Imagine you have gone back a few hundred years behind time and you are travelling on a winter across the northern plains. You are freezing cold and your stomach is growling with hunger. Winds are strong and there is no shelter on sight to start a fire to cook the game you have with you. What can you do? Native Americans have long figured this out, and their solution was pemmican.
So, What Is Pemmican?
Pemmican is known as the mother of survival food and is primarily a mixture of protein with fat. It’s a high energy, long-lasting and a very portable food that originates from Native Americans. It’s mainly made of pounded dried meat that is mixed with rendered fat when it’s still hot.
This process makes pemmican such long-lasting and shelf-stable food to store. Traditionally, it is made mainly from bison, where moose, caribou, elk or deer will substitute if bison meat is not available.
Fruits like saskatoon berries, cranberries, cherries, blueberries, currants and chokeberries were also added especially in wedding and ceremonial pemmican. For practical reasons, pemmican now comes in powdered form that is delicious and healthy for our modern day living as well. The great thing about it is, it’s so calorie packed that a small portion could sustain you for the whole day.
Robert Peary, the North Pole explorer used pemmican as the primary food source for his men and dogs in all of his expeditions. In his book, Secrets of Polar Travel, he wrote a few pages just about the food. Here he explained that he cannot stress enough, the importance of pemmican to his expedition. He also further stated that it is sine qua non.
On another note, Frederick Russell Burnham an American adventurer, who served as Chief of Scouts in South Africa for the British Army, required every scout to carry pemmican while he was in service.
Pemmican for Various Occasions
There is rich variant of pemmican available; Native Americans have different varieties for ceremonial purposes as well. Sometimes dried, crushed berries, nuts or even honey is added on top of the dried meat and fat.
In this modern day, imagination is the limit to what you can add to your food. But this will affect on the storage stability of the pemmican. If you are planning for long-term storage, it’s best to leave the additions out. However, if you plan to consume it sooner rather than later then additions would be most welcoming.
Pemmican Recipe and Ingredients:
Basically you can use any meat that you fancy. Traditionally, buffalo, moose, elk or deer meat are used. For me, I like to go with beef. Lean thigh and shoulder is the way to go.
Most folks like fat from kidneys for some reason, but I will take beef suet, everytime. This tastes so much better in the mix. Get one pound of this and you’ll thank me later, I bet ya!
If your pemmican is not for long storage then you can add all sorts of extras to go with it. Dried fruits, berries, dried berries, peanut butter, maple syrup…some folks even add sugar and chocolate. Of course these are all optional, and it’s up to your whims and fancies.
Now, this is not your regular food stuff that you can wolf down in a go. I would advise you to chew it like you would with a bubble gum. And swallow when you feel comfortable. Take it slow and you will feel surprisingly filling eating it this way.
The stored fat breaks down quite slowly and this will provide a steady surge of energy that could last for hours. Pemmican is an amazing emergency ration that you should add into your bug out bag. It is compact, lightweight and pack a whole lot of calories you’ll need when bugging out.
Traditional Pemmican – Step by Step Guide
1. Dry The Meat
To start off, chop all the fat away then cut the meat into thin slices…as thin as you possibly can and leave them under full sunlight for drying. Do this at first sunrise as this will take the whole day.
Alternatively, you can place the sliced meat in the oven (on the rack) and keep the temperature at the lowest setting. The goal here is to dry the meat to the point that it cracks when you bend it. If you see parts of the meat that is rubbery, that means you need more drying. Make it brittle.
2. Grind The Meat
Once step 1 is completed, throw the meat in a food processor until it turns to powder. If you don’t have one, just crush it as much you can then grind it using a blender. This will get the job done.
3. Render The Fat
The reverse is true here, cut off the meat from the fat then heat it up. You can make use of an oven, a stove or even a crock-pot to do the work. Personally, I prefer the stove with a cast iron pan.
Stir the meat occasionally, and bear in mind to always keep it at low heat for several hours. When the fat stops bubbling, you are done. The next thing to do is to filter out the crispy bits using a mesh filter. Just pour it through the filter.
4. Mix The Meat
Now is a good time to mix the extras with the meat if you want to. Make sure to use a big bowl for this so there is enough room to introduce the fat after.
5. Add Fat
This is important; always add 1 part of fat to 2 parts of the meat. You do this pouring the heated liquid fat right into the meat as you are stirring it up. If you want to add wet extras like syrup or peanut butter, this is a good time to do that.
6. Form It
One way to do is by rolling it to form little balls. The other popular method is to spread it on the casserole dish or a flat pan. Allow it to firm up then cut into squares or bars. This is my favorite option as I like my pemmican in bars.
7. Storing It
From the process of its preparation, pemmican naturally has long shelf-life. Well, you can prolong it by storing it in a cool and dry environment with airtight containers. You can also achieve the same effect by securing the food in Ziploc bags and keeping it in the freezer.
That’s it! You would have made your first pemmican following this step by step guide. It is not difficult to do and you can produce them over and over to for emergency storage or immediate consumption. As always, if you find this article to be helpful, please like and share it and leave a comment or two if you have any. Thank you.