Years ago I visited a friend whose family was making pemmican. Now, this was a long time and before I became more interested in the history of such things. Up until that point I had never heard of pemmican and was very curious as to what it was.
I did not receive any sort of history lesson from the family but was offered a piece to taste. I popped it into my mouth and remembered thinking it tasted rather bland.
As I chewed I noticed that everyone was helping in some way to make this odd-tasting piece of meat. I wondered what the deal was but soon forgot all about it. It wasn’t until years later when I began reading more history books that I came across pemmican again. It was then that I found out what it was but also that there was an interesting history behind it.
What is Pemmican?
Pemmican is often referred to as the ultimate survival food because it is highly compact and nutritional. It also lasts a very long time. Traditionally, it is made from just three ingredients. Dried meat, suet or tallow, and dried berries.
As noted above pemmican in its simplest form is made from three ingredients dried meat, tallow, and dried berries.
The following recipe is one that I found from the Youtube channel Townsends. This channel is dedicated to showcasing the lifestyle of the 18th century and they featured a wonderful, and short, series on pemmican. If this topic interests you, I highly recommend heading on over and checking them out. At the end of this article, I will include the links to the pemmican series. Okay, back to the recipe.
Here are the ingredients you will need.
- Thinly sliced beef or any read meat. One pound of raw beef should produce ¼ of a pound of dried meat.
- Suet. This can be bought at some stores, online, or you can render the tallow yourself. The amount needed will need to be equal in weight to the dried beef.
- Dried berries. The berries are optional but add a bit of flavor and more nutrition to the pemmican but the pemmican will not last as long. Use roughly a 1:8 ratio of berries to meat.
How To Make Pemmican
The slices of beef will need to be dried out as much as possible. This can be done in a dehydrator or in an oven. When an oven is used, set it to the lowest setting possible. Be sure that you plenty of time set aside as this drying out the meat will take ten plus hours.
You will know when the meat is done because it will be extremely brittle and easy to break apart.
The dried meat now needs to be made into a coarse powder. The easiest way to accomplish this would be to break the dried meat into pieces and then place it into a blender or food processor.
Once the meat has been made into a coarse powder, place it into a mixing bowl. Add in the berries (optional) and the tallow. Thoroughly mix all of the ingredients and transfer to the container you wish to keep the pemmican in.
History of Pemmican
Pemmican is a type of food from the 18th and 19th century. It was originally made by the natives of North America but after realizing its value, it was eaten, sold, and traded by a wide range of individuals.
Traditionally the meat that was used was bison meat, though other meats were used as well. This simple food was carried by all kinds of travelers and allowed people to survive through harsh conditions and when other food was not available. One of the reasons that pemmican was considered the best survival food was that when stored properly it could last for decades.
Pemmican as a Survival Food
Pemmican is a great survival food because it packs nutrition into a manageable size for transporting. As stated earlier in the article, every pound of raw meat will produce roughly a ¼ of a pound of dried meat. I am going to use those numbers in a more relatable example.
Let’s say I go hunting and after processing the animal I end up with a hundred pounds of raw meat. That is a lot of meat. It is also not that easy to transport when considering its weight and that it needs to be preserved. But if that one hundred pound is dried as it is in the pemmican recipe, it turns into roughly 25 pounds of meat. Now that is much more manageable.
How Long Does Pemmican Last?
The second great benefit of pemmican as a survival food is that it it lasts a long time and has a long shelf life. When prepared and stored properly it can last for decades.
Think about that for a moment. A meal that you prepare today could be eaten ten years down the road. That is pretty amazing.
In case you care to learn more about this very interesting and traditional survival food I highly recommend checking out Townsends three-part series below.
How to Store Pemmican?
After cutting the pemmican, place in airtight containers. Store them in a dry place that’s also cool and dark (e.g., your basement, attic).
If you want, you can also store it in your freezer in ziploc bags.
Pemmican Video Series
Wrapping it Up
I hope you enjoyed this article and recipe for how to make pemmican.
We would love to hear any experiences you have had with this particular survival food. Have you ever made pemmican? Do you have any other interesting recipes for how to make this survival food? Please sound off in the comment section below and let us know. Thank you for reading.