Whether you’re prepping your bug out bag with non-perishable snacks, or just finding an easy way to preserve your game meat, making Pemmican is a great choice. Pemmican is a densely packed mixture of fat and protein with an incredibly long shelf-life. Making Pemmican with game meat is a simple and fun family activity. Learn about the history of Pemmican and why it’s regaining popularity throughout North America and Europe.
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What is Pemmican?
Pemmican is a meat and fat mixture usually made from elk, bison, caribou, deer or moose. Similar to jerky, the meat used to make Pemmican must be dried with the fat removed. Remember to keep the fat however, since it must be added back into the meat at a later stage in preparation, after rendering.
Depending on the recipe you choose, (check out Alderleaf Wilderness College for some great pemmican recipes) berries or unsalted nuts can also be added. However, adding berries or anything other than the meat and fat will reduce how long it lasts in storage.
Related: Hearty Northern Venison Stew Recipe
Where Pemmican Comes From
The word Pemmican comes from the Cree language but has been a staple indigenous food for many tribes over centuries. The high-energy food was adopted by the European fur traders and explorers as they spread across North America. With harsh winters and unforgiving land, Pemmican was a lifesaving resource for these men, preventing starvation.
Because of the density and long shelf-life, like hardtack, aka survival bread, Pemmican was easy to transport in canoes or in a pack over huge distances. As a result, it has been used for hundreds of years to supply crews on long journeys across the globe, including expeditions to the North Pole and through the heart of Africa.
Related: Making Traditional Hardtack
What Was the Pemmican War?
Pemmican was so important to these men, there was an entire war fought over it! The Pemmican War (1812 – 1821) was a series of skirmishes and battles between the Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West Company. The main issue was regarding Pemmican exports and trade, coming to a head at the Battle of Seven Oaks, and also at the burning of Fort Douglas and Fort Gibraltar. By 1821, the two rival companies merged, swiftly ending the almost decade long confrontation.
Why is Pemmican Still Popular?
With refrigeration and a variety of other preservation methods available today, you might wonder: do people still make Pemmican? Yes! In fact, it’s experiencing a resurgence in popularity as preppers and homesteaders embrace the traditional way of living.
Making Pemmican with game meat gives you a reason to use up those less desirable cuts of meat that might otherwise go to waste. Since it only takes minimal preparation, it can be made in the woods over a simple fire. Plus, its shelf-life can be anywhere from a few years to a few decades, which is why preppers adore the ultimate survival food.
Steps for Making Pemmican With Game Meat
When preparing Pemmican, try to use the leanest cuts of meat possible. Large game animals such as deer, elk, moose or bison are preferable, but you can use beef if necessary. If you have any fat left from harvesting the animal, use that. If not, talk to your local butcher and buy some beef or pork fat.
- Begin by slicing the meat thin, about ¼ – 1/3 of an inch thick.
- Remove any fat left on the meat, and then dry it by hanging over a fire, in the sun, in a dehydrator, or in an oven. Hanging the strips on thin branches or racks a few feet above a fire is the traditional way, but can take over 12 hours to completely dry.
- Once fully dried out, pulverize the meat into a powder. With modern conveniences, you can use a food processor or grinder to mill it into a fine powder. Alternatively, you can use a mortar and pestle or simply crush it repeatedly between stones. These options are more labour intensive but can be done off the grid without any electricity. If you are adding berries to your recipe, they need to be dried and pulverized as well.
- Prepare the fat separately by rendering it in a pot at a low temperature until it stops bubbling.
- Drain it through a strainer to remove any solids.
- Place your powdered meat and any extras you’ve added into a mixing bowl or casserole dish, and very slowly add the rendered fat. As you pour, the powder will absorb the fat, so make sure you evenly spread it throughout the mixture and it does not become too runny.
Once the fat absorbs into the powder, let the mixture sit for a few hours as it cools down and firms up. You can form the mixture into squares, or balls for storage. Squares are better for storage and maximize space more efficiently if you’re going to be carrying it in a pack. As with any preserved food, make sure you store it in an airtight vessel in a cool, dark place.
Pemmican: The Ultimate Survival Food Video
It’s no wonder Pemmican is still regarded as the ultimate survival food. Making Pemmican with game meat was how indigenous tribes and explorers were able to travel huge distances across the continent without running out of food. Preparing and storing Pemmican is easy, and a very useful skill to learn. After hunting season this fall, try making some with the family to keep in your cellar for years to come.