Nearly every recipe in the mighty 50 Chowders, including the leek and mushroom chowder I made this week, recommends serving with toasted common crackers. What are common crackers? Jasper White explains:
The common cracker descended from hardtack, also known as ship’s biscuit–a very dense, unleavened brick of baked flour. Necessity wrote this recipe, since flour would not keep in the damp and vermin-infested conditions aboard ship.
(Two of the things I love about Jasper, things that make it very hard to call him anything but “Jasper,” are that he’s always saying mildly folksy things like “necessity wrote this recipe,” and that he has a Yankee sense of thrift. He touts one recipe for making a fifty-cent bowl of chowder.)
It’s a shame there’s no such thing as a time machine, because I would really like to go back a couple hundred years and tell a grizzled ship’s captain that I spent $15 ordering hardtack on the net. Specifically, I ordered two boxes of common crackers from the Vermont Country Store.
Common crackers are just over an inch in diameter and half an inch thick, and they bear a strong resemblance to Parisian macaroons. They’re baked in such a way that they’re very easy to split in two, kind of like an Oreo without filling. If you eat one out of the box, its stale blandness will remind you that this is what sailors (and presumably pirates) were forced to eat when they ran out of jerky.
But split a common cracker, brush it with melted butter, and bake it for ten minutes, and you’ll have a crunchy treat. Eat these with a bowl of chowder (you can dip, crumble, or just enjoy them on the side) and you’ll never want chowder without them again. Plus, kids love them. Iris had a friend over the other day and they were scarfing common crackers like regular deckhands.
There’s a recipe for common crackers in the book In Julia’s Kitchen with Master Chefs. It’s interesting to learn how they’re put together, but should you make them? Let’s give Jasper the last word:
[A]lmost no home cook knows how to make them. Even those who do know don’t bother, because they take almost two days to make and if you do everything just right, they might turn out as good as the ones you can buy at the store.