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Snack Cracker Recipes and History
Crackers are unleavened bread that becomes hard and dry and hopefully crispy, because the foundation recipe requires only flour and water. For many hundreds of years, these crackers were the meal of the people, not a snack. Today's snack crackers are a luxury - indeed, snacking is a luxury - that people who can afford do do so bake from flour, water, and a number of other ingredients for flavor, texture, aroma, shelf life, religious rituals, snacks, fun, and profits. In the poorest part of the United States, some people still eat only crackers and whatever they can find to put on them - in certain "dollar stores" or cut-rate groceries, boxes of crackers can be purchased for less than a dollar and on sale days and end of season shelf clearing promotions, 50¢ or less.
Then and Now
Matzoh In the Desert
In the Old Testament and History, the Hebrew Nation had to quickly flee from Pharaoh's army during their Exodus and could not take the time to allow their bread dough to rise, They baked it without yeast and made crackers that have for the last 6,000 years at least have been called Matzoh. But how old is the cracker?
Whenever the first person thought of grinding something for flour, like grains, acorns, even bones; and mixing it with water to place on a flat rock over a fire to cook, mankind gained the cracker. it was undoubtedly left on too long that first time to become a burrito-type wrapper. I'd say it was crispy and bland. Then Africans, Middle Easterners, Sub-polar Peoples, and all the Indigenous Nations of Oceana and the Western Hemisphere began to add seasonings.
Native Americans added goose, duck, and bear grease; and sometimes dried cranberries or dried blueberries. Adding honey made a type of cookie out of the cracker, and so on toward fry breads and hearty cakes.
The cracker culture in its diversity spread from Africa and the Middle East to India and northward, resulting in a variety of both soft and crispier flat breads, Indian nan being particularly delicious, pita bread being useful and tasty, and Matzoh having a clear personality.
If you have ever tasted Rye Krisp®, you are approaching hardtack crackers/biscuits, which are a crude and blander version of the tastier crisp rye bread cracker. These hardtack creations, like Matzoh before them, are made to take on the road in time of flight, exploration, and war and have been found in military rations of many countries since the American Revolutionary War. Some sources list references of Crusade-era hardtack -- It is possible. Hard crackers, saltines, and hardtack, even old Army rations, were also stocked in Cold War bomb shelters through the 1960s. They have a long shelf life.
In the spring of 2010, Triscuit Snack Crackerswere in the news as the object of disdain against the opulence of America. I must say that I also think $4.00 for a 10 oz. box of snack crackers is indeed too expensive. But in the Spring of 2010 the Ugly American became the Ugly American eating his Triscuits - like Marie Antoinette eating cake while others starved.
The cracker has evolved from a religious symbol in the desert to one of decadence in the fat city from The Triplets of Belleville. A French animation, Belleville depecited most of the inhabitants of NYC as morbidly obese, even the Statue of Liberty. It was humorous and through provoking at once. However, there seems nothing funny about eating expensive crackers and perhaps having them shot out of one's hand by those who are contemptuous of what they symbolize.
Three aging French sisters in NYC, frogs, and a cycle race.
FLOUR AND WATER
Snack crackers are made by a number of manufactures all over the world.
Flour and Water
Bent's Historic Cookie Factory, founded by Josiah Bent, has been making cookies and snack crackers since 1801. They are located in Milton Massachusetts. their very first product was the water cracker, made from flour and water and used by sailors at sea on long voyages. The water crackers crackled as the baked, hence the name. Later, the company made actual hardtack - thicker, more like concrete, longer lasting, and made for warring troops in the American Civil War and all others afterward. However, British and Continental navies had been using such hardtack long before the Bent company made them - as long as people had ships. Tracing backwards, we then find ourselves back in the ancient African, Hebrew, Arabic, Indian, Sub-polar European/Asian, Oceanic, First Nations et. al unleavened bread industry.
Saltines and Soda
Saltine crackers contain yeast and baking soda and led to the creation of today's fancy snack crackers. This began around 1876 in St. Joseph Missouri at Premium company, which was bought out by Nabsco®, which makes hundreds of food products, including Triscuits.
American Civil War Recipe
Union Army Hardtack Recipe
- 2 Cups flour
- 1/2 to 3/4 Cup water
- 1 Tbsp vegetable oil or lard
- 6 pinches of salt
- Mix all ingredients into a stiff batter, knead several times, spread dough flat on an ungreased baking sheet until 1/2 inch thick.
- Bake 30 minutes to one hour at 400 degrees F.
- Remove from oven, cut into 3-inch squares, punch four rows of four holes like saltines.
- Turn dough over, place back in oven, bake 30 minutes.
- Turn oven off and let the hardtack cool inside the closed oven.
This recipe is simlar to one found at the Gettysburg National Military Park and the US Library of Congress.
This is not a kosher recipe, per se, but derived by cooks from Old Testament scripture: I Kings 17:10-16: Elijah asking the widow to bake a little bread.
- 1 Cup whole wheat flour, with extra for dusting
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 Cup water
- Mix together all the ingredients into a dough.
- Place dough onto a floured broad board or counter top and knead 5 minutes.
- Roll dough to 1/8-inch thickness, rectangular.
- Carefully place on a greased bake sheet, bake at 350 degrees° F for 20 minutes and remove from oven.
- To serve, break into pieces at the table.
This recipe can be modified with small amounts of ground or crushed fresh seasonings. Also try adding 1/2 Cup honey and reducing water to 1/4 Cup for a more flavorful verison.