Market basket: Cracker choices have come a long way

A trip down the cracker aisle of the supermarket is quite the trip. Every shape and flavor you could imagine is available and the temptations are endless. Unless, of course, you are my husband who thinks saltines are the answer no matter the cracker question. For the rest of us, there are a multitude of options to fit the need for any occasion.

The exact origin of this cheese plate staple is unknown. The premise is a simple one in that you bake an unleavened “bread” long enough to sufficiently reduce the moisture content. This not only greatly elongates the shelf life but make it lightweight and easy to transport.

Hardtack was exactly that and a New England “invention” in the late 1700s and was exactly that … hard! However that was a coveted ration during wartime for soldiers and could be kept for incredibly long periods of time. The taste wasn’t great, and soon it was transformed for widespread domestic use.

The recipe had to change significantly, and it included yeast, a long rising time and long kneading to produce a crispy outer surface. Saltine crackers were once known as soda crackers. They rose in popularity during the depression when money was scarce and these were inexpensive alternatives to breads. In fact, they were marketed as a way to make broth-based soups more filling as well as a cheap extender for meatloaf.

Today the additions of herbs, spices, cheese and all sorts of flavors are worked into the dough before baking begins. Herbs and spices led the way by being used as an alternative while decreasing the amount of salt in the product.

The incomplete “holes” that you see on the tops of many cracker types is intentional. It is to prevent air pockets from forming during the baking process.

You asked for it

Elaine Hobson of Jackson would like to know the history of a “baker’s dozen.”


It goes all the way back to the Middle Ages. Any baker who sold bread loaves that were lighter in weight than the standard could be fined heavily. To make sure they were safe, the bakers threw in an extra loaf with every dozen purchased.

Tammy Algood is the author of five cookbooks and can be seen on “Volunteer Gardener” on PBS stations in Tennessee. Follow her at

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Market basket: Cracker choices have come a long way