Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Sea Biscuits and Pocket Soup, 18th Century Road Food

"Me, My Wife, and Daughter" by Henry Bunburry
Planning a road trip? Planning to save money by packing your own snacks and picnic food? Ever wonder what your 18th century ancestors carried along those horse-drawn, wind-driven, or foot-pathed journeys? Probably not, but I'm here to tell you anyway and help you count your blessings for those cans of cheese spread and boxes of crackers you tuck into your food chest.

Sea Biscuits (Navy style,) also known as Hard Tack (Army style) were not only eaten by sailors and soldiers but were handy for civilian travelers, as well, especially along the long, lonely 18th century roads of North America. Made of flour and water with no leavening agents, this hard bread was easy to store and transport. As the name implies, it is very hard and was the butt of many jokes as when a soldier exclaimed he found something soft in his Hard Tack. "A worm?" asks another since this was not an uncommon addition when stored for long periods. "Nope," says the first soldier, "a nail!" You could also crumble it up into some liquid like coffee or soup, and Pocket Soup was just the thing to carry along with it.

Pocket Soup, also known as Portable Soup was the precursor to the bullion cubes we use today. Legs of beef or veal were stewed and steamed and scraped and stewed and steam again and again until they were rendered down to hard gelatinous globs sometimes known as veal glue. A small amount of this appetizing stuff was ready to eat with just the addition of some hot water. Of course to make it tastier, you could add any seasonings you wished that you happened to carry along.

Now that I've whetted your appetite, here are a couple recipes I found  for your dining pleasure!

Sea Biscuit/Hard Tack
From (Hard Tack was also a staple of the Civil War diet)

2 cups of flour  
½ to ¾ cup water
Salt (5-6 pinches)
What to Do:
  1. Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. Make sure you add enough flour so that the dough is no longer sticky, but be careful not to make it too dry. Knead the dough a few times. During the war, hardtack was about half an inch thick, so when you’re rolling the dough, aim for this thickness. It is easiest to roll the dough directly on an ungreased cookie sheet.
  2. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes.
  3. Cut the large square into smaller 3-inch by 3-inch squares. Poke 16 evenly spaced holes in each square using something wider than a toothpick.
  4. Flip, and then return the dough to the oven for another 30 minutes.
  5. Turn the oven off, and allow the hardtack to cool in the oven with the door closed.
  6. Allow to completely cool before eating.

Pocket Soup
From a "receipt" of Hannah Glasse, circa 1747:

"To make Pocket Soup
Take a Leg of Veal, strip off all the Skin and Fat, then take all the muscular or fleshy Parts clean from the Bones. Boil this Flesh in three or four Gallons of Water till it comes to a strong Jelly, and that the Meat is good for nothing. Be sure to keep the Pot close covered, and not do too fast; take a little out in a Spoon now and then, and when you find it is a good rich Jelly, strain it through a Sieve into a clean earthen Pan. When it is cold, take off all the Skim and Fat from the Top, then provide a large deep Stew-pan with Water boiling over a Stove, then take some deep China-cups, or well glazed Earthen Ware, and fill these Cups with the Jelly, which you must take clear from the Settling at the Bottom, and set them in the Stew-pan of Water. Take great Care none of the Water gets into the Cups; if it does, it will spoil it. Keep the Water boiling gently all the time, till the Jelly becomes thick as Glue; then take them out, and let them stand to cool; then turn the Glue out into some new coarse Flannel, which draws out all the  Moisture; turn them in six or eight Hours on fresh Flannel, and so do until they are quite dry. Keep it in a dry warm Place, and in a little time it will be like a dry hard Piece of Glue, which you may carry in your Pocket, without getting any Harm. The best Way is to put it into little Tin boxes. When you use it, boil about a Pint of Water, and pour it on a Piece of Glue about as big as a small Walnut, stirring all the time till it is melted. Season with Salt to your Palate; and if you choose any Herbs, or Spice, boil them in the Water first, then pour the Water over the Glue."

Okay, so now I think I'll go pick up some cans of Vienna Sausage to go with that can of cheese and crackers.

Have a good week, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...Y'all come back now!


No comments: