Sunday, August 16, 2009

Saltines: History in Your Mouth

Eating crackers can be a very passive affair. A little cheddar or perhaps some peanut butter spread generously on top for a snack, but that's not all there is to the cracker. So today I share with you one of my favorite facts: the history of the saltine.

Think of it. A covered wagon, the hot prairie sun beating down on a team of tired horses. Nothing in sight as far as the eye can see except more grass. Your stomach rumbles as you rock to the rhythm of the wagon on the uneven soil. Meat is scarce. Water must be rationed. What you do have, what you eat everyday, what you grumble against like a manna-eating Israelite is something called hardtack.

Hardtack was a simple concoction of flour, water, and salt baked to a crisp. The virtue of hardtack was that it would last indefinitely (though not without some vermin), which made it useful for anyone on a long journey from sailors on the high seas to pioneers heading west to soldiers fighting in the Civil War. And the coolest thing about this staple of antebellum America is the number of holes in it.

Unless you've eaten saltines with me, you've never counted them, but every saltine has 13 holes in it just as hardtack did. And why? This is the good part! Because of the 13 original colonies. Isn't that mildly fascinating? As the pioneers set out for new territories they poked 13 holes in their carb-loaded snacks as a subtle reminder of the foundation of the great U.S.A and the freedom it represented for them. No wonder they were Laura Ingalls Wilder's favorite prairie treat! (I made that up.) Now, go ye enlightened readers and partake of a saltine in honor of history.


reg said...

hey, this comment thing had better work now. i have to admit i find the 13 holes/colonies fact fascinating. look forward to reading more from your blog!

angela said...

flynn- i miss you :) thanks for a the food history tid bit.

Kristen said...

haha this cracked me up because I rmember when I had first met you at 180, you had told me this story.