What is Pemmican?
Pemmican is probably the only “survival food” that doubles as a superfood. Pemmican is an ancient survival food that is easy to make at home and stores for an incredibly long time period of time. It’s also incredibly nutritious, containing pretty much all of the nutrients you need to survive long term (which is why it’s a “superfood”). Most folks who consider themselves old school survivalists will have heard of pemmican (learn what survivalism is here), and the real experts know the recipe for this ancient super food as well. Whatever your prepping or survival goals are, you need a batch of pemmican in their bug-out bag, survival shelter, or survival outpost.
Pemmican can last for years without spoiling, it’s made with simple ingredients, and it’s jammed full of useful proteins and healthy fats that keep you alive and give you the much-needed energy for survival. Pemmican is extremely easy to cook, it tastes decent, and its nutritious – which means that it’s probably one of the best options for homemade survival food out there. If your survival pantry is filled with nothing but loads of pemmican and hardtack, you’ll be good to go for years from a nutritional standpoint – pemmican for the nutrition, and hardtack for the calories.
Pemmican is not a new survival food. The word itself gets its origin from the Cree word for “fat” or “grease.” Native Americans were using this kind of food long before European settlers ever stumbled upon The North American continent. Like a lot of aspects of Native American culture, pemmican was rooted in “living off the land” and survival. As it turns out, pemmican is so useful that it still stands out today as an excellent choice for anybody trying to make their own survival food.
The exact formula of pemmican can be altered, and through the years there have been many variations made to its original recipe. That said, the essence of traditional pemmican is always the same. It is a meaty paste made of dried and pounded meat combined with rendered fat and berries, often cranberries, chokeberries, blueberries, or even cherries.
Why Do I Need Pemmican?
Anybody who’s interested in survival and prepping should know how to make homemade pemmican – and should have a reserve of pemmican on hand in all of their survival shelters and preps. A good ration of pemmican can keep you alive and full of energy for weeks and months at a time. Because pemmican does not spoil for decades, anyone who wants to set up a shelter or pack a INCH Bag or Bug Out Bag should have a healthy stock of pemmican.
One of the biggest reasons people prefer pemmican over mass amounts of dry meat like jerky or canned foods is its longevity and nutritional value. Besides that, homemade pemmican is super easy to make. You don’t need to purchase a whole lot of ingredients and you don’t need to purchase any expensive survival meals to keep your basement stocked.
Any survivalist on a budget with access to a kitchen can make a large batch of pemmican. Because of its many variations, pemmican is also ideal even for those who are pickier eaters. You can make pemmican with the ingredients that you enjoy.
What is the History of Pemmican?
Interestingly enough, the history of pemmican starts in North America. More specifically, it starts in Canada. While there were plenty of aboriginal tribes in the U.S.A. hundreds of years ago, there were equally as many, if not more indigenous tribes in the wilds of Canada. By the time the Europeans came along, these Native American people had already perfected pemmican. It was the best possible food for nomadic peoples who moved constantly and needed to bring their food stores with them.
Original pemmican was traditionally made from the dried meat of bison, moose, or caribou. Native Americans would pound the dry meat into a coarse powder and then mix it with rendered fat. For a bit of flavor, the Native Americans would add fruit as well – Saskatoon berries, cranberries, and sometimes cherries if it was a special occasion. Nowadays it makes more sense to use dried fruit.
The pemmican was transported by the Native Americans in bison-hide bags. A single bag would contain about 41 kilograms of high-protein pemmican. As you can imagine, when the voyagers from Europe came along and the fur trade started in the northern regions, especially in the prairie regions of Canada, the devastating winters called for a new survival food, and the explorers looked to the Native Americans for help.
A man named Peter Pond holds the historical record for introducing Native American pemmican to the fur trade in 1779. This eventually caused posts to be constructed along rivers that were entirely devoted to acquiring this food from the natives. In response, Native Americans began killing bison in record numbers to feed the new arrivals. There was even a war that almost broke out in 1814 because of the pemmican trade.
Pemmican was so popular that it was used as a standard provision during many Arctic Expeditions and by the English Royal Navy.
How Effective is Pemmican?
Pemmican is super effective. If you are a survivalist, you are undoubtedly familiar with hardtack. And while hardtack can indeed keep you alive, it can’t do it forever. Pemmican can. Pemmican is not just an emergency survival food to keep you from dying. You can actually live on nothing but pemmican for years at a time thanks to the combination of nutrients that it contains.
Pemmican is more effective the more you add to it. Because a full batch of pemmican includes ground meat and dried fruit, you know there is protein and nutrients that you cannot get from something like a dried cracker. By adding your own spin on the ingredients, you can make extremely healthy pemmican. Keep in mind though – obviously changing the ingredients could lead to pemmican that doesn’t have the same longevity, so you’ll want to think carefully about what changes you make to the base recipe.
What is the Nutritional Value of Pemmican?
Pemmican is incredibly rich in nutrition. In fact, you could eat pemmican every day of your life and nothing else, and probably be fine. This is incredibly nutritious food. You get everything: great protein from meat, carbohydrates to burn as fuel, and a whole heap of additional nutrients and vitamins from the berries. Each bite of pemmican also contains healthy fats.
That’s right, there are vitamins in pemmican. As I said before, it does depend on you and how you make it. The berries are ultimately optional, but they’re a part of the traditional recipe for a reason. But if you do add a serving of blueberries into your pemmican, you can expect an additional boost to your daily potassium and vitamin C intake.
Unlike other survival foods, pemmican has the nutritional power to help your body, especially now in the modern world. A small serving of blueberries every day – whether mixed with meat or not – has anti-inflammatory properties and can help lower the risk of heart problems.
A single 100-gram serving of pemmican can contain 575 calories, 26 grams of protein, 52 grams of fat, and around 1 gram of carbs. In addition, making pemmican with healthy beef will result in a healthy serving of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B and E, magnesium, iron, potassium, phosphorus, zinc, and even selenium.
How Long Does Pemmican Last?
Oddly enough, there is a bit of discrepancy over how long pemmican lasts. Most people claim it stores for between one and five years while remaining perfectly edible. However, others argue that you can keep pemmican edible for up to 50 years if it is stored in the ideal conditions. There are even accounts, many claim, from the early 19th century of people eating pemmican that had been stored for a full 50 years.
Let me just say that if you were in a survival situation and you had some pemmican lying around that had been in storage for 15 years and didn’t look moldy, you would probably be OK to eat it. I certainly would. Essentially, pemmican is one of those foods where as long as it looks good (no mold) and smells OK, then it’s very likely safe to eat. If your batch of pemmican really has been sitting for a few years and it’s something you’re not sure about, you could always try a little bit, wait 24 hours, and then proceed to eat more if you didn’t get sick.
If you are storing pemmican for a survival situation and you want to be prepared for any moment, I suggest cycling your pemmican supply every few years, just to be sure. This may sound like a pain, but it really isn’t that much trouble – it’s literally one day of work every 5 years or so.
For example, make a large batch of pemmican, turn it into “pemmican bars”, and store it for five years, then eat it. You can treat these “pemmican bars” almost like protein or energy bars. It is still a delicious food that you can eat. Just make a new batch and then replenish your stores. This may not be ideal, but it definitely ensures you have a fresh supply of pemmican always there in case of… something.
How Do I Store Pemmican?
Once you make a large batch of pemmican and are ready to store it in your shelter or in your survival bag, you must do so properly. If not stored correctly, your pemmican could go bad way before its expiration date. In fact, incorrectly stored pemmican can cause food poisoning. You can get very sick from eating improperly stored meat. You’re potentially eating spoiled meat after all. This could ruin your survival situation pretty quick.
The main thing to remember with pemmican, and indeed with any food you’re storing, is that air kills. Everything you store needs to be in an airtight container. And not just a plastic zip-lock bag. If you are going to store pemmican bars or strips inside of a bag, they should be vacuum sealed.
Vacuum sealing your pemmican ensures not a single oxygen molecule is going to reach your meat. This will ensure it never spoils before you get a chance to eat it. If nothing else is available, Tupperware and zip-lock bags can work. But these should be emergency measures at most. Glass jars are another option, but definitely vacuum seal if possible.
As for location, I always recommend storing your pemmican in in a dark and cool place that is temperature controlled. You want to keep the light and heat away from your pemmican. If storing inside of an underground shelter, you should have nothing to worry about. So long as no oxygen gets to your meat, you won’t have mold.
You will sure be sore if you go to open your jar of pemmican and find your survival rations crawling with mold. For this reason, make sure you keep it off the ground, preferably up high on a shelf, as this will keep it away from moisture and annoying bugs.
How Do I Make Pemmican? A Pemmican Recipe:
Making pemmican involves just a handful of ingredients, a little bit of time, and some dedication. This pemmican recipe will not take you more than a day of cooking to prepare. And when you are finished, you will be left with a stockpile of the best survival food known to man.
If you have never made pemmican before, I suggest starting with a smaller batch for practice, that way you don’t ruin all of your ingredients. Generally, I recommend people to try a couple 100-gram recipes first, then step it up to something larger. This recipe for pemmican will yield roughly 300 grams of beef pemmican – although you can definitely use buffalo, caribou, elk, or deer.
Before you start, I recommend you have at least 12 hours to dry the meat properly. This is an entire day of cooking, although only about two hours will be in the kitchen. Also, I recommend using fresh beef and unprocessed salt for health reasons.
Another note is that this recipe calls for rendered fat from a beef, otherwise known as beef tallow. If you are starting with unrendered beef fat, or suet, then you will first need to render the suet into tallow. To render fat, cook on extremely low heat – this draws out the liquid fat (which we call tallow when it’s beef fat). Pour the liquid fat into a container – it will turn back into a solid at room temperature.
- 300 Grams Lean Beef
- 150 Grams Tallow
- 1 Teaspoon Salt
- Optional: Dried Fruit (One common addition is dried berries)
- Oven, Smoker, or Dehydrator
- Blender or Mortar w/ Pestle
Step 1: Cut all the fat off your meat. Pemmican requires lean meat. Any remaining fat on your meat is not rendered fat, and un-rendered fat goes rancid. This is super important.
Step 2: Slice the meat into super thin strips.
Step 3: Slather your meat thoroughly with salt.
Step 4: Put your meat either into your smoker, dehydrator, or oven trays. If using the oven, you want to use the lowest possible temperature setting. I recommend putting a layer of foil on the bottom of your oven to keep the elements clean. If you’re using fresh berries, you need to dry your fruit at this stage also using the same process.
Step 5: You need to wait anywhere from 10 to 12 hours for your meat (and any fruit) to dry properly. Your meat should be dry enough that you can snap it like a cracker. Once your meat is dry, let it cool at room temperature and then weigh all of it. You will need to roughly match the weight of your (dried) meat with tallow.
Step 6: Heat your tallow on low or medium heat, the same amount in weight as your meat to turn it into liquid.
Step 7: Now you can powder your meat with a blender. You want to grind your meat until it is like a fine dust. You can also use the mortar and pestle if you want to be a little more old fashion. If you’re using dried fruit, powder that too. Don’t worry about them mixing together, the end goal is for the fruit and meat to be mixed together anyways.
Step 8: Strain your tallow and pour extremely slowly over your powdered meat (and dried fruit if you’re using it). The meat should be packed down gently before you start. You can also place a layer of powdered meat on a baking dish, drench it with tallow, put another layer of meat, and then pour more tallow. Everything should be at a ratio of 1:1.
Step 9: Once the tallow (which should be smoking hot when you pour it over the meat) is beginning to cool, turn your pemmican into strips and store it in containers. You can add berries while forming the strips if you desire.
Step 10: Save your pemmican for a survival situation!
Important Note: There are tons of different recipes for making pemmican. This is just a generic recipe for meat and fat. If you want to get crazy and make some really interesting recipes, there are a lot of resources online where you can find different variations.
What are Variations of Pemmican?
Here is a little more history for you. Going back to the Native Americans and their use of pemmican, there were different variations prepared and eaten depending on what region they lived in, what season it was, and if there was a special event.
There was summer pemmican, which was made with meat dried in the sun or smoked over a fire. They also had winter pemmican, which was frost dried. Then there was fine pemmican, which was made with shredded buffalo meat, buffalo marrow, fat, and had zero bone fragments. This was something of a treat.
For you seafood lovers out there, the natives even made fish pemmican. The makeup was obviously different, as fish fat is actually oil, and so the pemmican was much more of a paste. But they still made it!
And finally, whenever there was a marriage or other important ceremony, the pemmican was often loaded with dried fruit (particularly) berries and additional sweet ingredients to signify the importance of the occasion.
As you can see, pemmican can be made in dozens and dozens of different ways. There have been more recipes for how to make pemmican than almost anything else in the world. The only dish I can think of that has as many or more variations is probably ramen. And that’s saying something!
How to Make Pemmican: Final Thoughts
Pemmican is awesome. If you have a survival shelter or bunker of any kind, or you’ve prepped a get home bag or INCH bag and want a full supply of food to get you through a surprise situation, pemmican is an excellent choice. Pemmican is also a great survival food option even if you just want to stick some stuff in the basement of garage as a precaution against emergencies. Pemmican goes great with hardtack. Hardtack can be the main source of your calories while pemmican will give you the nutrients you need to survive. By combining these two lightweight foods, you can have a massive stockpile that will keep you alive and healthy for years.
Try a few different ingredients, eat the pemmican you make, and when you have perfected your own recipe, it is time to start putting away vacuum-sealed rations of pemmican. If it worked for indigenous people across North America for hundreds of years, I guarantee it is going to see you through the worst possible situations.
Pemmican is cheap, it takes one day to make using only a few ingredients, and it will last a minimum of five years sitting in a jar in your basement. I highly recommend learning how to make this awesome survival food.
(Featured image credit: Jen Arrr / CC BY)
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