Mystery House

Friday Food Special Monday Edition: Pensacola Gaspachee Salad

This is a very interesting recipe, which I ran across in a charming new cookbook, Endangered Recipes, by Lari Robling.

The idea behind the book is that the author believes deeply in the importance of family recipes, and the memories they evoke.  She didn’t want wonderful, old-school comfort recipes to be lost, and set out to collect her favorites.  As one who treasures old family recipes, I love this idea.  You just can’t have too many books of this sort, because each one brings an entirely different perspective to the table.  There are good things in Endangered Recipes, many of them familiar:  Welsh Rarebit, Boston Baked Beans, Green Goddess Dressing, Peach Ice Cream.

I bypassed all those, of course, when deciding upon a recipe to test.  Instead I was drawn to the unusual, the recipes I’d never heard of before.  Perhaps the most obscure of them was the Pensacola Gaspachee Salad.  The name was irresistible, and it had one very strange thing in its list of ingredients.  I kept flipping back to that page, over and over.  How could I possibly make anything else?

The strange ingredient is Crown Pilot crackers.  In the dressing.  Now, unfortunately, just after this book came out, Nabisco took Crown Pilots off the market.  For the second time.  It’s quite the cracker drama.  I realized that the Crown Pilot cracker was simply a commercial version of hardtack, and that truly sealed the deal:  an opportunity to make not one, but two unusual recipes!  Surely, I figured, I could make hardtack.

In fact, it’s ridiculously easy.  The recipe I used is here (scroll down).

You mix flour, water, salt and a wee bit of shortening.  A bread whisk works well for this.

Hardtack Salad 1

Mash it onto an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for an hour.

Hardtack Salad 2

Then you’re supposed to take it out of the oven, cut it into squares, poke holes in it, and flip it over.  Poking holes in things is always amusing, but this stuff was poke-resistant.  Too hard already.  It just sort of split in a very uncooperative manner.

Hardtack Salad 3

So I abandoned the poking, turned the hardtack over, and put it back in the oven for half an hour.  Et voila…

Hardtack Salad 4

Several days later (one of the principal virtues of hardtack is that it stays pretty much the same, no matter how long it sits around, thus why sailors could travel around with barrels of the stuff way back when)  I made the salad.

The recipe commences with soaking hardtack in water for at least an hour, until it’s very soft. How on earth did anybody think this up?

Hardtack Salad 5

I did the best I could in my attempt to create a proper bowl of cracker mush.  But an hour’s soaking was not enough, and dinnertime loomed.  So I went ahead and used the partial mush, which still had chewy bits of hardtack in it.  Actually, that turned out to be a good thing.  Read on…

You mix the hardtack with the rest of the dressing ingredients, which include mayonaise and cider vinegar.  I was still wondering how the original cook dreamed this up.  And that name.  It sounded so gazpacho-ish.  I had to do a little research.

Google Books had a page from Southern Food: At Home, On the Road, In History, by John Egerton and Ann Bleidt Egerton, online.  According to the authors, there’s a heavy Spanish influence around Pensacola, Florida, which somehow resulted in gazpacho being transformed into a salad.  Tomatoes, cucumber, why do all that pureeing?  Just eat it with a fork.  Evidently there’s a bakery in Pensacola that bakes hardtack solely to satisfy the needs of folks who want to make this salad.  Could it really be that good?  Or is it one of those things you only like if you grew up eating it?

And then it hit me.  Gaspachee is not only a version of gazpacho created in a state which loves words that end in “ee,” it’s also a strange Florida version of a Mediterranean bread salad!  Maybe it would be okay.

On I went.  I cut up cucumber, celery, onion, tomato and green bell pepper.

Hardtack Salad 6

I mixed the somewhat lumpy dressing with the vegetables, and we ate the salad with some beautiful fried catfish.

Hardtack Salad 7

What was the verdict?  Well, it was fantastic.  Seriously.  If you’re a regular reader of my food posts, you know that my wonderful husband, the M.E., is not a big fan of salads.  He could go along for months without eating one, and never feel deprived.

He had seconds.

Hardtack Salad 9

Seriously, folks, you have to make this.  It really was that good.  Oddly, the chewy bits of hardtack were terrific.  I’ll make it that way again next time — my Midwestern version of the Florida tradition — and there will indeed be a next time.  I’m grateful to Ms. Robling for introducing me to this marvelous recipe and bit of Americana with the enticing description in her book.

I’ll have to move fast to get another salad made before the hardtack’s gone, though.  Guess who thinks it’s the best treat ever?

Maxwell w Hardtack


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  1. * Jeanice says:

    Hardtack must be more appealing to poochie-boy that vegetables. The salad sounds yummy!

    Posted 8 years, 7 months ago
  2. * Carrie K says:

    I would only make that if I could buy the hardtack. Soaking bread to put in a salad – heebie jeebies.
    That provenance is pretty interesting though. Who knew?
    And seconds?? my my.

    Posted 8 years, 7 months ago
  3. * Ann says:

    I’m going to try this one. Making my own hardtack sounds like fun!

    Posted 8 years, 7 months ago
  4. * bezzie says:

    I’ll save this for when we ever move back home. Pilot Bread abounds up there. YOu can’t find it in the Lower 48 at the store.

    Posted 8 years, 7 months ago
  5. * lisa says:

    Who’d’a thunk it? I’ll try it!

    Posted 8 years, 7 months ago
  6. * deb says:

    Dogs! They love everything! But even I like the look of the salad!

    Posted 8 years, 7 months ago

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