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Pemmican is a portable, long-lasting, high-energy food that was invented by native Americans. It’s made of lean, dried meat that is crushed into powder and mixed with hot, rendered fat. Sometimes people add crushed, dried fruit as well. The great thing about pemmican is that it is so calorie-dense, just a little bit of it can sustain a full-grown man all day long. This makes it a great food to have in emergency situations, especially if you’re on the move.
Native Americans, who packed up and moved camp several times a year, often depended on pemmican to sustain them until they could settle down and go hunting again. When made properly, pemmican can last a long time before going rancid. The trick is to first separate the meat from the fat. If any meat gets into the fat or vice versa, it can spoil. Once the dried meat and rendered fat are ready, you can mix them together and form bars or balls that can last several weeks or months without being refrigerated, depending on the humidity of the environment.
Some people like to add fruit to improve the taste. The most popular choice is powdered blueberries, but you can use cherries, cranberries, juneberries, or any other fruit that can be dried and crushed into a powder. You can also add honey, syrup, peanut butter, and even nuts or raisins. If it’s too wet you can use almond meal to thicken it up, or whatever you prefer. What really matters is that you prepare the meat and fat properly.
Once your pemmican is ready, you can put it in Ziploc bags and keep it in the freezer to increase the shelf life. To eat it, just take a bite and chew it for a while, like gum. This is not the kind of food you want to wolf down quickly. When eaten like this, it can be surprisingly filling. The fat breaks down slowly and provides steady energy for hours. Pemmican is a great item to add to your food cache. It can save you time if you’re too busy to cook a proper meal, and it can keep you going if you have to bug out.
- Meat – Native Americans used animals such as buffalo, deer, elk, and moose, but regular beef is fine. It’s best to use chunks that are lean, such as the thigh or shoulder.
- Fat – Just ask your butcher for a pound of beef suet. Most people prefer fat from the kidneys, but it’s not absolutely necessary.
- Extras – You can add all sorts of things to pemmican: berries, dried fruits, chopped nuts, maple syrup, peanut butter… some people have even added chocolate and sugar. These are all completely optional.
1. Dry Out the Meat – Be sure to cut off all the fat first, then slice the meat as thin as possible and place it on a drying rack in full sunlight. Start as soon as the sun comes up because it will take all day. You could also place the meat directly on the rack in the oven and set the temperature to the lowest setting. However you do it, make sure the meat gets so dry that it cracks when you try to bend it. If the thickest parts of the slices are still rubbery, your meat isn’t dry enough yet. It needs to be very brittle.
2. Grind Up the Meat – Throw it in a food processor and grind it until it is powdered. If you don’t have a food processor, just mince it up as much as you can and grind it in a blender.
3. Render the Fat – Be sure to cut off all the meat first, then heat up the fat. You can use a crockpot, the oven, or the stove. I prefer a cast iron pan on the stove. However you do it, use a low heat setting for several hours and stir it occasionally. You’ll know it’s done when the fat has stopped bubbling. This article is more detailed. When it’s done, pour it through a mesh strainer to filter out all the crispy bits.
4. Mix the Meat and Extras – If you have fruit powder or any other dry extras, mix it with the dried meat first. Use a large bowl so there’s room left for the fat.
5. Add the Fat – Add one part of fat for every two parts of meat. Slowly pour the hot liquid fat into the meat while stirring it up. At this point you can add wet extras such as peanut butter and syrup.
6. Form It – One popular method is to spread it in a casserole dish and let it get firm enough to cut into bars or squares. Another method is to simply roll it into little balls.
7. Store It – Pemmican naturally has a long shelf life, but to make it last even longer, store it airtight containers and keep them in a cool, dark, dry place.
That’s all there is to it! If you decide to try making your own pemmican, let me know how it goes.