Monday, April 29, 2013

Ships' Biscuits.

In a mere few days I will be finished The Almanac. In the meanwhile I am choosing the easy route and giving you stories that speak for themselves. In the wake of last week's World War I stories, I thought the following article might be interesting. It is the description of the making of ships' biscuits (hardtack) on a commercial scale in London in the early nineteenth century.The method was described by William Burney, in A New Universal Dictionary of the Marine (London, 1815)

William Burney, in A New Universal Dictionary of the Marine (London, 1815) described the method of making hard biscuits on a huge scale for the British Navy in the early nineteenth century.

The process of biscuit-making for the navy is simple and ingenious, and is nearly as follows: A large lump of dough, consisting merely of flower [flour]  and water, is mixed up together, and placed exactly in the center of a raised platform, where a man sits on a machine, called a horse, and literally rides up and down throughout its whole circular direction, until the dough is equally indented, and this is repeated till the dough is sufficiently kneaded.
In this state it is handed over to a second workman, who, with a large knife, puts it in a proper state for the use of those bakers who more immediately attend the oven. They are five in number; and their different departments are well calculated for expedition and exactness.
The first man on the farthest side of a large table moulds the dough, until it has the appearance muffins, and which he does two together, with each hand; then delivers them over to the man on the other side of the table, who stamps them on both sides with a mark, and throws them on a smaller table, where stands the third workman, whose business is merely to separate the different pieces into two, and place them under the hand of him who supplies the oven, whose work of throwing or chucking the biscuits on the peel must be performed with the greatest exactness and regularity. The fifth arranges them in the oven, and is so expert, that though the different biscuits are thrown to him at the rate of seventy in a minute, the peel is always disengaged in time to receive them separately.
So much critical exactness and neat activity occur in the exercise of this layout, that it is difficult to decide whether the palm of excellence is due to the moulder, the maker, the splitter, the chucker, or the depositor; all of them, like the wheels of a machine seeming actuated by the same principle. The business is to deposit in the oven seventy biscuits in a minute; and this is actually accomplished with the regularity of a clock; the clack of the peel, during its motion in the oven, operating it like a pendulum. The biscuits thus baked are kept in repositories, which receive warmth from being placed in drying lofts over the ovens, till they are sufficiently dry to be packed into bags of an hundred weight each, and removed into store-houses for immediate use.
At Deptford, the bakehouse belonging to the victualling-office has twelve ovens each of which bakes twenty shoots daily; the quantity of flour used for each shoot is two bushels, or 112 pounds; which baked, produce 102 pounds of biscuit. Ten pounds are regularly allowed on each shoot for shrinkage, &c. The allowance of biscuit in the navy is one pound for each man per day; so that, at Deptford alone, they can furnish bread, daily, for 24,480 men, independent of Portsmouth and Plymouth. 


John Rees said...

Excellent piece, thank you! For information on 18th century army soft and hard bread use and production see,
"Give us day by day our daily bread.": Continental Army Bread, Ovens, and Bakers

John Rees

Linda said...

A fascinating post...and blog. Thank you so much for sharing.

The Old Foodie said...

Thanks,John Rees, for your link.
And thanks too, Linda - I am glad you enjoyed the post