always planted onions and potatoes on Valentines Day. The problem is that onion sets are already in at the feed store, but it won’t be time to plant them for about three weeks. The onions will still be at the feed store three weeks from now, but they will be pretty dried out and not nearly as prime as they are now. So, what I do is go ahead and buy my onion sets while they are good and fresh; and then I heel them in until it is time to plant.

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“Heeling in” is a temporary planting so that the plants will be able to draw nutrients and moisture from the soil while they await a final planting location. The heeling in process is very simple and only takes a few minutes. All you have to do is go out to your garden and dig a shallow hole. For onions I dig down about two inches.

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Then you place the still bundled onions all together in the hole. Just stick the bulb portion underground and leave the greens sticking up.

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Drop dirt around and in between the bundles and firm it down gently.

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Water lightly, and you are all heeled in.

“Well Hank,” you say, “If you’re going to do that why don’t you just go ahead and plant the onions?” Good question; and I have a good answer. You see, I don’t want my onions to be caught by a hard freeze. Onions are pretty frost tolerant, but if they catch a hard freeze the tops may die back. The bulb will sprout again but you’ll end up with that little dead ring in the middle from the killed top; and that dead ring can be the beginning of a rotten onion if you are trying to store them for a few months.

Now I know that those people going through a blizzard up in Boston may have trouble believing it, but winter is almost over here in East Texas. We might get a hard freeze in the next three weeks, but by mid-February the wild plum trees, what we call hog plums, will be blooming. After that time we generally don’t get a hard freeze, and by the second week of March we’ve usually had our last frost. So all I have to do is get my onion sets through about three weeks and then I can plant them. By heeling them in all together in one location, I can throw a little pine straw on top of them and cover them with a five gallon bucket if we do have a freeze. This is the method I use to cover my outdoor faucets during a freeze, and they have weathered temperatures in the teens with no problem. The freezing temperatures rarely last more than a day or two, and the ambient heat from the ground, along with the heat produced by the decaying pine needles, will keep my onion sets (and faucets) from freezing.

05On Valentine’s Day I’ll pull my nice fresh, healthy onion sets; separate the bundles, and give them a semi-permanent home in my garden.

For Want of a Nail the Kingdom was Lost

I was straightening up my shop the other day when it occurred that I had made a major omission in my long-term survival preparations. I had never given much thought to nails, screws and other fasteners. Anyone who lives in the country probably has a pretty good collection of fasteners. It’s really kind of a necessity.

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On a farm, things are always getting built or repaired, and nothing is more frustrating than to be in the middle of a project and to have to stop and drive 10 miles to town to buy 89 cents worth of screws. So it’s natural for country people to keep a collection of odds and ends that they may need. On my farm, nothing ever gets thrown away without first removing the screws or nuts and bolts and putting them in a jar. I know that this can save me time and gasoline in the future. But think about a world where there’s no hardware store to drive to. Think about having to build a shed or make a repair on your house without any nails. It can be done, but boy is it a lot of work.

In the 1700’s and on up into the 1800,s the most expensive items used in building the average home were window glass and nails. Nails were handmade by a blacksmith and when you pulled one out of a board, you sure didn’t throw it away. You straightened it out and put it is a can or a jar for later use. Today, we’ve all gotten spoiled by the cheap prices of manufactured items like nails. We don’t think about the amount of work that goes into producing nails if they have to be made by hand. So, do yourself a favor and lay in twenty pounds of nails in various sizes. They don’t cost much now, but they could be worth their weight in silver if things go bad.

Don’t be Deterred by Prepper Snobbery

I don’t care what it is that you’re interested in, there’s always going to be somebody that is sure that they know how to do it better, that they are more knowledgeable, more evolved, and more precise. In short, there are always snobs. Of course the classic example is the wine snob, but these guys exist in every human endeavor, including prepping.

I was reading some stuff about food storage on a forum the other day. One guy had asked how he could tell if five-gallon plastic buckets were food grade or not. The rest of the thread was taken up by several individuals who were desperately trying to one-up each other on how to be absolutely certain that a given bucket was suitable for food storage. My favorite was a guy who pointed out that even though the plastic bucket itself might be food grade, it is vitally important to know if the lubricant used on the bucket mold is also food grade and that this would involve contacting the manufacturer to find out what kind of lubricant they are using. Really? Numerous possible comments flashed through my mind. “Aren’t you going to wash out the bucket?” or “ Aren’t you going to put the food inside of sealed plastic food storage bags before you put it in the bucket?” or “ Are you aware that there is a Federal standard for how many rodent hairs are in that hotdog that you are eating?” But I’m not a member of that forum, so I just shook my head and went my merry way.

Another one I read not long ago was from some guy railing about how buying anything but original factory made metal gun magazines was just a waste of money. Well, maybe so; but I’ve been using Tapco polymer magazines for years, and I’ve fired hundreds and hundreds of rounds through them. I’ve never had a problem except with their SKS magazines and everybody has trouble with those because an SKS was never meant to have a magazine. You can argue with me till you’re blue in the face but I’m still not going to pay the extra $8.00 just because it has Colt stamped on it.

I could give many more examples, but I’m going to stop my rant right here. I’m just trying to tell you that you should seek answers to questions that you have about prepping, but that you should not take every answer at face value. Our world is rife with, mall ninjas, prepper snobs, and experts that have never really done it. Don’t let them deter you from proceeding with your preps.

Sweet Potato Harvest

I just wanted to do a little follow-up on my June post about starting sweet potato slips and planting them.

03slips formingI had originally planted 14 slips in a bed that measured about three feet by twelve feet. Of those 14 slips, 12 of them lived to maturity.

 

12 established slipsIn mid-October I decided that it was time to harvest them. Although we hadn’t had a frost yet, the weather was getting cooler and wetter, and the vines were beginning to lose a little of their color; so I decided I’d dig up at least one hill just to see if they were ready.

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I pulled back the vines and could see a potato jutting up out of the ground, so I used my hands (thanks to the addition of a lot of sand the soil is very loose) and dug down around the potato. What was sticking out of the ground was just the tip of the iceberg. There was a pile of sweet potatoes down there.

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I went ahead and dug all of the hills and laid the potatoes out in the sun so the skins would set.

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That afternoon I went out and brushed the dirt off of them (never wash them until you are ready to cook them) and hauled them up to the house. According to the scale I had 46 pounds of sweet potatoes. That’s an average of a little more than 1.7 pounds per square foot. Pretty good return on investment.

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I laid the sweet potatoes out, not touching, in a warm, dark room to cure for two weeks. This increases the sugar content of the potatoes. After two weeks we started eating and boy are they good.

By the way, did you know that sweet potatoes are a staple of the Okinawan diet, and that the Okinawans have the longest average life expectancy of any people on earth? Could it be the sweet potatoes

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