Pemmican – Proven Ancient Survival Food – DIY

July 21, 2021

Indigenous people of North America, trappers, and early settlers all owe their lives to pemmican.  It’s a dense, high-protein, high-energy food that can be stored easily on a stable temperature shelf for an incredible five years.  It has the right mix of fats, proteins, and calories to keep you going long into the aftermath of any disaster or for many miles down any trail.

There are hundreds of variants to this ancient food, but most are generally a mix of meat, berries, and fats.  

WHAT YOU NEED

For this recipe, you simply need about 3 to 5 pounds of lean beef, 2 cups worth of dehydrated berries, salt, water, and tallow.  You can either obtain your tallow from the store or render your own, as I show you how to do in another post.   You will also need a dehydrator or oven with a low setting and a food processor, or else you will have to powder both your dried meats and berries manually.  A cookie sheet, wax paper, and a bowl and spatula are everything you will need.

Moose for pemmican

For this recipe, I am using beef because living in the suburbs doesn’t allow me to use and eat elk, moose, bison, caribou, seal, deer, or other meats.  If you have access to any of those meats, your pemmican will taste even better, in my opinion.  Generally, everyone has access to beef, so we’ll use it here for our basic recipe.  If you want to make your beef taste a little gamier, it is common practice to add organ meat to it.  This will also significantly boost the nutritional quality of the food.

STEP-BY-STEP

  1. Dehydrate berries, so you have at least two cups of them.  You will powder them before adding them in, so they can be as dry as you want.  I’m using the berries in season right now, blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries.  The type of berry can vary significantly from recipe to recipe.  Dehydrating Berries for PemmicanYou could include cranberries, raisins, dried apples or other fruits, chokecherries, western juneberry, mulberries, or whatever local indigenous berry or fruit you have available to you.
  2. For the beef, slice it against the grain as you would for jerky, into strips — 1/4 to one inch depending on the thinness of your starting meat.  
  3. I then add it to a 3% salt brine.  To make that add two tablespoons of sea salt or kosher salt to one quart of water.  If you need to make more brine, just follow this same ratio.  If your brine is over 3%, that’s fine.  It doesn’t have to be exact.  Soaking the sliced meat in the 3% brine for a minimum of 15 minutes and up to one hour helps pull out some of the water from the meat, aid in the preservation process, and expedite the dehydration process.  The salt will also help to inhibit bacterial growth.  I will dry the meat with the fat on it and remove the fat after it has dried. Brining meat for pemmican It’s just easier for me to do it that way with this small batch, but you usually will trim all the fat off the meat and start with the leanest possible meat.
  4. Dehydrate the meat in your dehydrator, smoker, or oven at its lowest setting.  If it were jerky, we would pull it when the jerky was chewy but not brittle.  For pemmican, though, we want it so we can powder it down to thin fibers, so keep dehydrating it until it easily breaks apart.
  5. You can weigh your finished, dried meat.  But it doesn’t matter precisely how much meat you start with.  Generally speaking, five pounds of meat will render down to about a pound when completely dried.  I weigh it to better understand the meat-to-fat ratios for you here.  I have 8.7 ounces of meat, with maybe a little over an ounce of powdered berries, my total finished pemmican was about a pound, so there is at least 7 ounces of tallow in there.  So, generally speaking, you’ll have 60% meat and berries to 40% added liquid fat.  It will depend on your ability to shape it, which I’ll address in a moment.
  6. Trim any fat off the meat and powder the meat.  Powder the berries separately.  You can use a food processor, but I find my Vitamix is the most effective at this because of blade contact and blade speed.  If you were in the wild, you have to do this by smashing the meat between rocks until the fibers grind down to a powder.  It’s a more labor-intensive process.  You could also use a mortar and pestle, but this will take much longer and will be more laborious.
  7. Melt your tallow over very low heat and add.  Your dried mixture will soak it all up, so keep adding it in until it holds a shape like a dough when squeezed together.  The tallow acts as a preservative and will allow you to shape the pemmican and bind it to retain its form.
  8. Add your powdered berries to the powdered meat and mix it well.  Slowly add in about one ounce at a time of the tallow, allowing it to soak thoroughly into your mix.  When your mix takes on a doughy consistency that easily holds its squeezed form, you have added the correct amount of tallow.  There aren’t accurate measurements I can provide you for this recipe because the amount of tallow you need to begin to bind your pemmican will depend on the dryness of all your ingredients, the type of meat you are using, and the other ingredients you’re putting in the pemmican.  You want to add enough fat into it that you can press and shape it down into your pan, cookie sheet, or roll it into balls.
  9. Shaping pemmicanEither shape it into 1-inch meatball rounds or spread it on some wax paper in a small pan as I do here.
  10. Place in the refrigerator for 15-30 minutes.  This will allow the tallow to harden up the pemmican.
  11. Turn out onto a cutting board and cut into bars.  That’s it.  You can vacuum seal it for a long shelf-life, store it in your refrigerator or freezer, or just keep it in a mason jar in a cool, dry area of your kitchen.  I wrap mine individually in wax paper and then freeze them all.  In this way, I can grab a couple and throw them in my pack when I need to get out the door quickly.

Take some on your next hike or camp out and see just why this is considered the ultimate energy food.  Enjoy!

ABOUT PEMMICAN & VARIATIONS

Pemmican, this ancient food, is the perfect super-food for preppers or anyone on keto, carnivore, or paleo diets.  At room temperature, pemmican can generally last from one to five years, but there are many stories of pemmican stored in cool cellars being safely consumed after a decade or more. If vacuum sealed, it may remain edible after more than a century.   In the days of the pioneers, it was packed tightly into rawhide bags that could weigh almost one hundred pounds when stuffed.  This helped to protect the food when so tightly packed in a large mass void of circulating air.  The same is true if you were to can it in a pressurized water bath.  How you store it and your primary ingredients are the most influential over the shelf-life.   Most people today commonly store their pemmican in the refrigerator or the freezer.  Fats will turn rancid over time, and this is primarily because they will oxidize with the air.  In its solid form, fat has been used asRancid smell a preservative for centuries.  The nice thing about fat as a preservative is that your nose will tell you if your pemmican is no longer safe to eat.  Rancid meat has a tangy, putrid odor.

Adding nuts and other ingredients can also impact shelf-life.  This is also because of the oxidation of their oils.  If you intend to make pemmican to eat over a year’s time, put in whatever suits your taste.  If you want to store it for an extended period, use high-quality game meat, the cleanest tallow you can find, and only berries.  This will give you the most extended shelf-life without sacrificing any flavors.

Nutritionally, pemmican has everything you need to keep you moving during times of high energy expenditure.  Depending upon your ingredient mix, the average nutritional value for 1 ounce is around 130 calories, less than one carbohydrate, 11 grams of high-energy fat, and 7 grams of protein.  It’s 80% fat and 20% protein for the basic recipe.

Pemmican was typically eaten raw, though the taste and consistency may be too challenging for many, or cooked.  It has a taste similar to beef jerky but with much more flavor.  Because of the liquid fat content, it can quickly start as a base in stews or a starter in your cast iron pan.  Add a Mirepoix (meer . pwaa), as the French trappers probably did, a mixture of two parts onion to one Mirepoixpart each carrot and celery.  The Italians call this a Soffritto with the addition of garlic as well.  In reality, you can add to your heated pemmican potatoes, wild leeks, mushrooms, seaweed, dandelions, bamboo, prickly pear cactus, fiddleheads, broadleaf plantain, cattails, beans, or whatever else you forage for or pick up along your trail.  You could even add additional meat.  Use it as a base.

Take this basic recipe and the earlier post on tallow, and make your first simple batch of pemmican.  Learn the skill now and build upon it to develop your own recipe that best suits your palette.  Let me know in the comments below how it turned out and what method worked best for you. 

Keep prepping.

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Christopher
Christopher
1 month ago

would you be able to use bacon grease instead of tallow?

rob
rob
2 months ago

add toasted ‘oily’ sunflower seed meats,you can pack your pemmican into a ‘beef bung’ or other large sausage casing and hang in a cool place,it will dry over time and it lasts even longer..

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