Sunday, November 13, 2011
Civil War Sunday - Hardtack and Sailor Boy Pilot Bread
What does Alaska, a specialty bakery in Virginia, and the Civil War have in common?
Last Sunday, I visited a Civil War exhibit at our local museum here in the Roberson Museum and Science Center in Binghamton NY. (I highly recommend this exhibit if you have an interest in the impact of the Civil War on the Southern Tier of New York and the Northern Tier of Pennsylvania.)
One of the items on exhibit was some genuine Civil War hardtack that a soldier had sent home. It was exhibited behind a piece of glass. It looked just as good (or bad) as it did almost 150 years ago. Not a speck of mold.
Apparently, this local soldier wasn't the only one who saved his hardtack as a souvenir. It would seem there are some other pieces of Civil War Hardtack in museums. The video above was made in Minnesota but the piece in Roberson looked about the same.
Yummy? Civil War soldiers didn't think so. One nickname was 'worm castles' because of the little weevils that inhabited the hardtack.
Hardtack was popular (with the people supplying food to the troops, that is) because it was cheap, and it was easy to transport. And, it lasted a long time. (150 years, for example....)
How would the soldiers eat it? Well, they might crumble it into coffee or soften it and then fry in bacon grease. There are a number of sites giving information on hardtack. The subject seems to be fascinating to a lot of people. In fact, in Brunswick, Maine, which we visited in early September there are "Chamberlain Days" every August, celebrating their favorite son, Civil War hero Joshua Chamberlain. As part of the festivities they have a Civil War bake sale with - you guessed it, hardtack.
So, would anyone in their right minds enjoy hardtack today?
They sure do - in Alaska. I found out about this when I read a young adult novel called Blessing's Bead earlier this year. One of the staples of life for those in the remote villages is a cracker baked by a specialty bakery in Front Royal, VA. You know the products of Interbake Foods - wafers used for ice cream sandwiches, Girl Scout cookies, and a product beloved in Alaska.
One of their products baked in Front Royal is something called Sailor Boy Pilot Bread. Basically, it is hardtack, although apparently a little softer. Alaskans love their Sailor Boy Pilot Bread and 98% of its sales are within Alaska. They love it many ways - in soup, with melted cheese, even as the crust of a quick pizza. Hunters find it convenient to put into their backpacks. It is survival food out on the tundra. It is soul food for Alaskans in the city and in the bush. And it is baked in Virginia.
From the Civil War to a bakery in the former Confederacy to thousands of fans in Alaska: The Civil War always surprises me.