Why I Fed My Kids Hardtack and Water for Dinner

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I believe it’s a parent’s responsibility to raise their kids to be independent, responsible members of society. Part of that, an important part, is teaching them to be polite and considerate. It’s not always easy, and resistance is the norm. The goal: raising the kind of adults you’d want to hire, work with, work for, elect, or befriend.

A bit of history for background: The Oregon Trail, which began as a foot- and horse-path, became one of the most significant wagon trails for westward-bound American settlers in the mid-19th century. There were many dangers along the way, including accidents, disease, and shortages of food. While hardtack is perhaps more famous as rations for soldiers, it was also used to provision wagon trains. It became rock hard, hence its name, and people used various strategies to make it edible. It could be soaked in water, milk or coffee, broken up into a pot of stew, or crumbled and fried. It was nourishment, but not particularly enjoyable. 

When my kids were young, there was a computer game called “Oregon Trail.” In the game, you outfitted your wagon party and faced various obstacles along the way west. If food supplies were running short, you could change the settings so that your players received less to eat at each meal to make the supplies last longer. There were several levels, the skimpiest of which was “meager rations.” One night at dinner, we were having something new. First I heard, “eeeuw, what is this?” Then, “this is gross!” And to top it off: “We’re getting meager rations again!” I put a lot of effort into dinner after a full day at work. Besides, there are starving children all over the world who’d be grateful for any food. Nope, I wasn’t happy. You know the old saying, “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” Time for a lesson. 

The next night, there were two items at each person’s place at the table. Hardtack, and water. That’s it. That was dinner. We had a calm little chat, whereby it was explained to them that this was “meager rations.” But, if they’d actually been on the Oregon Trail, the hardtack would have been the texture of brick, moldy, and infested with bugs and worms. They were lucky it was fresh, even if it was already nearly as hard as brick. And maybe they should think about how their words affected the person who went to the trouble of making sure they had anything to eat at all. That there were actual people, just like them but without the good fortune to have been born here, who often had only one bowl of rice to eat all day — or nothing at all. There was no new information in this chat; we’d talked about these things before, although the lesson clearly hadn’t taken. What was new was the experience. Sometimes, actions simply speak louder than words. Yes, they went to bed hungry, but it was a first-world “hungry.” There was plenty to eat at breakfast the next day. And I never heard nasty complaints about dinner again. We started using the code phrase, “it’s not one of my favorites” for foods they didn’t care for, and it was only welcome if their opinion had been requested. They are all adults now, and they’ll all try pretty much any food once. And I’d be honored to hire, work with, work for, elect, or be friends with all three of them! 

Ingredients:

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4 cups (452 g) whole wheat flour (mine’s white whole wheat, which isn’t as dark)

4 tsp salt

1¾ to 2 cups (180 to 240 ml) water

Preparation:

1.) Preheat oven to 375℉ (190℃). Combine flour and salt in a large bowl. Yes, that’s a lot of salt!

 

 

2.) Add water, just enough for the mixture to stick together. You don’t need to use the whole two cups. Mix until well-blended. 

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3.) Roll the dough ½” (1.3 cm) thick. Aim for a square about 9” (23 cm) on each side.

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4.) Cut the dough into 9 equal pieces. 

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5.) Using a nail or other implement, press a pattern of four rows of four dimples into each square. Don’t go all the way through. Turn the dough pieces over and repeat the pattern. 

 

6.) Lay the pieces on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 30 minutes. Flip the crackers over and bake for another 30 minutes. They should be slightly browned on both sides. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

htnutritionlabel

Hardtack

Ingredients

4 cups (452 g) whole wheat flour

4 tsp salt

1¾ to 2 cups (180 to 240 ml) water

Directions

1.) Preheat oven to 375℉ (190℃). Combine flour and salt in a large bowl. 

2.) Add water, just enough for the mixture to stick together. You don’t need to use the whole two cups. Mix until well-blended. 

3.) Roll the dough ½” (1.3 cm) thick. Aim for a square about 9” (23 cm) on each side.

4.) Cut the dough into 9 equal pieces. 

5.) Using a nail or other implement, press a pattern of four rows of four dimples into each square. Don’t go all the way through. Turn the dough pieces over and repeat the pattern. 

6.) Lay the pieces on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 30 minutes. Flip the crackers over and bake for another 30 minutes. They should be slightly browned on both sides. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

 

6 Comments Add yours

  1. Mybackyardgarden4b says:

    Great post, great mothering! 🎖

    Liked by 1 person

  2. wooddogs3 says:

    This is wonderful. My mother never did this but, in retrospect, probably should have, because we were first-world brats. I was in my teens before I really got it about how lucky we were, and how much effort our parents put into making us lucky.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. julie says:

      My mom always gave us the line about starving children in Africa, but I never really understood how lucky we were until I grew up and met people from all walks of life. What an eye-opener!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. wooddogs3 says:

        Same here. I had to travel in rural Egypt to get it what “first world” meant. I was even more shocked when I learned about the poverty and minimal access to medical care that exist in some of our own rural areas.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. julie says:

        So true, sadly.

        Like

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