Pemmican is an indigenous recipe branded as the ultimate survival food.
This authentic Canadian recipe of Pemmican is a unique mix of animal meat or fat of different animals. With an extended endurance on the shelf, thanks to its thick proteins and lipids, it’s the best option to take along for camping.
Used to preserve leftover meat and fat, the recipe has stuck around for thousands of years. Its long shelf life contributes to it being a traveller’s go-to food. European fur traders took the recipe along their American adventure as part of the fur trade, leading to the pemmican trade.
Today, we will give a top-to-bottom guide on making Pemmican, its history, different types, and other related dilemmas.
What exactly is a Pemmican?
Pemmican is a unique dish consisting of two ingredients — dried meat and tallow.
Tallow is the rendered fat of beef or mutton. It is a highly nutritious staple food usually eaten in winter.
Spices are added for aroma and taste, while dried berries often appear in pemmican.
It is stored in an airtight container and can be made in any convenient shape. This made Pemmican a survival food of convenience.
Key Components of Pemmican
The meat flavour in the Pemmican can be brought out using either beef, deer or fish owing to the size of the meat. The meat can be dry meat, fat, or ground lean meat.
Pembroke version has beef tallow as its key component. Game meats are also a preferred choice for the dish. Elk, venison and moose are suitable options for flavour.
Meat is preferred to be grass-fed only and sliced in round cuts.
Recipe of Homemade Pemmican
The traditional method of Pemmican starts with cutting Bison meat. It can also be made with lean buffalo strips or chicken cut into thin slices.
After a few hours under the hot sun, the dried meat is crushed into a fine powder and blended. After adding a handful of dried fruit, or nutritious honey, it is then combined with fat for preservation.
Remove all visible fat. A long knife can be used to slice through the core effortlessly. This will give a lean cut. To prep the meat, buy the required piece from the supermarket.
Add adequate salt to thin strips.
For drying meat, traditionally, cooking is not motivated. If cooking is necessary, the temperature must be kept below 100F.
Afterwards, dry the meat for several days. This will omit moisture, making Pemmican taste its best and have a long shelf life.
Using a food dehydrator is the easiest way. Put the thin strips into the dehydrator rack and follow the instructions specified by its manual.
If you lack a dehydrator and want to put the meat in the oven, preheat it to 170F. Put the strips on a baking sheet or directly on the rack.
After 15 long hours, the meat will be ready. You should open the oven at times to let the moisture out.
The meat will be perfect with crispy bits.
You can dry berries in the same way as the meat.
Grinding the Meat
For grinding, a Meatgrinder is an effective tool. Blender and food processor can be kept as secondary choices. To the powder, add the desirable spices, if needed.
Along with the meat, you can powder the dried berries. For dry berries, traditionally, cranberries are used. But, in popular versions, berries with higher sugar content is chosen. Blueberries, saskatoon berries, cherries, currants or chokeberries are the famous replacements for cranberries.
Then, proceed into mixing the powdered meat and powdered berries.
Rendering Fat into Tallow
What kind of fat to buy?
The fat rendering process can seem cumbersome, but it can be done easily with focus and understanding.
Use beef fat for pemmican mixture. This fat can be bought from the local butcher, which he may even give away. It is called suet.
Your second choice of meat, if beef is not available, is lamb fat. This also works well.
Making Melted fat
Cut it into little chunks after removing any meat stuck to all the fat. To get it into even smaller pieces, you can use a food processor.
Put the chunks into a big pot and cook for an hour. Put the levels for the lowest setting. You have to wait for long hours for the fat to melt. The fat doesn’t require constant attention but keep a stable eye.
When the melted fat is ready to come off the stove, you can see floating bits on the top. These should be golden-brown. When the fat stops bubbling, rendering is completed.
Strain the pot with the help of a sieve or cheesecloth into a clean jar. This should be only the liquid part. Eliminate the crispy bits.
Now, what you have with you is called tallow. Let it cool and take a golden colour.
Alternative method: You can also use a slow cooker to tallow. Remind yourselves to keep a low temperature and watch the colour. Then, you are good to go.
Adding the Fat mixture
The fat should be liquefied. You can lower the flame when the fat stops bubbling.
Then, pour the liquid fat into the powdered meat and berry mix. The fat ratio to the dried mixture is open for experimentation, but a chef recommends 1:6 for an authentic dish.
Garnish and Serve
The Pemmican must be cooled and formed into balls or bars as you wish. The Pemmican shall be wrapped in wax paper or plastic bags for preserved meat magic.
Making Traditional Pembins
To make the basic traditional Pembins, you can follow a more breezy recipe with a 1:1 ratio of dry meat and animal fat weight. After measuring an equal amount of meat and fat, fill all the moulds by hand. Place the beef or pork in the container and add salt.
Begin to melt the tallow in a double boiler.
Combine the meat, salt, and spices.
To add flavor, mesquite seasonings of Mountain Rose herbs are preferred. Slowly add the condiments and combine everything.
Before solidifying, take a 8 X 8 dish with the filling and pour in the mixture.
Is Pemmican healthy?
This tried and liked dish is a portion of ultimate survival food free from artificial flavors. No added food ingredients are there to enhance flavor or processed meat. This dish is thus rightfully called the bread of the wilderness.
It is a recommended dietary supplement marking a high notch on the protein bar. The dish is known for its benefits to the liver specifically.
Origin of Pemmican
Pemmican is believed to have originated in Arctic areas or the Alaskan region. The dish served as an energy-giving and enduring option concerning their nomadic life and long hunting periods. Native Americans across the continent consumed it as a constant part of their routine.
The Native Americans used to slice the meat and dry them into thin pieces of jerky. This was roasted on fire and crushed with stone to mixed powder with the berries.
Endless journeys extend far ahead of them every day. Thus, preserved meat was their only source of protein and fat. The dish was great food that sustained an entire population if properly prepared.
The first recipe was recorded:
Here is the text quoted from Traditional Indian Recipes From Fort George, Quebec, 1967:
The best pemmican is made from the dried, powdered fish. It can be
used with lard, bear fat, caribou fat, goose fat or moose fat. Smoke the
dried fish or meat. Pound it and make a nice powder. Melt the fat or
lard. Put the powder in. Mix like a batter.
Some people like to add berries and sugar. In winter put it outside
to freeze. Keep it frozen. In the summer, make it more like a dough and
cover it. It keeps well for a long time.
Pemmican is used, especially in the winter, by trappers – when they
walk all day and want to travel light. A piece the size of a date square
is enough for a meal. It is good with a cup of tea.
Pemmican taste across seas
The food acquired its nomenclature from the Cree word, Pimikan, meaning fat. To pinpoint the date of origin is nearly impossible, but it was sure to exist before the colonization expeditions.
When the fur traders tasted the post-colonial era, it was introduced first to visitors. The fame passed like a forest fire, bringing people from far to the ‘new world’ wonders.
Pemmican became a synonym for traveling sustenance. It became a part of the food options of traders crossing the seas and in the prairies.
Referenced first in 1743 in Canadian documentation, the dish has never left the taste buds of Americans.
Antarctic Expedition with Dog Pemmicans
The Antarctic Expedition was backed up by two food items that sustained the missions: Sledging Biscuits and Pemmicans. Pemmican was served at camping at sub-zero and used as food while sledding. Survival in the cold became easier because of this dish which could have been stored in bags for months.
British Polar expeditions gave their dogs “sledding rations” as food during the expeditions. It was called “Bovril Pemmican” or just “dog pemmican”. The component of the Pemmican was beef consisting of 2/3 protein and 1/3 fat. This is a 2:1 ratio of protein to fat. The food didn’t contain any carbohydrates.
Although the dogs survived on this food, it was later found that the dish was not a healthy option for daily diet as it had a high protein level.
But, it remained as the major staple. Members of Ernest Shackleton’s 1914-1916 expedition had to sustain the dog pemmicans, which did not perish under the frozen climate.
Nowadays, the expeditions prefer dried meat over pemmicans while camping. The recipe followed is a more balanced version with enough nutrients from all sorts.
Yet, the significant role of Pemmican to promote life on the poles of Earth should be noted with these experiences.
True Survival food
Pemmicans are known for their endurance. It is the best survival food, rich in protein and fat. With reasonable additions of dried berries and spices, it can provide an average healthy diet on its own.
The meat has high protein and fat. Energy from the fat gives strength for a tedious venture. Antioxidants supplied by the additional ingredients included as per wish, the dish is the best available option.
Pemmican and water are enough for survival. Along with its nutritional rank, it also ticks the issue of space. Carry Pemmican inside your bag or survival kit. Or make Pemmican with the minimal amenities. Honestly, it is a boon to adventure backpackers.
To store a properly prepared Pemmican, use the safety of a dark, cool place. When stored correctly, such pemmican lasts for half a year or more.
Pemmican doesn’t require a refrigerator to endure. This makes the dish more survivor-friendly. Pemmican can healthily sustain you under any situation that a trekker, a hiker, or a backpacker might face.
For storing Pemmican as emergency supplies, buy Mylar bags equipped with oxygen absorbers. No need to worry after that!
Additions to the classic Pemmican
Pork is not advised to be served with this dish. It can cause bacterial infestation. So, check thoroughly if at all you want to.
Lard, rendered pig fat, is again demotivated to have Pemmican as it can cause diseases. This particular case can give you a severe case of trichinosis.
Coconut oil instead of tallow is a worthy try. But, the shelf life can dim because of the oil’s exclusive characteristics.
Ground beef works well with Pemmican but beware of burning in the preparation phase.
Pemmican Beef Jerky
Beef jerky is dried beef preserved after being left under a hot sun for hours. Even if it is available online in great amounts, it isn’t easy to make a reality.
What is the difference between Pemmican and jerky?
Pemmicans consist of cooked fatty berries. This is shaped into flat patties for edibility. Jerky has substantial amounts of fat than the delicacy in the discussion. Whereas Jerky is lean, raw meat preserved for later use.
Types of Pemmican
- Winter Pemmican: A greasy yet plain beef jerky prevalent during the Antarctic exploration. Inuit people seal the dish with meat for its oily base. Winter pemmican is stored in ice or snow instead of the summer’s heat or smoke.
- Summer Pemmican: Depending on the dish’s location and the season, summer pemmicans are made from the available berries, herbs, meat, or fish. Salmon pemmican is a delicacy famous in the Northwest. Such pemmican is dried in a smokehouse or put under the sun.
- Fish Pemmican: This kind is made with oily flesh for the fat in the recipe, and fish is taken as a paste rather than a loaf.
- Fine Pemmican: A type of Pemmican crafted out of shredded meat, preferably buffalo, and marrow fat, embedded with rich fat. The name points to a finely sifted mixture free of bones and ribs.
- Ceremonial Pemmican: Usually present at frivolous weddings along with fancy eatables. It has a flavored company of spices and other tasty treats. It was adopted by European settlers and became an integral part of their significant fur trade. This variant transformed into the staple food sustaining the Antarctic exploration. It has since become a constant with the adventurous folk around the world.
Tips for making the best Pemmican
Here are some amazing tips for properly preparing the dish:
- Take the advice of your local butcher to acquire the best option for meat and fat. Butcher will have factual knowledge regarding the healthiest choices with respect to various organic meat. You will get the perfect requirement of suet and meat.
- When melting or rendering the suet, give special attention to not burning or smoking the fat. This will destroy the dish.
- Keep in mind the correlation between weather and the amount of fat. The warmer the weather you are handling the Pemmican, the less fat you need.
- The last tip corresponds to the season as well. In summer, you need less fat than in winter.
- The last tip is to check if the ingredients you desire to add belong to each other. Don’t mix opposite tastes.
Lastly, remember to have fun with your custom recipes. Bring in your favorite ingredients that you think will go with the Pemmican’s key components. Use different berries and change the meat types.
Dry the meat and fruit very well and not partially cooked or dried. Make sure that you melt the fat (suet) properly, taking time and thought, enjoying the process.
Now, it’s your chance to make this dish of your own!
It is, after all, a recipe that can be prepared and served as you wish.