Essential Information

National Maritime Museum

24 Aug 2007

Ship's biscuits or hard tack was a vital part of a seaman's diet in the years before the introduction of canned food in the mid-nineteenth century. Try the ship biscuit diet for yourself by following our recipe!

by Tanya, Reader Services Librarian


  • 1lb wholemeal flour (try to find a medium-course stone-ground flour for authenticity)
  • ¼oz salt
  • Water


  1. Preheat your oven to 215C (190C for a fan oven)
  2. Mix the salt and flour together and add the water slowly, mixing until you have created a very stiff dough.
  3. Leave the dough for half an hour (you can profitably use this time to scrub the decks or hoist the mainsail).
  4. Roll the dough out fairly thickly (to about half an inch or just over a centimetre deep) and use a round cutter to cut them out.
  5. Use a fork to prick the biscuits all over the top side.
  6. Place on a greased baking tray and bake for about 30 minutes.

As you eat your biscuits, count yourself lucky that they are not truly authentic - biscuits were sometimes made using powdered bone, or a pea flour which became incredibly hard and could not be bitten through. Sometimes the only way to eat a hard biscuit was to leave it until it got stale and soft, by which point they tasted musty and often contained weevils and maggots. 

Holes made by biscuit beetles in a ship's biscuit.