Pemmican is a traditional Canadian or Native American food which is a concentrated mixture of protein and fat. The word pemmican comes from ‘Cree’ word of natives of North America which is ‘pimihkan’. ‘Pimi’ means grease or fat.
This type of cuisine was considered as a high-energy food of European traders and Arctic/Antarctic explorers.
It was the first protein bar of the travelers and adventurers and considered as the first MRE (Meals, Ready to Eat). It is high in protein and it contains everything that the body needs to sustain itself for an extended period of time.
In addition, it is a perfect snack for traveling, hiking, camping, or during crisis situations where cooking meals are challenging. This food doesn’t need any refrigeration and it is lightweight.
The traditional recipe for pemmican includes lean meat, dried fruits, and fat to hold it all together. In the past, it was considered essential for sustaining hunters and warriors on the trail to have a pemmican. One can eat pemmican using the hand without any utensils. It can be added to the stews, soups, rice, or anything that needs boosts.
To eat a pemmican in the style of Native American or Canadian, you just need to pop a little pemmican in your mouth and chew it just as how you chew a gum. It is surprisingly filling when you eat it this way. Though the food is small in volume, it will give power to your body because it is concentrated and loaded with protein.
In this article, we will discuss the history of pemmican, the ingredients used, and its nutritional value or health benefits. We will also tackle how to make a Pemmican today, especially during outdoor activities or emergencies.
History of Pemmican
By the time that the trading system reached Winnipeg area in Canada, Peter Pond introduced a vital food to the trade in 1779. He was inspired by the Chipewyans in the region of Athabasca, Alberta, Canada.
According to history, Metis (mixed American-Indian and Euro-American ancestry) would travel to the southwest prairie part of Canada, slaughter buffalo and make it as a pemmican. Then, they will trade it at the posts of North West Company. The people on the edge of the prairie would consider pemmican as an important good in the trade since it can give them nourishment for the whole day.
The trade for pemmican was a major factor in the birth of Metis community. Multiple packs of pemmican would be traded north and stored at the major fur posts such as in Edmonton House, Fort Alexander, Fort Garry, Norway House, and Cumberland House.
The pemmican was very important that Governor Miles Macdonell started the Pemmican War in 1814 with the Metis. He passed the Pemmican Proclamation which forbids the export of pemmican from Red River Colony.
Many adventurers relied on pemmican. Some of them are Alexander Mackenzie in 1793, Robert Peary: an explorer in the North Pole in 1886 to 1909, and Ernest Shackleton in 1914 to 1916 in Antarctic.
Meanwhile, during the Second Boer War of Great Britain and the South African Republic in 1899 to 1902, the British troops relied on pemmican as their food. It can last for many days and the troops can march for 36 hours (3 days) before someone drops from hunger.
Ingredients and Traditional Preparation of Pemmican
Traditionally, pemmican is made from the meat of moose, buffalo, deer, bison, elk, or whatever meat available. The meat is cut in thin slices and dried either under the heat of the sun or on a low fire until it becomes brittle and hard. In making a pemmican, it will take about 2 kilograms of meat.
Next, they pound the meat using stones or big mortar and pestle and turn it into small pieces until it becomes powder-like. The meat is mixed with rendered fat. Thereafter, dried fruits like Saskatoon berries, blueberries, cherries, and cranberries were pounded into the powder and fat. Water is removed from dried fruits thus it has a longer shelf life than fresh fruits.
The pemmican mixture is packed in bags for storage which can last for around 10 years.
The Native Americans store their supplies of pemmican in bags that are made of deerskin or buffalo skin. These bags were adopted by the Europeans and today it is known as saddle bags or parfleche by the French.
Benefits of Pemmican
Adventurers from past centuries have used pemmican as their food due to its unique nature. Today, it is a great option for survivalist enthusiast because of its various benefits.
First, it has long shelf life and it can provide a whole meal for an individual. It does not need any refrigeration since the food does not hold moisture.
It is a good snack for all outdoor activities such as climbing, biking, backpacking trips, road tripping, kayaking, and etc.
Second, during adventures or emergencies, a pemmican can minimize waste and maximize your resources. It uses both fat and lean meat of an animal and it can create little waste which is important during a survival situation.
Third, it is easy to carry and lightweight. You can store it in tight containers or Ziplock bags and put it in your luggage. The military in the field can just put the pemmican in their pockets and eat it whenever they are hungry.
Fourth, it contains fat, protein, and vitamins and minerals that our body needs to function. In fact, 22 ounces of Pemmican contains the following nutritional benefits:
- 293 calories
- 26 grams of fat (Saturated fat is 13 grams and trans fat is 2 grams)
- Sodium 285 mg
- Carbohydrates 1 gram
- Protein 15 grams
Finally, since pemmican includes easy food preparation, anyone can do eat in survival, emergency, or wilderness situation even without using special kitchen tools. Even if you don’t have gas or electricity, you can still make a pemmican.
Shelf life of Pemmican
There are various opinions regarding the shelf life of the pemmican. Some say that it can last only a month meanwhile others believe that it can last for many months even up to years.
It actually depends on the humidity and temperature of the environment. The quality of ingredients plus the storage condition will also determine its shelf life.
Ingredients must be fresh (like the meat and the fat) plus the fruits must be dried for a longer shelf life. In addition, the storage temperatures must be cooler to protect the food. To do this, you can store it in the freezer or a glass jar and put in a dark cool place to make it last for longer years.
For even longer storage, you can use raisins instead of fat in the traditional pemmican recipe.
How to Make a Pemmican
Pemmicans are now available in stores offering MRE (meals ready to eat) or survival items. It is available in bars, cans, or pails. There are also items available in different sizes and flavors.
However, it is still best if you learn how to make one so you will be ready in an emergency or crisis situation. You can make your own pemmican inside your home today and prepare it according to your taste. It can save you time especially if you’re too busy to prepare your food and it can keep you going for hours.
Here’s how to do it:
- 1 kilogram of meat – You can use the meat of buffalo, deer, elk, moose, or beef. Choose lean parts of the meat like the thigh.
- 500 grams of fat – Beef Suet or lard
- 700 grams of dried fruits – Dried fruits like blueberries, cherries, or Saskatoon berries.
- Extras– You can also add chopped nuts, raisins, peanut butter, maple syrup, or honey. Some would add sugar and chocolate on their pemmican.
Cut the meat
The first thing to do is to cut off the fat from the meat. Slice the meat thinly using a sharp knife and place it on a tray or rack.
Thereafter, place the tray or rack under the heat of the sun or at low fire. You can use an oven or stove to heat the meat. This will take you all day to make it brittle. Make sure that the meat is dry and it cracks when you bend it.
Grind up the Meat
Next, put the dried meat in a food processor. Grind it until it becomes powdery. If you don’t have a food processor, you can use the blender.
To do this, mince the meat first, cut it in very small pieces, put it in the blender. Make sure that you turn it into powder form.
Render the Fat
The next step is to heat up the fat. You can do this with an oven, stove, or crackpot on a low heat setting for several hours.
Make sure that you stir the fat occasionally until it stops bubbling. The next step is to pour the fat through a mesh strainer or cheesecloth and filter the liquid fat from the crispy bits.
Mix the fruits, meat, and other ingredients
The next thing to do is to mix all other ingredients in a large bowl. Put the fruits and extras such as the nuts, raisins, peanut butter, honey, or sugar. Then, add one part of fat into two parts of meat and mix it. Do this until you finish mixing all the ingredients. Mix it thoroughly.
After mixing the ingredients spread it in a casserole dish and form it into squares, little balls, or bars. Let it stay for few minutes until it becomes hard. You can store it in airtight containers to make it last longer. Make sure to keep the pemmican in cool, dark, dry place to help protect it.
Tips for Making a Pemmican
Making pemmican is easy as one-two-three! But here are some tips especially for first-timers, so you can create the best pemmican:
- First, make sure that you get the fat for your pemmican outside the marrow or muscle of the meat. Ask your butcher for this.
- Choose the leanest part of the muscle meat for your ingredient.
- Make an equal ratio of the weight of the meat, dried fruits, and fat; and not by the volume. It is usually 1:1:1. With this tip, you will surely have better-tasting results.
- As long as the fat has been rendered properly, then there is no need to refrigerate the pemmican. You can opt to use an air-tight container (glass jars, pottery containers, or Tupperware) to store it. In addition, vacuum packed or plastic wrappers can also make pemmicans last a long time. These containers are insect and rodent-proof too.
- You can choose an alternative ingredient for fat. For example, you can use peanut butter in replacement for rendered fat. In addition for vegetarians, a leather fruit or vegetable will be a nice replacement for meat although this will not give you as high fat and calories as the meat-fat version.
In sum, pemmican is easy to prepare even for any kind of condition and it can be stored for many years, however, it is recommended to make some ahead of disaster.
Making pemmicans regularly will help you become more comfortable with the recipe and prepares you to cook pemmican even during undesirable conditions soon.
You can experiment on pemmicans today and find a recipe that works best for you. You can add nuts, honey, chocolate, or sugar on it to make it tastier.
Pemmican has been considered a superfood for many years because of its ability to provide nutrition to the people even in emergency situations. Thus, it is helpful to learn how to cook pemmicans now because this might save your life!