Salty Nothing.Posted: October 11, 2012
You know what happens when kids go back to school in the fall? Right. You get six uninterrupted hours of getting stuff done if you’re a parent at home. Aside from that, you know what also happens? You send a bunch of small children into an open cesspool of germs which culminates into those kids getting sick, and those kids getting adults sick, and then those adults getting me sick. Its like the circle of life considering how many people I come into contact with on a daily basis at work.
Anyways, I was given the gift of a norovirus somewhere along the line this week, which hasn’t been so acute (all my stomach contents have remained appropriately in my stomach in north and southward directions), but it has definitely been aggravating everything regardless. No appetite, a general aversion to food, stabbing stomach pains and a myriad of other fun things to spread around like butter. Ew, butter.. shudder. I never EVER thought I would ever think that. This is bad.
As you can guess, food blogging has been a challenge this week. But, it did lend me to a host of other things that I haven’t thought about in.. say.. ever. Like toddler foods and things that are otherwise bland. Such as saltines. The glorious, completely ignorable saltine. Guaranteed to give you zero fiber and maximum salt, I thought I’d pay homage to my foodstuff of choice this week.
I’ve made crackers before, they’re okay. Crispy, fancy, flat, dusted with exotic sea salts at the end. However, they can’t hold a candle to the flaky layers of the saltine, seemingly held together by nothing but flour paste and air. How do they do that? Why do they do that? Why is such a trashy food so addictively good once you crunch a few? UGH! Well, I’ll tell you guys (of course) in today’s brief history of the saltine cracker.
You see, waaaaaay back in the day, a few hundred years ago, men traveled thousands of miles across the ocean looking for this and that, land and junk. Being that food preservation technology wasn’t what it is today, the diet of the average sailor was piss poor. Sailors typically ate a diet of rehydrated salted beef and a simple cracker called hardtack- both of which were impervious to the damp elements on ships and had a nearly indefinite shelf life. Although this guaranteed food for long journeys across oceans, it did little for exciting the palate or ensuring that sailors wouldn’t end up with nutritional deficiencies and eventual diseases such as scurvy and rickets. However, they made do, and we discovered the new world, et cetera.
Anyways, hardtack was pretty much just flour, water and salt baked in a flat dough. Hardtack didn’t rise, it just sat there defiantly in the oven. Obviously, nobody reminisced wistfully about the binding powers of ship rations when they were safely at home (with half their teeth, thanks scurvy) but as mentioned before it did the trick on long voyages. This went on and on until the late 18th century when a savior of a baker decided to improve on the curmudgeonly hardtack by adding a leavener, thus creating the first soda cracker.
In 1801 a bakery in Newberryport, Massachusetts rolled out the first light and airy version of hardtack. Although officially the first “cracker” was made at this plant in 1792 by John Pearson to be used as sailor rations, it was Josiah Bent who thought to engineer a more palatable version that could still travel well but could also double duty as a snack food. Mr. Bent created his version of hardtack perhaps by accident one day when he accidentally burnt a batch of leavened hardtack, thus creating the crispy, crackly version that we all know and tolerate today.
By 1810 Mr. Bent’s light and airy version of the hardtack was clearly preferred over Mr. Pearson’s as the business swelled like a gas bubble. The soda cracker was a hit with sailors and civilians and spread in popularity all over the country quietly, like a landlocked schooner. In 1876 the American Biscuit Company acquired the recipe from Bent and started to create their own cracker which they called the Saltine. (The name came from the salty flavor due to the leaveners within the cracker itself.)
The popularity of the Saltine continued to grow over the next sixty some odd years, but the soda cracker really hit its stride during the depression. In the 1930′s people had limited resources so any means to stretch a food dollar were generally appreciated and adopted. Enter the soda cracker. As these suckers were dirt cheap to produce and retail, they became the wonder food for the financially strapped. Soda crackers could be used as a cheap filler in foods (e.g. meatloaf) or as an extender for otherwise unsatisfying meals (e.g. thin soup). Finally, America could stretch its food budget, its waistline and its large intestine simultaneously!
And that kind of brings us to today. The Saltine just kind of hung out around the edges of our food history, becoming tradition with bowls of soup at diners and quelling the nauseous stomach of the sick for generations. Almost nobody could complain about a Saltine, as they really tasted like nothing. Babies like them. Adults like them. Everyone likes them, to some degree. Especially me this week.