A biscuit (pronounced /ˈbɪskɨt/) is a baked edible product. The word applies to two distinctly different products in American and British English.
The need for nutritious, easy to store, easy to carry, and long-lasting foods on long journeys, particularly at sea, was initially solved by taking live food along with a butcher/cook. However, this took up additional space on what were either horse-powered treks or small ships, reducing the time of travel before additional food was required. This resulted in early armies adopting the style of hunter-foraging.
The introduction of the baking of processed cereals including the creation of flour, provided a more reliable source of food. Egyptian sailors carried a flat brittle loaf of millet bread called dhourra cake, while the Romans had a biscuit called buccellum. Roman cookbook Apicius describes:
|“||a thick paste of fine wheat flour was boiled and spread out on a plate. When it had dried and hardened it was cut up and then fried until crisp, then served with honey and pepper.||”|
Many early physicians believed that most medicinal problems were associated with digestion. Hence, for both sustenance and avoidance of illness, a daily consumption of a biscuit was considered good for one’s health. Physically to this day, when biscuits get older, they get softer. So simply, the bakers of the time to solve this problem, extended this thought to create the hardest biscuit possible. Resultantly, because it is so hard and dry, properly stored and transported, the navy’s Hardtack will survive rough handling and endure extremes of temperature. The more refined Captain’s biscuit was made with finer flour.
To soften it, it was often dunked in brine, coffee, or some other liquid or cooked into a skillet meal. Baked hard, it would stay intact for years as long as it was kept dry. For long voyages, hardtack was baked four times, rather than the more common two, and prepared six months before sailing.
At the time of the Spanish Armada in 1588, the daily allowance on board a Royal Navy ship was 1 lb of biscuit plus 1 gallon of beer. Later, Samuel Pepys in 1667 first regularised naval victualling with varied and nutritious rations. Royal Navy hardtack during Queen Victoria’s reign were made by machine at the Royal Clarence Victualling Yard at Gosport, Hampshire, stamped with the Queen’s mark and the number of the oven to which they were consigned to be baked. Biscuits remained an important part of the Royal Navy sailor’s diet until the introduction of canned foods, with canned meat first marketed in 1814, and preserved beef in tins was officially introduced to the Royal Navy rations in 1847.