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Worm Castles & Molar Breakers: Tips on Hardtack

Posted by 6ff74e82 tiny Jonathan Soma on may 6, 2014 under Blog Post

This is a preview for our May 20th Masters of Social Gastronomy lecture Food of the High Seas!

Hardtack is a terrible thing to eat. Tasteless, rock-hard biscuits of twice-baked flour (and salt if you're lucky), hardtack has been a major means of sustinence for sailors throughout history.

Fortunately, though, a) you're probably not a sailor, and b) hardtack has a lot of fun nicknames: ship's biscuit, sea biscuit, cabin bread, sea bread, dog biscuits, tooth dullers, molar breakers, sheet iron, worm castles.

YES, WORM CASTLES. And this is  stuff people actually ate.

The disappointing but important thing to know about worm castles is that hardtack didn't actually grow worms. Not in the ships' supply, at least.

The major form of infestation at sea was the weevil, which unfortunately for sailors is not only gross (bugs!) but also tastes bitter, making an already unpalateable meal even worse. Sailors would often dunk their hardtack in water to both soften it up a bit and dislodge any reasonably-loose weevils.

Big black weevils aside, if you ate a biscuit that was full of large white maggots with a black head - the larval stage of weevils - it was no big deal. These hangers-on were called bargemen and didn't have the bad taste of a full-grown weevil.

Hardtack that didn't have a single weevil to be found was probably the worst one of all. If it's too hard and too dry for even a weevil to take a chance on it, what business does a sailor have eating it?

To learn more about hardtack, rum rations and ever-present scurvy, RSVP for MSG now!

Tagged with Masters of Social Gastronomy

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