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Pemmican: The Ultimate Survival Food
As someone who has a tendency to spend a fair amount of time away from civilization, I have learned how to sustain myself on food which does not require a fridge.
After all, it is rather awkward to install even a mini-fridge and the electrical systems required to run it on a canoe for a multiple day float trip.
One of my favorite foods for this and other purposes – well, favorite in regards to what it does for me, not necessarily for taste – is pemmican.
What is Pemmican?
Pemmican is a dried food made from animal meat, somewhat similar to jerky. However, unlike jerky, the meat has been ground into small pieces after drying, then mixed with an equal amount of fat.
That fat is a good thing, as it increases the amount of energy in the pemmican compared to an equal amount of very lean jerky.
Dried fruit is occasionally added, but historically that was for special pemmican, not the foodstuff people ate while traveling.
Our modern tastes often think that the sweetness from the fruit is a good thing, but to me pemmican without fruit tastes better.
Pemmican is still a utilitarian food, I would not serve it at a fancy dinner party unless I really disliked my guests.
Why is it Important to Preppers?
Pemmican makes a wonderful survival food in addition to its history of being used as a food for people traveling long distances.
It is easy to prepare at home, so long as you have a source of heat to dry out the meat and melt the fat. You can also make pemmican while in the woods, if you cannot get home – or no longer have a home.
It is easier and much quicker to make than cured meats, and requires less equipment than smoked meat.
Pemmican is a better source of energy than jerky. Protein by itself does not sustain one for long (look up protein poisoning), but the addition of fat provides all you need to continue moving for a fine long time.
For the amount of space it takes up, pemmican packs quite a lot of calories. Which makes it great for packing in your bug out bag.
Do note that pemmican is lacking in certain vitamins. If you can, I would recommend supplementing your diet with other foods as well.
The most important reason preppers should know how to make it, though? Pemmican lasts almost forever.
How Long Can Pemmican Last?
Pemmican shelf life can be up to ten years, without refrigeration!
You still want to keep the pemmican cool and protected from the elements. If you do add it to your bug out bag, make sure your bag is stored in a cool location.
If you freeze the pemmican, it will last, oh, up to fifty years. The basic recipe is highly stable as both protein and rendered fat resist oxidation.
That is a grand long time for food to last.
History of Pemmican
Pemmican was used by the Native Americans well before any European explorers arrived. It was more often consumed by those in the northern part of the continent, as it can be hard to live off the land where it is cold all the time.
The meat used came from large game such as bison, deer, elk, and moose. A fire or the sun was used to dry the meat before it was mixed with the fat, and they used stones to grind the dried meat.
For storage, rawhide bags were often used.
When the Europeans arrived, pemmican became the food of choice for explorers and those in the fur trade. They were too busy harvesting fur to live off the land.
Arctic explorers also found pemmican to be a great source of nutrition. The British found success in using pemmican as the protein source of their rations, even in Africa.
How to Make Pemmican
Large animal meat works best, be it venison, moose, or beef. You want the meat to be as lean as possible.
If you harvested the animal yourself, use fat from the same animal. Otherwise, get beef suet. Grass-fed beef will have healthier fat than comes from other cattle. Kidney fat was traditional, but any will do.
You CAN use plant oils, such as coconut oil, but the pemmican will not be as solid at room temperature. I would not recommend oils which are liquid at room temperature.
You do not need anything extra, but for additional nutrition or taste, it is good to experiment here. Dried fruit is traditional, but you could also add nuts, chocolate, or honey. Almond meal may be used to firm up the product.
Keep in mind sugary extras may reduce how long the pemmican will last.
Salt and pepper may help it taste better.
1. Prepare the meat
Trim off any meat. Slice it thin. Salt and pepper it if you wish. Then dry it. This can be done in the sun, over a slow fire, or in an oven set to 150 degrees. If you use the oven, open the door so moisture can escape.
This will take fifteen hours or longer.
Once the meat is completely dry, grind it. Depending on your level of technology, you can grind it between stones, use a mortar and pestle, or throw the dried meat into a food processor. You want it to be almost a powder.
If you are adding anything extra that is not a liquid, it needs to be dried and powdered as well.
2. Prepare the fat
It will need to be rendered. If you are using fat directly off an animal cook it over very low heat (avoid burning!) until it stops bubbling. Stir it through the process, then strain out the solids. You want the liquid left over.
3. Mix together
Put the powdered meat in a dish, and mix in any dry extras. The pour in any liquid, first any liquid extras then the rendered fat. If you are using just meat and fat, the ratio will be 1:1.
If you add too much liquid, adding almond meal will firm up the mixture.
4. Form the balls/patties
When the fat as cooled and the mixture is firm, you can prepare the pemmican for storage. Rolling it into balls or cutting it into squares are the two main options. This is personal preference.
Enjoy! You have a food that lasts almost forever! You can eat it as-is, crumbled into a soup, or pan fried either alone or with other ingredients.
To learn how to make Pemmican and other “lost” survival skills, check out this course.
Here are a few recipes to get you started but feel free to improvise and make your own.
- Authentic traditional pemmican
- The Game of Thrones recipe
- Bacon pemmican
- Pemmican with coconut oil
- Antarctic pemmican
- Meatless/Vegetarian pemmican
- Paleo “Cave Man Protein Bars”
Pemmican may not be the best tasting food in the world, but with an expiration date of “almost never” and being so easy to make, it is still a good food for modern day explorers and survivalists.
I do not find the taste of pemmican bad, but it is still very much a survival food. An effective one, at that.