Survival Food: How to make Pemmican
Ryan Dotson on August 7, 2017
When Native Americans first started hunting big game animals, they quickly realized that they needed a way to preserve the meat. There were times when a village could eat an entire deer, pig, or elk in one meal, but they were few and far between. Often meat would rot or become infested with maggots. In addition, Native American tribes often sent scouts or hunting parties out for weeks at a time. They needed a protein that could travel with them to provide the energy they needed to keep going. Pemmican was the answer.
What is Pemmican
Pemmican is a mixture of dried meat, rendered fat, nuts, and dried fruit. It was designed to provide protein, sugars, and fats in a form that could be preserved for months. There are several ways to make pemmican, but all of them provide a way to keep meat preserved longer than cooking alone. The more ingredients you add, the shorter the shelf life. In this article, we will cover a recipe for simple pemmican that will keep in a cool, dry place for months or even years.
Pemmican starts with dried meat. It can really be any kind of meat, but it is most often made with venison or beef. The fat is removed from the lean cuts of meat, and the meat is cut thin. It needs to be less than ¼ inch thick in order to dry properly. You can set an oven to 175F and dry the meat on raised racks for six to eight hours. You can also build a tripod over a campfire and dry the meat above. You will need to either build a rack inside the tripod or use cordage to hang meat from the tripod.
As a general rule, you want to be able to hold the palm of your hand above the fire at the height of the meat for five to ten seconds before pulling it away. This ensures that you are drying your meat, not cooking it. The meat is done drying when it can be cracked by bending, but it does not fall apart. You should not be able to squeeze any juices out of the meat.
The next step is to grind the meat into a fine consistency. The Native Americans used a mortar and pestle, but I use a food processor. You then need to render the fat into a liquid so it can be mixed with the other ingredients.
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Nuts and dried fruit need to be chopped into a finer consistency. Mix everything together, but only use enough fat to hold everything together. You do not want the mixture to be watery when mixed. Then lay plastic wrap over a muffin tin and press the mixture into the bottom. This will create discs of pemmican that can be wrapped and then put into a large plastic bag for storage. Store all of your pemmican in a cool, dry place to ensure that it lasts as long as possible.
While there are several ways to preserve meat, pemmican is a product that is portable and also incorporates other important nutritional needs. This survival food gives you the energy you will need to push forward. I always keep a good amount on hand and am prepared to make more after every major kill. If you take the time to learn this process and keep this food on hand, you too will be more prepared for whatever is to come.
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