Someone should write an Ode to Pilot Biscuits and build a 20-metre-tall replica of one, to put on display. A monument to Canada’s history. Besides these biscuits have saved more then a few people from starvation. And as one bush rat once said in jest, ‘tis true because you have to be starving to eat them.

Now just in case you are not familiar with this Canadian culinary delight which helped feed the nature in its rural and more remote parts. Pilot Biscuits are made in St. John’s, Nfld. by Purity Factories Limited, founded in 1924.

Let’s start by saving these ain’t the biscuits your grandma might make. They fall into the general description of hard tack. Which means they have been baked and rebaked several times until no moisture remains in them and so hard you could easily break a tooth biting into one.

They are made this way, so they have a shelf life approaching infinity. As long as they are kept dry, they will be as good a few centuries from now, as they are today. They were and still are a standard item to be in your survival food box and we would always have a box or two in the early bush camps, just in case. That was the beauty of them: they lasted until you needed them.

Pilot biscuits have saved more then a few people from starvation, columnist Walt Humphries writes. Photo courtesy of Walt Humphries

If you have to spend days, weeks or months out in the bush or in an isolated community without regular supply flights you soon run out of bread, and you can develop a real bread and starch craving. So having a box of pilot biscuits really was survival food. However, in today’s world if you gave most people or kids a pilot biscuit not many would know what to do with it, so here are some cooking tips.

You can break them into pieces with your rock hammer, the back of your axe or even a couple of rocks. Then throw the pieces into a soup or stew and they act like crackers or dumplings. You can dunk them in your tea or coffee.

Take a frying pan head it up and add a little butter or bacon grease. Then throw in a biscuit or two, sprinkle in some water which will turn to steam and put a lid over them. They will gain moisture and soften up from the steam. I used to dunk them in the water bucket and then put them on the airtight. Flip them occasionally. Then add butter and jam. They turn out quite good. Since they are basically just biscuits made out of flour, you can pulverize them and use them as a thickener for soups, stews and gravies.

Some people had interesting ways of getting moisture into them and softening them up. Basically, steaming them.

After a long hot day in the bush, I got back to camp and decided I wanted a dessert. So, I broke up a couple biscuits and put them in a bowl. I added some carnation condensed milk from a can, threw in some raisins and a little salt and let it sit for a couple hours. It turned out to be a rather delicious bread pudding. Also, if you are hungry enough, it is amazing how good some foods can taste.

One time I was out of potatoes and rice and craving starch. For dinner I was going to fry up a can of corned beef and corn nibs. I broke up a pilot biscuit and threw it in. The pieces soaked up the juices and it turned out to be quite a good meal.

So, all you survivalists should embrace the joys of pilot biscuits. There should be contests for what to do with them and when you consider all the people who have lived on them throughout our history, we should declare a national Pilot Biscuit Day. Besides, I always like the art on the boxes.

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  1. I grew up eating the orange packs round ones and the square ones before going to school back in the late 70s. I notice the blue one no longer says Marven’s
    I still enjoy them out camping at my cabin…

  2. There were two different types .. the square type which were rock hard and the round type which were somewhat softer. Used to eat both types spread with peanut butter & jam, honey or marmalade while downing a cup of tea .. both at home and when out on the land .. fond memories ..