No Need for Embellishment

The story of cabin bread

Cabin bread, also known as hard tack, sea biscuit, pilot’s bread or ‘worm castles’, is the quintessential ration for those on long journeys through remote places. Usually large, square and thicker than your average cracker, it’s mainly known for being dry, very dry, dry enough to suck all the saliva from your mouth and leave you chomping away at sawdust. It’s not uncommon to have to add water mid-mouthful just to get through one.

None of this put us off while perusing the supermarket for a multi-day tramp a couple of years ago, although we debated the relative merits of flavour versus weight – something we always seem to debate – the prospect of fitting six meals into a single 400 gram packet started to sway us in favour of the cabin bread. In the end we decided we could tart them up with choice of deli meats and cheeses and left with two boxes of Lee’s Traditional Cabin Bread at the core of our rations.

Originally designed for sailors crossing oceans and soldiers camped out in trenches, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands are about the only place you can still buy cabin bread at your local supermarket. For some reason we have held on to this most desperate of staples, even though in this world of home dehydrators and bananas imported from Peru we have so many other options. Perhaps its the simplicity and versatility that keeps us coming back or maybe it’s the reminder of hardship, romanticising that gritty life we think we lead while we gulp down the last soggy mouthful. Or maybe it’s just because they are about as cheap as food gets.

Either way, cabin bread has become a staple of our tramping trips, they almost wouldn’t be the same without it and I was glad to recently come across the unofficial Lee’s Cabin Bread facebook page, boasting a total of 21 likes – now 22. One eager fan left a comment in 2012 asking if there are ‘any updates to this wonderful product?’ The host of the page replied ‘I am making Robert learn to play a song on the ukulele with a cabin bread and then I'm going to film it and upload it.’ This film has yet to appear.