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Pemmican

Jonathan Townsend

Posted on June 01 2017

Pemmican

Pemmican is the ultimate survival food from the 18th and 19th centuries, originally made by indigenous peoples in North America. Buffalo was the obvious selection for large scale pemmican production. Many native peoples of America depended on pemmican for their survival. It kept well and it was an excellent food source, especially during hard winter months. Pemmican was also an important food source for many voyagers, frontiersmen, explorers, and fur traders. At the height of its production, from the late 18th century to the mid-19th century, the vast majority of it was made with bison, although at times deer, moose and elk were used depending upon availability.

Copy of Pemmican (Time 0_01_24;03)

The Metis were a unique group of people with their own cultural identity who originated from the descendants of French voyageurs and their Native American wives. They were responsible for most of the pemmican that was sold and traded throughout the northern regions of North America. The Metis developed an entire societal structure based upon the buffalo hunt. They conducted two hunts per year, one in the spring and one in the fall. A single Metis hunting party could have up to a thousand ox drawn carts in tow and could return from the hunt with up to a million pounds of pemmican and dried meat, and there were multiple Metis hunting parties.

Copy of Pemmican (Time 0_01_53;02)

While the men hunted buffalo, the women processed them. Period accounts say that a skilled Metis woman could dismantle up to 10 buffalo carcasses a day leaving very little behind for the wild animals to scavenge. A single bison cow, when processed properly, would produce about 250 pounds of raw meat or about 50 pounds of dried meat. This same cow would also produce about 50 pounds of rendered tallow.

Once the useable portions of the animal were harvested, they’d be processed over the next few days. The meat was cut into thin strips and laid out on wooden racks to dry near the fire and in the heat of the sun. The skins were stripped of their hair and sewn into rawhide bags that would be used to store the pemmican. Suet was melted and refined into tallow and the bones were cracked and the delicate marrow extracted. The dried meat was then pulverized and placed into rawhide bags. Sometimes dried berries were mixed in. Then the liquid suet was poured in over the top and mixed in well and the bag was sewn shut.

Pemmican, produced and stored in this fashion, would last a long time. Some reports suggest 10, 20, even 30 years. About half of the pemmican produced by the Metis was kept and used by them to get them through the hard winter. The remaining pemmican was sold to the Hudson Bay Company or its competitor The North-West Company. The pemmican sold to these companies would provision vast crews of voyageurs that used to transport their goods. It was also sold to other backwoodsmen and to outlying military posts. Competition between these two companies was so fierce that battles broke out between the employees of these companies and became known as the pemmican war. The British government eventually had to step in and settle the matter by forcing a merger between the two companies.

Copy of Pemmican (Time 0_01_48;08)

During the late 1700’s, great buffalo herds extended from just west of the Appalachian Mountains all the way to the Rockies, as far south as what is now Mexico to arctic Canada, but the demand for pemmican put a tremendous strain on the buffalo herd. Today, only about 500,000 bison still live in the wild across North America.

Pemmican can be easily made in a modern kitchen so you can use it at your next historical reenactment, survival outing, or even camping trip. It can also be stored long term for times of shortage.

  • Beef (or other meat)
  • Suet
  • Dried berries (optional)

Slice your meat very thin and against the grain. Place in your oven preheated to the lowest possible temperature. If you wish to use a dehydrator, I recommend baking your meat strips in your oven at 200 degrees for about a half hour first. Your meat should be completely dry and brittle in about 10-12 hours. For every pound of raw beef, you should end up with about a quarter pound of dried beef. It is best not to use beef jerky for this process, because it is typically very highly salted, highly spiced and also contains nitrates. These all add up to a very concentrated flavor which isn’t good in pemmican. The other problem is that jerky is cut with the grain instead of against the grain, so it’s very difficult to break up into powder.

Copy of Pemmican (Time 0_01_02;23)

Once the meat is dry and brittle, melt an equal amount by weight of suet in a saucepan. While your suet is melting, grind your meat into a coarse powder using a mortar and pestle or your food processor. Mix together your meat powder and melted suet. If you are using dried berries, now would be the time to add them, though it will cause your pemmican to not keep as well. A common version in the time period called seed pemmican had ground up choke berries.

You can eat your pemmican raw or you can use it to make other delicious dishes.

Transcription of Videos:

Pemmican – The Ultimate Survival Food – Episode 1

This is pemmican. It’s food from the 18th and 19th centuries, originally made by indigenous peoples in North America and then used by voyagers, frontiersmen, and explorers alike. It is a highly condensed nutritious form of food. It’s in fact, the ultimate survival food. Over the next few episodes, we’re going to talk about exactly what pemmican is, how it was made historically, how you can make it in your modern kitchen and also how we can cook with it, whether it’s at home, at an historical event or in your next survival outing. I want to thank you for joining us today on 18th Century Cooking with Jas Townsend and Son.

Pemmican was traditionally made of just two or three ingredients; dried meat, animal fats, and dried berries. At the height of it’s production, from the late 18th century to the mid 19th century, the vast majority of it was made with bison, although at times deer, moose and elk were used depending upon availability.

A group of people called the Metis were most famous for their pemmican. The Metis were a unique people group with their own cultural identity. They originated from the descendants of French voyageurs and their Native American wives. They were responsible for most of the pemmican that was sold and traded throughout the northern regions of North America.

The Metis people developed an entire societal structure based upon the buffalo hunt. While the men hunted buffalo, the women processed them. Period accounts say that a skilled Metis woman could dismantle up to 10 buffalo carcasses a day leaving very little behind for the wild animals to scavenge.

Once the useable portions of the animal were harvested, they’d be processed over the next few days. The meat was cut into thin strips and laid out on wooden racks to dry near the fire and in the heat of the sun. The skins were stripped of their hair and sewn into rawhide bags that would be used to store the pemmican. Suet was melted and refined into tallow and the bones were cracked and the delicate marrow extracted.

A single bison cow when processed properly, would produce about 250 pounds of raw meat or about 50 pounds of dried meat. This same cow would produce, also, about 50 pounds of rendered tallow. The dried meat was pulverized and placed into rawhide bags. Sometimes dried berries were mixed in. Then the liquid suet was poured in over the top and mixed in well. Then the bag was sewn shut.

Pemmican produced and stored in this fashion would last a long time. Some reports suggest 10, 20, even 30 years. It was the ultimate survival food. In our next episode, we’ll show you how you can make this authentic pemmican at home.

If you haven’t already, please subscribe to our YouTube channel. You can also visit our website and you can request a print catalog. I want to thank you for joining us today as we savor the flavors and the aromas of the 18th century.

 

Pemmican – The Ultimate Survival Food – Episode 2

In our last episode, I showed you how pemmican, the ultimate survival food, was made in the 18th and 19th centuries. Today, I’m going to show you how you can easily make it in a modern kitchen so that you can use it at your next historical reenactment, your survival outing or even your next camping trip. Thanks for joining us today on 18th Century Cooking with Jas Townsend and Son.

 

Large quantities of pemmican was made with bison. Today we’re using beef. If you have access to bison, or perhaps a venison, you may use that instead.

Bison was the obvious selection for large scale pemmican production. Now, today the wild bison herd is very small, but during the late 1700’s, great buffalo herds extended from just west of the Appalachian mountains all the way to the Rockies, and as far south as what is now Mexico, all the way north to arctic Canada.

Many native peoples of America depended on pemmican for their survival. It kept well and it was an excellent food source, especially during hard winter months. Pemmican was also an important food source for many voyagers and fur traders.

The demand for pemmican put a tremendous strain on the buffalo herd. There is one particular group of people call the Metis. They were descendants of early voyageurs and their Native wives. The Metis produced and supplied most of the pemmican. They conducted two hunts per year, one in the spring and one in the fall. A single Metis hunting party could have up to a thousand ox drawn carts in tow and could return from the hunt with up to a million pounds of pemmican and dried meat, and there were multiple Metis hunting parties. About half of the pemmican produced by the Metis was kept and used by them to get them through the hard winter. The remaining pemmican was sold to the Hudson Bay Company or it’s competitor The North-West Company.

The pemmican sold to these companies would provision vast crews of voyageurs that used to transport their goods. It was also sold to other backwoodsmen and to outlying military posts. Competition between these two companies was fierce. So fierce that battles broke out between the employees of these companies. These battles became known as the pemmican war. The British government eventually had to step in and settle the matter by forcing a merger between the two companies.

 

Now back to our meat. I’m slicing this meat very thinly.

I’m going to put this in my modern oven, preheated to the lowest temperature possible. You can use a dehydrator too if you wish. If you do, you ought to bake your meat strips first in your oven at 200 degrees for about a half an hour and then you can place them into the dehydrator to dry up.

The process will take between 10 and 12 hours. Your meat should be completely dry and brittle when it’s done. For every pound of raw beef, you should end up with about a quarter pound of dried meat.

 

Now some of you are probably thinking, Jon why don’t you just use beef jerky instead of dried beef in this recipe? Well, typically is very highly salted, it’s highly spiced and it also contains nitrates. These all add up to a very concentrated flavor which isn’t good in pemmican. The other problem is, it’s cut with the grain instead of against the grain, so it’s very difficult to break up into our powder.

Once our meat is dry and brittle, I’m going to melt in a saucepan an equal amount by weight of suet. Today, I’m using Atora’s suet in this recipe, which is available online on our website. Now you can render your own tallow from raw suet, but make sure to watch our previous episode on suet that’ll give you instructions on how to do that.

Now I’m going to take my dried meat and I could use a mortar and pestle, or even easier, I could use my food processor at home. Reguardless, I want to end up with a coarse powder. I’ve got about 8 ounces of dried beef here. I’m going to mix in about an ounce of dried berries, those are optional, along with 8 ounces of melted suet.

A common version in the time period had ground up choke berries. These you can find online. If you add dried berries to your pemmican, it will not keep as well. This version is called seed pemmican. Let’s see what this pemmican tastes like raw.

You know, there’s not a lot of flavor right up front. After you chew it for a while, you get a nice little beefy flavor. The texture might turn off some, but hey, if you’re tired and you’re hungry, this will keep you going.

And here it is, authentic pemmican. In our next episode, I’ll show you how to prepare easy, delicious dishes with this wonderful mixture.

If you haven’t already, please subscribe to our YouTube channel. You can also visit our website and you can request a print catalog. I want to thank you for joining us today as we savor the flavors and the aromas of the 18th century.

Copy of Pemmican (Time 0_00_03;06)

Pemmican is the ultimate survival food from the 18th and 19th centuries, originally made by indigenous peoples in North America. Buffalo was the obvious selection for large scale pemmican production. Many native peoples of America depended on pemmican for their survival. It kept well and it was an excellent food source, especially during hard winter months. Pemmican was also an important food source for many voyagers, frontiersmen, explorers, and fur traders. At the height of its production, from the late 18th century to the mid-19th century, the vast majority of it was made with bison, although at times deer, moose and elk were used depending upon availability.

Copy of Pemmican (Time 0_01_24;03)

The Metis were a unique group of people with their own cultural identity who originated from the descendants of French voyageurs and their Native American wives. They were responsible for most of the pemmican that was sold and traded throughout the northern regions of North America. The Metis developed an entire societal structure based upon the buffalo hunt. They conducted two hunts per year, one in the spring and one in the fall. A single Metis hunting party could have up to a thousand ox drawn carts in tow and could return from the hunt with up to a million pounds of pemmican and dried meat, and there were multiple Metis hunting parties.

Copy of Pemmican (Time 0_01_53;02)

While the men hunted buffalo, the women processed them. Period accounts say that a skilled Metis woman could dismantle up to 10 buffalo carcasses a day leaving very little behind for the wild animals to scavenge. A single bison cow, when processed properly, would produce about 250 pounds of raw meat or about 50 pounds of dried meat. This same cow would also produce about 50 pounds of rendered tallow.

Once the useable portions of the animal were harvested, they’d be processed over the next few days. The meat was cut into thin strips and laid out on wooden racks to dry near the fire and in the heat of the sun. The skins were stripped of their hair and sewn into rawhide bags that would be used to store the pemmican. Suet was melted and refined into tallow and the bones were cracked and the delicate marrow extracted. The dried meat was then pulverized and placed into rawhide bags. Sometimes dried berries were mixed in. Then the liquid suet was poured in over the top and mixed in well and the bag was sewn shut.

Pemmican, produced and stored in this fashion, would last a long time. Some reports suggest 10, 20, even 30 years. About half of the pemmican produced by the Metis was kept and used by them to get them through the hard winter. The remaining pemmican was sold to the Hudson Bay Company or its competitor The North-West Company. The pemmican sold to these companies would provision vast crews of voyageurs that used to transport their goods. It was also sold to other backwoodsmen and to outlying military posts. Competition between these two companies was so fierce that battles broke out between the employees of these companies and became known as the pemmican war. The British government eventually had to step in and settle the matter by forcing a merger between the two companies.

Copy of Pemmican (Time 0_01_48;08)

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