Skills Of The Native Hunters –Pemmican The Ultimate Survival Food
Pemmican and How To Make
When the white men set out across North America, a reliable supply of portable provisions was one of the major problems. Lacking the skills of the native hunters, it was doubtful that they could live off the
country. They knew something about preserving food, a necessity for sailing ships, but it was limited to salting and pickling. The resultant salt pork and hardtack were unappetizing fare but they kept
life in a man.
The Plains Indians had a better solution to the problem, and one on which the fur traders and explorers came to depend. The answer was pemmican. The Cree word Pimikan meant, roughly, manufactured grease, but there was a lot more than that to it.
Basically it was buffalo meat, cut with the grain in thin slices or strips and dried in the sun or over a slow fire. A smoking fire added flavor and was useful for keeping the flies off though if meat racks were high they tended to be clear of flies. The dry-meat was then spread on a hide and pounded by stones or mallets to become “beat meat” which was tossed into a rectangular rawhide container (hair on
the outside) about the size of a flour sack. To the dehydrated, crumbled meat was added one-third or more of melted fat and the bag was sewn up. The fat might be mixed with the meat before or after it
was bagged. While the pemmican was cooling the bag was turned from time to time to prevent the fat all settling on one side. Compressed in a skin bag that was greased along the seams to eliminate air and
moisture, it would keep for years.
In the best pemmican, which was limited in quantity, the meat was very finely pulverized and only marrowfat, from boiled broken bones, was used. For variety and flavour dried fruits such as chokecherries, Saskatoon or Service berries might be added. The pemmican bags were flattened for easier handling. At times, rendered fat was stored in rawhide bags, left in a round shape to distinguish them from the pemmican bags. Marrow, while better tasting, was comparatively scarce and did not keep as well as ordinary tallow and would be preserved in bladders. The bags of pemmican weighed 80 to 90 pounds and it was estimated that each bag accounted for two buffalo (bison). So high was the food value that three-quarters of a pound was a reasonable day’s ration but hard working voyageurs were more likely to consume between one and two pounds each in a day.
Moose and elk meat was sometimes treated similarly but the results were not so satisfactory. In some regions fish pemmican was made by pounding dried fish, mixed often with sturgeon oil, but it was more
usual, as it is now among the Crees, for the pounded fish and the fish oil to be kept separately, the oil in animal bladders.
David Thompson in 1810, described pemmican in detail: “…dried provisions made of the meat and fat of the bison under the name of pemmican, a wholesome, well tasted nutritious food, upon which all
persons engaged in the fur trade mostly depend for their subsistence during the open season; it is made of the lean and fleshy parts of the bison dried, smoked and pounded fine: in this state it is called beat
meat: the fat of the bison is of two qualities, called hard and soft;…the latter…when carefully melted resembles butter in softness and sweetness. Pemmican is made up in bags of ninety pounds weight, made of the parchment hide of the bison with the hair on; the proportion of the Pemmican when best made for keeping is twenty pounds of soft and the same of hard fat, slowly melted together, and at a low
warmth poured on fifty pounds of beat meat, well mixed together, and closely packed in a bag of about thirty inches in length, by near twenty inches in breadth, and about four in thickness which makes them
flat, the best shape for stowage and carriage…I have dwelt on the above, as it (is) the staple food of all persons, and affords the most nourishment in the least space and weight, even the gluttonous French
Canadian (the voyageurs) that devours eight pounds of fresh meat every day is contented with one and a half pounds per day: it would be admirable provision for the Army and Navy.”
James Isham, writing fifty years earlier, comments on the quality of the marrow-fat, it being “…fine and as sweet as any butter or fat that is made, moose and buffalo fat they reserve after the same manner in great quantities.” He mentions that the meat, cut in slices, is dried on poles over a fire, which takes about four days, and then pounded or beaten between two stones till some of it is as small as dust. “Pemmican” he claimed, was “reckon’d by some very good food by the English as well as natives.”
There were three ways of eating pemmican. There was the soup or stew called rubbaboo in which a lump of pemmican was chopped off and put in a pot of boiling water. If it was available, flour was added and
possibly wild onions, sometimes a little sugar, occasionally a vegetable and a scrap of salt pork. Frying the pemmican in its own fat resulted in what was called rousseau (or rechaud or richot) and to it also might be added some flour or a suitable wild plant for flavour. The third method was to hack off a lump and eat it raw, a slow process, since it dried extremely hard, but a satisfying concentrated food for the travelers with no time to stop.
Though they realized its worth, not everyone enjoyed pemmican, no matter how prepared. A party from Boston traveling to the Saskatchewan to see the solar eclipse in 1860 commented that “rousseau is by comparison with the other palatable, though it is even then impossible to so disguise it as to avoid the suggestion of tallow candles; and this and the leathery, or India-rubbery, structure of the meat are its
chief disqualifications. But even rousseau may lose its charms when taken as a steady diet three times a day for weeks.”
While it is known that pemmican lasts for a long period it is doubtful if there is any lying about now. At times a strange lump of organic matter is dug up and is claimed to be “fossil pemmican.” This is a trap for the unwary for in a all likelihood this “relic” will turn out to be a fungus known as tackahoe (Polyporus tuberaster) which is found in the prairie black soils in conjunction with aspen.
The first step in making pemmican is to procure a moose, or other large animal. The raw meat is sliced, as thinly as possible, in sheets or strips. A rack is built to hang the sheets and strips of meat on and this rack is enclosed in a canvas shelter, or a lumber smokehouse is built. A slow fire of dry poplar, willow, or other hardwood is made under the meat and kept going till the meat is completely dried and smoked. This takes two or more days.
The dried meat is then partially enclosed in a moose hide or a strong canvas bag and pounded with a heavy instrument such as an axe or a wooden mallet made for the purpose till the meat is in very small pieces or, for the best pemmican, completely powdered. In these days after pounding, the meat might be put through a grinder.
The best parts of the animal fat are taken and rendered. The bones of the animal are broken up and boiled for their marrow content. The rendered fat is heated to boiling point and put in a container. Then as much of the pounded meat as can be absorbed is added to the hot fat.
This is now pemmican and it is put in animal hide bags, or, more probably today, in moulds such as small dishes to set. Such is the food on which the western travelers of former years depended. ( By Dorthea Calverley)
Venison or buffalo
Saskatoon berries or
During the summer the Indians dried Saskatoon berries as well as meat. When the chokecherries were ripe the band assembled at some convenient spot to make pemmican.
To the chant of traditional songs, the women beat strips of dry-meat (a hollow log, up-ended, and bound with a thong of rawhide to prevent splitting served as a container) with stone pounding implements until
it was almost like powder. The mass was mixed with melted fat in a bark trough, then packed very tightly into skin bags, and sewed up so that no air could enter, folding the skin over until no air remained in the bag. Saskatoons and chokecherries pounded up, pits and all added to the flavour, if not the digestibility. Some women, as in any society were very clean and careful when preparing food, and some were not. A well-known good pemmican-maker commanded a higher price as a bride.
“Sweet” pemmican was made by cracking the big animal bones and boiling them with water. The melted fat came to the top, and when congealed, was used for mixing.
Also the paunch or stomach of the animal was used as a container.
People who are horrified by this idea should remember that until a very few years ago sausage casings were made from the cleaned intestines of pigs or lambs.
If kept dry, pemmican would remain good for years. Even today, many native people embarking on long trips into remote areas make a supply, for it is one of the most concentrated foods known to man. It will
sustain life indefinitely and needs no refrigeration.
The Indians used pemmican for emergency rations due to the large amount of work involved in making it. They killed fresh meat whenever they could. The Pouce Coupe Prairie was famous for good quality
pemmican, but the whole Peace River country “exported” it for centuries before the white man arrived. It was partly to raid the country for Peace River Pemmican that the Cree made their periodic raids from the Edmonton area.
After the fur-trade began, pemmican was sought after as well as furs. The fur brigades needed great amounts to carry them on long journeys to Lake Superior, during which time the voyageurs had no time to stop and hunt. In fact it was to help the Indians to shoot more buffalo for pemmican that the white men gave them guns. With their new weapons and with the added incentive of obtaining trade goods for the product, the Indians forgot their ages-long tradition of conservation. Where they used to take no more than they needed, they now slaughtered mercilessly and wantonly. By 1830, the herds of bison no longer wintered on Pouce Coupe’s Prairie, but clung in one’s and two’s to the coulees and isolated valleys. In 1906 the last, a tame one, was shot near Fort St. John.
Archeological “digs” have not taken place in the area, except for fossils. Pioneers yet living know where “Indian Hill” is, a few miles west of Dawson Creek. Hector Tremblay Jr. in an interview here in August, 1973, remembered the great summer pemmican making gatherings there not fifty years ago. There was an Indian cemetery there too, now ploughed over.
The white pioneer women knew the preserving quality of fat. It was customary to grind up quantities of beef or moose, fry or bake it in patties, and pack it in crocks. Over it enough rendered lard was poured to cover it well. Crocks of preserved meat were lifesavers when gangs of men had to be fed at threshing, wood sawing, or “building bee” time.
Sometimes black, rounded masses are ploughed up when breaking fields. Many people believe them to be pemmican, or even “fossilized pemmican”. There is not a chance in a thousand that is anything more
than a kind of giant, underground fungus known as “tuckahoe”. Museums must have dozens turned in, for some people cannot be persuaded that they have not made a notable find. The comparatively lightweight and “mushroom” smell when they are dug up convinced the informed person at once as to their nature. They are fairly common.
Take chicken breast from frozen, and let them thaw just slightly. Then slice very thin. You can then dry it either in your oven on racks on the lowest setting with the door cracked open or use a dehydrator. Once your meat is dried out, process in a food processor to a powder. Add coconut oil, enough to moisten. You can add dried berries as well. I’ve added currants, dried blueberries, and wolfberries (different batches, not all together). Of course the berries are completely optional. Stevia doesn’ work well with this, so if you feel the need for a sweetness boost you can add a small amount of raw honey or maple syrup or whatever floats your boat. You can place the pemmican into muffin papers and refridge or freeze to get them solidified a bit. You can also spread out in a baking dish and then cut into bars once solidified.
Dry chicken in dehydrator, process in food processor; add melted coconut butter/oil and put in paper muffin cups. I freeze these so I won’t eat them all at once.
Coconut Oil Pemmican
I think I ate too much pemmican with coconut oil last night! But it tastes so good!
Yes it does. It is the most delicious dish I have ever had.
I mix in some thyme or dried lingonberries.
Meat: Beef or bison. Grass-fed only. Round is a good cut.
Prepping: Remove all visible fat. To slice, use longest knife on partially frozen meat.
Drying: Better taste if not cooked. Use low temperature, e.g. 100F, and dry for several days. Having no moisture at all is required for long storage life.
Grinding: I’ve tried these ways:
– Meat Grinder. The best.
– Blender. Good. Best to break into small pieces.
– Food processor. Poor.
Mixing: This is by weight. I use 55% meat, 45% suet. Kent Multer recommends
60% meat, 40% suet.
Put in muffin tins.
Raw red meat. Eye round roast is widely recommended.
Suet: this is a particular type of beef fat. Other types will not work correctly, so be sure you get the right stuff.
At least one reader has used other types of fat successfully, although he says the shelf life may not be as long. One person suggested that lamb fat would work, but hadn’t actually tried it.
1. Is “tallow” the same as suet, or is this a more generic term for
2. Also, what about lard? Ray’s recipe in the archive uses the words
“lard” and “tallow” as if they are equivalent; but in another message, he said that lard is pork fat and will not work correctly.
Flavorings (optional). Salt, pepper, garlic, and dried fruit or nuts are sometimes used. One person recommended sage. If using salt, go easy on it.
Traditionally the dried fruit was cranberries. But commerical ones are now high in sugar. People have recommended dried cherries.
According to the instructions that came with my dryer, you should use at least 1 tsp. of salt per pound of meat in order to prevent bacteria growth.
You will need about 60% meat, 40% suet — these measurements are by weight, after preparation. If you have extra of either, you can save it for the next batch.
Someone asked how you would save the extra. The meat, I presume, can be stored at room temp. like jerky. Is the suet equally stable?
PREPARING THE MEAT
Slice and dry as you would for jerky; it must be dry enough to break rather than bend. Break it up by hand or with a food processor. Some people like it powdered, some prefer a more granular texture. Add the spices or other flavorings, if any.
Other than with a food processor or blender, how do you grind the meat? with some kind of knife, mallet, mortar and pestle, etc.?
PREPARING THE SUET
This is the part of the process about which there is the most confusion.
Apparently the idea is to remove the skins or rinds, as well as any water.
Removing water: one person recommends actually adding some water at first, to prevent burning. During cooking, the water settles to the bottom and boils away. You can see the little blobs of water at the bottom of the pan; it’s done when they’re gone.
Cut the suet into small chunks, and heat it in a pan over LOW heat — don’t let it get hot enough to smoke, as it may give the pemmican a bad taste.
And have other unpleasant side effects such as adding impurities to the food, annoying your spouse, etc.
The best explanation I found for this process was from Bob Baldwin on Oct.
30. He wrote:
This process take a while and you will end up with melted fat and brown globs of stuff (it’s not a gross as it sounds). Pour the whole works through a sieve into another pan (I got a large sieve at Target – it doesn’t need to be giant) and discard the globs — I use a coffee can. I then pu a couple of layers of cheese cloth in the sieve and filter the fat again. Now you have the fat.
1. What about removing moisture? Does it settle to the bottom of the pan, so that it’s easy to separate? Or does it just boil or evaporate away?
2. Ray’s book says to “render” the suet twice — “render” apparently means the whole process of heat, filter, and cool. Is twice really necessary? (Bob doesn’t think so, and the recipe in the archive doesn’t call for it.)
Let the suet cool until it is cool enough to touch but still liquid. Pour it onto the meat slowly and mix it in until all the meat is “just saturated” (Ray) or “about the consistency of fudge” (Bob). Fill muffin tins with it, or roll it out into a sheet and cut into cookie-size chunks.
When cool, it should be firm, although still a bit greasy to the touch; so wrap it in foil, plastic, or something else that the fat won’t soak through. Properly made, it should keep for years at room temperature.
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2 cups buffalo jerky or beef jerky, shredded
1 cup dried chokeberries or tart red cherries, chopped
6 TBSP tallow (beef fat)
Combine all ingredients and form into 6 patties. Refrigerate until serving.
I make pemmican by grinding up several lbs of dehydrated eye of round slices with a handfull of dried cherries in a food processor or blender (or between rocks if you’re a purist). The meat should dried until
brittle to facilitate grinding and eliminate any moisture which could facilitate bacteria or mold. To this I add tallow until the dried meat is totally saturated. It’s then done. Total time (apart from
dehydrating meat) 15 minutes.
I save tallow from broiling (cheap) hamburger during the previous week. I leave the broiling pan in the oven after the burgers are done for about 10 minutes at 350 then leave it in the warm oven until I do the dishes.
I then srain out the tallow into a bowl. As it now contains no water, it dries hard and white (it can be substituded for wax in making candles).
If kept dry, pemmican will keep longer than you will live. Beware of condensation in airtight containers. I keep mine in a cassarole dish with a loose fitting glass lid on top of (not in) the refrigerator.
Saskatoon Pemmican Recipe
Jerky; beef or venison
Dried Saskatoon berries or dried blueberries
Unroasted sunflower seeds or crushed nuts of any kind
This version uses peanut butter rather than melted suet or lard as the binding agent, which is more palatable for today’s health conscious diets.
Grind [or pound -JW] the dried meat to a mealy powder. Add the dried berries and seeds or nuts. Heat the honey, peanut butter and cayenne until softened. Blend. When cooled, store in a plastic bag or sausage casing in a cool dry place. It will keep for months.
4 cups dried meat – depending on how lean it is, it can take 1 – 2 lbs. per cup. Use only deer, moose, caribou, or beef (not pork or bear). Get it as lean as possible and double ground from your butcher if you don’t have a meat grinder. Spread it out very thinly in cookie sheets and dry at 1800 overnight or until crispy and sinewy. Regrind or somehow break it into almost a powder.
3 cups dried fruit – to taste mix currents, dates, apricots, dried apples. Grind some and leave some lumpy for texture.
2 cups rendered fat – use only beef fat. Cut into chunks and heat over the stove over medium (or Tallow) heat. Tallow is the liquid and can be poured off and strained.
Unsalted nuts to taste and a shot of honey.
Combine in a bowl and hand mix. Double bag into four portions. The mixture will last for quite a while without refrigeration. I have eaten it four years old. It actually improves with age.
HINT: Vary the fat content to the temperature in which it will be consumed. Less for summer. Lots for winter. Not only is it good energy food for canoeing, but an excellent snack.
Pemmican will keep almost forever. Pure, dried protein and rendered (mostly saturated) fat are highly stable, so I wouldn’t worry about it going rancid.
I’ve got a confession: I’ve wanted to make Pemmican ever since I found the recipe for it in The Lost Ways, an awesome compilation of survival information edited and published by Claude Davis.
Other useful resources:
The Lost Ways (Learn the long forgotten secrets that helped our forefathers survive famines,wars,economic crisis and anything else life threw at them)
Survive Attack to Our Power Grid System (Weapon That Can Instantly End Modern Life in America)
Survival MD (Best Post Collapse First Aid Survival Guide Ever)
Backyard Innovator (A Self Sustaining Source Of Fresh Meat,Vegetables And Clean Drinking Water)
Blackout USA (EMP survival and preparedness)
Conquering the coming collapse (Financial advice and preparedness )
Liberty Generator (Build and make your own energy source)
Backyard Liberty (Easy and cheap DIY Aquaponic system to grow your organic and living food bank)
Bullet Proof Home (A Prepper’s Guide in Safeguarding a Home )
Family Self Defense (Best Self Defense Strategies For You And Your Family)
Survive Any Crisis (Best Items To Hoard For A Long Term Crisis)
Survive The End Days (Biggest Cover Up Of Our President)
Drought USA (Discover The Amazing Device That Turns Air Into Water)