Soup season is here and I love a soup for lunch. It's a great way to try and get some vegetables into your diet. Where I live it gets cold and I eat a lot of soup. Cooking soup is a family tradition at my house. My dad made a lot of soup and it's really become a staple in my diet over the years. That being said, while I'm always one to enjoy a grilled cheese with a tomato soup, my usual go to is the soda cracker, or saltine.
I always have soda crackers in my pantry. Do you know anyone who doesn't? I don't know if it's the reasonable price or the comfort I get from them but I always have some. I tend to dip mine or drop them in whole, but my huppy crushes up half a pack and thickens the soup with them. We all have our crosses to bear, haha.
Last night while enjoying a nice bowl of homemade chicken noodle (with crackers) I got to thinking. I know nothing about soda crackers. How are these made? When did we start eating soda crackers? I know they are at least as old as I am but where did they come from. Well keep reading, because I have answers.
The History Of The Soda Cracker
Just as I suspected, the soda cracker has been around for a long, long time. In fact, soda crackers were described in "The Young Housekeeper" by Alcott in 1838.
In 1876, F. L. Sommer & Company started using baking soda to thicken its wafer thin cracker. I believe it was then the "soda cracker" was born. Frank L. Sommer is often credited with the invention of the soda cracker after entering it in the Buchanan County Fair in 1876. The entry would be Mr. Sommer’s “Soda Cracker” also known as the Flake or Saltina. It would be the winner of the Blue Ribbon of Excellence, and now had the official title of “Premium”.
According to Wikipedia "the invention quickly became popular and Sommer's business quadrupled within four years. That company merged with other companies to form American Biscuit Company in 1890 and then after further mergers became part of Nabisco in 1898.
The cracker was also a staple food that would last on the wagon train going west.
Historic evidence of the soda cracker can also be found in this old recipe, I got a kick out of it. What do they mean small baitch? It calls for 25 pounds of lard and water by the bucketful.
1877 Soda Biscuit or Cracker Recipe
"[For Small Batch] Can be doubled as you wish. One and one-half barrel flour, twenty-five pounds of lard, two pounds of salt; set you sponge with hop yeast or Flesichmann's Compressed yeast; set it in the evening and let it fall about four inches, then make your dough and let it rise well, then work in your saleratus, two pounds; should the dough not have enough saleratus add two ounces more. You may try a pieces of the dough, as this is a certain way, and after a little practice you may be able to tell by the look of the dough; take care to work in the saleratus well; when there is enough saleratus in it the dough will e noticed to have something like stripes in it; this will be observed, if you have some knowledge of cracker making; above all let your dough be broken well before running off; proceed in this way to make your sponge and dough: Take eight quarts hop yeast, or say in proportion to Fleishmann's Compressed Yeast; add twelve quarts of water; regulate the water according to the weather; this will make your sponge. When it has risen and fallen make your dough by adding three pails of water, common size; add twenty-five pounds of lard, two pounds of salt, and work your dough well. A very good way for new beginners is to work half the saleratus in half of the dough; then try, and if not enough add a little more and try; if too much, add some of the dough that has none in, and to that has none in added less than you did in the first half. This is a sure way for beginners. This same dough makes oyster crackers, but if making may you make a separate dough for them, adding only twenty pounds of lard to the one and one-half barrel of flour."
Secrets of the Bakers and Confectioners' Trade, J.D. Hounihan
How Are Soda Crackers Made Today
I found my answer to this question in a likely place. Do you remember the show "How It’s Made"? I used to watch it, or at least I remember it from the days before Netflix when there was way less variety than there is now. Turns out they made a video. I found it on YouTube and it's just as magical as I imagined.
The dough is made in huge vats.
A mixer blends the ingredients for 5 minutes and then the dough is left for 16 hours to rise. Then they add the sodium bicarbonate along with salt, flour and some other ingredients. After another 5 min mix, perfect consistency is reached.
The dough is then placed into a machine that folds the dough and made into sheets 5cm thick and folds over itself three times. .
It then gets rolled and rolled some more until it's at the ideal thickness. It is then fed into another machine that has what I think looks like a rolling pin which will cut the cracker shapes out.
After a few more stops on the machine, a perfect row of crackers emerges. It gives me a great deal of satisfaction to see how perfectly they all come out. They are baked for only 3 minutes at different temperatures. When they come out the oven, they get broken into rows (again very satisfying to watch). From there they go onto a conveyor belt and get broken into individual crackers. The crackers are fed into rows that go into tracks and head for the packaging equipment. The crackers are counted and divided into groups and the case of this video, the little two packet ones you get with soup at restaurants.
This all happens at a rate of 525 packages per minute! You can watch the whole video below.
So there you have it. That's the story of where soda crackers come from and how they are made. Think of me the next time you partake!
PS: Did you know a lot of people eat them with butter? I did not.