Ocean Hermit – sailing, solitude and stories

My plans to retrace Captain Cook's unfinished voyage have been postponed a year while I work on the next Marine Diesel Basics book and get my new boat SV Oceandrifter ready for sea.

Shackleton’s Antarctic sea biscuits – 4 experiments for baking hardtack

Ingredients at the ready

Ingredients at the ready

With snow now falling here in Midland, on the shores of Georgian Bay on Lake Huron, my thoughts turned to Sir Ernest Shackleton’s famous Antarctic biscuits – one of which sold at auction in September this year for £1,250.

The 104-year old biscuit, made by the English firm Huntley & Palmer’s was among the supplies taken on Shackleton’s Nimrod expedition.  The firm also provided energy biscuits to Captain Robert Scott for his Discovery expedition in 1901.

Shackleton's bikky

Shackleton’s bikky

On Kuan Yin, I’ve often thought of baking my own high energy, easily-stored biscuits (cookies in North American-ese); always useful when there isn’t time or opportunity to bake bread or scones and also for emergency rations. I have tried making my grandmother’s ginger biscuits but so far without success. They were hard but crunchy and, critically, could be dunked in morning tea without disintegrating. Alas, her exact recipe died with her. (My mother did not believe that “mere” ginger biscuits worth preserving.)

So far attempts to replicate those perfect ginger biscuits have either instantly melted in the hot tea or remained hard even after soaking.

Setting aside ginger biscuits for the moment, I decided to experiment with hardtack – those sea biscuits (minus the weevils) famous from Royal Navy sailing ships. The basic recipe and three variants are given below. Two have oats and a lot of butter (high fat – high energy), and one has equal flour and raisins.

Mixing was easy; the two recipes with butter required no water at all. All were baked at 200 degrees F for 3 hours, left in the cooling oven overnight and baked again at 300 F for two hours next morning.  Though tradition always makes sea biscuits square, I would like to store them in recycled plastic jars (watertight) so decided to cut them in rounds. They were all pricked with a fork.

Results were mixed and further experimentation (and eating) is called for.

Plain hard tack came out best – hard and tasty in a salty way.

Raisin hardtack – hard but chewable because of the abundance of raisins.

Oats and butter (both recipes) – very saturated with butter, no doubt energy rich for emergencies, but too crumbly for long-term storage.

Four Recipes:

Flour & Water – basic recipe for hardtack

2 cups whole wheat flourOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

3/4 cup cold water

6 pinches of salt





Raisins Galore


2 cups whole wheat flour

2 cups raisins

6 pinches of salt

just less than 1 cup cold water



Wild Oates


1 cup rolled oats

1 cup boiling water

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 cup of butter

6 pinches of salt

(no need for water)



2 cups whole wheat flour

1 cup oats

1 cup butter

6 pinches of salt

(no water used to pre-soak the oats)


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This entry was posted on November 24, 2013 by in Cooking, Sailing, Voyages.
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