Make Your Own Ship's Biscuits for National Biscuit Day with This Recipe

They're virtually tasteless and low in nutrients, but ship's biscuits have kept countless sailors and explorers alive. To celebrate National Biscuit Day, Royal Museums Greenwich in London is offering its recipe for making your own indestructible crackers.

Mass-produced for Britain's Royal Navy beginning in the 17th century, ship's biscuits, a.k.a. hard tack, were a non-perishable, carb-rich food source. They allowed ships to sail for ever-longer distances without needing to replenish provisions. Ship's biscuits made up most of a sailor's diet, along with salted or smoked meat. (No wonder scurvy was such a problem.) By the mid-1800s, canned foods were added to ships' pantries, but the biscuits remained a staple. Antarctic explorers like Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton in the 20th century were still serving their men "hoosh"—a stew of pemmican, penguin or seal meat, and dissolved ship's biscuit.

Despite their importance to maritime exploration, the biscuits were barely palatable. They became infested with weevils and maggots. They had to be softened in tea or beer before being chewed. They were so hard that sailors could scratch love notes to sweethearts back home on them.

The Royal Museums Greenwich recipe calls for just three ingredients: whole wheat flour, water, and salt. Combine the flour and salt, and then add the water to create a very stiff dough. Roll the dough out to a half-inch thickness, cut with a biscuit cutter into circles, and stab each circle with a fork a few times to let steam escape as they bake. Thirty minutes in the oven and voilà—a slightly chewier version of the cracker that changed the world.

Get the full recipe here.

[h/t Royal Museums Greenwich]

The Great Tryptophan Lie: Eating Turkey Does Not Make You Tired

H. Armstrong Roberts/iStock via Getty Images
H. Armstrong Roberts/iStock via Getty Images

While you’re battling your cousins for the best napping spot after Thanksgiving dinner, feel free to use this as a diversion tactic: It’s a myth that eating turkey makes you tired.

It’s true that turkey contains L-Tryptophan, an amino acid involved in sleep. Your body uses it to produce a B vitamin called niacin, which generates the neurotransmitter serotonin, which yields the hormone melatonin, which helps regulate your sleeping patterns. However, plenty of other common foods contain comparable levels of tryptophan, including other poultry, meat, cheese, yogurt, fish, and eggs.

Furthermore, in order for tryptophan to produce serotonin in your brain, it first has to make it across the blood-brain barrier, which many other amino acids are also trying to do. To give tryptophan a leg up in the competition, it needs the help of carbohydrates. Registered dietitian Elizabeth Somer tells WebMD that the best way to boost serotonin is to eat a small, all-carbohydrate snack a little while after you’ve eaten something that contains tryptophan, and the carbs will help ferry the tryptophan from your bloodstream to your brain.

But Thanksgiving isn’t exactly about eating small, well-timed snacks. It’s more about heaps of potatoes, mountains of stuffing, and generous globs of gravy—and that, along with alcohol, is more likely the reason you collapse into a spectacular food coma after your meal. Overeating (especially of foods high in fat) means your body has to work extra hard to digest everything. To get the job done, it redirects blood to the digestive system, leaving little energy for anything else. And since alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, it also slows down your brain and other organs.

In short, you can still hold turkey responsible for your Thanksgiving exhaustion, but you should make sure it knows it can share the blame with the homestyle mac and cheese, spiked apple cider, and second piece of pumpkin pie.

[h/t WebMD]

How Mammoth Poop Gave Us Pumpkin Pie

MargoeEdwards/iStock via Getty Images
MargoeEdwards/iStock via Getty Images

When it’s time to express gratitude for the many privileges bestowed upon your family this Thanksgiving, don’t forget to be grateful for mammoth poop. The excrement of this long-extinct species is a big reason why holiday desserts taste so good.

Why? Because, as Smithsonian Insider reports, tens of thousands of years ago, mammoths, elephants, and mastodons had an affinity for wild gourds, the ancestors of squashes and pumpkin. In a 2015 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a Smithsonian researcher and colleagues found that wild gourds—which were much smaller than our modern-day butternuts—carried a bitter-tasting toxin in their flesh that acted as a deterrent to some animals. While small rodents would avoid eating the gourds, the huge mammals would not. Their taste buds wouldn't pick up the bitter flavor and the toxin had no effect on them. Mammoths would eat the gourds and pass the indigestible seeds out in their feces. The seeds would then be plopped into whatever habitat range the mammoth was roaming in, complete with fertilizer.

When the mammoths went extinct as recently as 4000 years ago, the gourds faced the same fate—until humans began to domesticate the plants, allowing for the rise of pumpkins. But had it not been for the dispersal of the seeds via mammoth crap, the gourd might not have survived long enough to arrive at our dinner tables.

So as you dig into your pumpkin pie this year, be sure to think of the heaping piles of dung that made the delicious treat possible.

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