Is Jason’s Deli Bringing Back Civil War Hardtack?

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When you’re trying to add a vegetarian focus to your diet, it’s hard to find a place that has a good, fresh salad bar, with a lot of variety.   That’s until you find Jason’s Deli. Luckily for me, I discovered the one near me in Rookwood pavilion. They have a huge salad bar with all sorts of veggies, prepared salads, slaws, and sides. They even have hummus and other dips.   On one trip I decided to try their hummus. I searched at the end of the salad bar for the obligator ‘dipper’ in the form of some sort of cracker. So I chose one of their pumpkinseed cheddar crispbread crackers.   It sounded and looked healthy enough.

 

But then I bit into it and it was like biting into one of those Danish brown rye crackers if it had been made from cement.     Aside from nearly losing an entire row of incisors, the taste was terrible!!     There was no flavor to the bread, and the marketed ‘cheddar’ flavor was barely there.   The only thing with any bit of good flavor were the pumpkin seeds.   Even with the hummus topping, the dry flavorless cracker was the star of that pairing.

 

I was immediately reminded of Civil War accounts I had read of soldiers complaining about their hard tack rations.   Hard Tack was a type of hard cracker made with salt, water and flour. It was the main source of food for Civil War Soldiers because it was cheap, easy to transport, and kept long.   One of the nicknames of hard tack was “ToothDullers” because of the potential to crack a tooth biting into its hard exterior.

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A Civil War postcard showing a solder chipping his tooth on Hard Tack.

 

Another nickname of Civil War hardtack was Worm Castles, as they were normally infested with weevils larva, and grubs.  Sounds like an episode of Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern.   As disgusting as it sounds, these vermin offered what little protein many regiments saw regularly, and paired with the lard used to fry them in some of their dishes, provided the only source of Vitamins D and E.

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Between 8 and 10 hard tacks were dolled out for a three day ration with 10 ounces of green, unroasted coffee beans to Union soldiers.   Many soldiers dipped them in their coffee to soften them up. That way, if they were particularly opposed to eating the weevils, they could skim them off the top of their coffee as the floated out from the dipped cracker.

 

A dish called Skillygalee was made from softening hard tack in water and then frying it in bacon fat. They were also often crumbled into soups to thicken them.   Wealthier soldiers who could afford a can of 75 cent condensed milk made them into sort of a milk toast. And those who befriended the company sutler could get butter or sugar to spread onto the cracker to give them some sort of flavor.

 

Hard tack crackers last so long, that one hard tack made in 1862 still survives and is on display at a Civil War museum.     There are some instances of soldiers writing letters home on hard tack, if they ran out of paper.

 

Dr. Kracker, who makes these disgusting Crispbreads in three flavors, says this about their pumpkin cheddar monstrosity:

 

“Seeds and whole grains are packed with vitality, protein, fiber and essential fatty acids. They are nature’s nutritional powerhouse and form the basis of Dr. Kracker’s award winning flavors. (I’d like to know what organization granted them an award) With Dr. Kracker you get the rich, toasty taste of organically grown whole grains and whole seeds as well as an abundance of plant-based protein, heart healthy fiber and essential micronutrients. All this is in a hearty cracker that can be enjoyed alone or paired with almost anything. When it comes to wholesome whole grain goodness packed into an artisan baked and tasty cracker, Dr. Kracker delivers” (NOT!)

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I give you fair warning. Make sure you have a glass of water handy if you ever decide to try these crispbreads at Jason’s Deli.   And, if you don’t choke to death on these dry gourmet hard tacks, you know what the Civil War soldiers went through in their daily diets.

 

 

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