“Bugging out” is a term that has gained popularity in recent years but it’s actually not a new concept at all. Native Americans used to change camps several times a year as they followed the animal herds and their scouts spent a lot of time on the trail.
Born from a need for a portable food that could sustain them on the trail, came this mixture of dried meat and rendered suet or tallow, and called Pimikan in the Algonquin languages. The term stemmed from the Cree root word, Pimii, which meant rendered fat.
Pemmican is made from powdered dried meat, historically moose, bison, elk and deer, combined with rendered fat. Used for generations by the natives and then adopted by fur traders in the 18th and 19th centuries, it is basically a mix of shredded or pounded meat and lard, compressed into cakes.
Known as the “ultimate survival food”, Pemmican is lightweight, easy to carry, and when prepared carefully, can be stored for an extended time without spoiling. So calorically dense that a small piece provides a full day of energy for a grown adult. It can sustain you during a bug out situation or simply save time if you can’t cook an entire meal.
Pemmican should not be consumed quickly. It’s best to chew a small bite over time, similar to gum. It is packed with energy in the form of fat which breaks down slowly. It can take a while to digest but will fill you up and give hours of consistent energy. The practice of adding dried fruit, for flavor became more common among non-natives, or those used to Euro-American sweet sausages.
Preservation of meat, whether deer, bison, or even beef is done by drying, and fat by rendering. Careful prep of meat and fat is key to preventing spoilage. This prepper food can be stored for years or even decades. For extended outdoor trips, Pemmican is packed tight in sealed containers and makes an excellent source of energy in cold weather or when hunting is poor.
The Benefits of Pemmican
Fat, the primary ingredient in Pemmican has two and a half times the energy found in grains and tubers (starch or complex carbohydrates), sugars, or meat. Without the peaks and valleys of rapid sugar breakdown, and not requiring as much water as converting excess meat for muscle replenishment, Pemmican digests slowly, and gives consistent energy over several hours.
How to Make Pemmican – A Step by Step Process
1. Prepare the meat for drying. Begin by slicing the meat as thin as possible and ensuring all fat and connective tissue is removed.
2. Dry the meat either in full sun for an entire day on a well-ventilated rack or in your oven on the lowest temperature setting. If bent it should crack, if any parts remain rubbery, it’s not done yet. The amount of salt added extends shelf life.
3. Render the fat carefully. It’s crucial to get separate all meat from the fat to prevent spoilage. Heat fat pieces on low for several hours, in a crock pot, on the stove, over a low heat fire or even in your oven. Make sure to stir several times and heat until the fat has stopped bubbling. Remove any fine bits of meat from the fat with a piece of fine screen or mesh strainer.
4. Grind the meat. Put all the dried meat pieces into your food processor or blender and grind it into a powder. In an outdoor or bug out scenario, you can mince the meat into small pieces and then crush with a stone or other tool.
5. Crush berries, other fruit or nuts into a fine powder, mix thoroughly with dried meat mixture in a bowl large enough to add the fat later. The options here are plentiful, dried fruits such as cranberries, juneberries, raisins, blueberries or dried cherries. Keep in mind that the addition of extras will reduce shelf life.
6. Add the fat. The basic formula is two parts dried meat mixture to one-part fat. While it’s still hot, pour the fat into the meat/berry mixture and stir thoroughly.
7. This is the step where you can add wet ingredients such as peanut butter, honey, butter, or syrup. Add salt for taste if you like. Keep stirring or kneading until everything is thoroughly mixed. There should not be any lumps of fat or white spots.
8. Form the pemmican. Almond meal or another thickening agent can be used to thicken the mixture to get the right consistency. Spread into a casserole dish, let harden and cut into bars or squares. Or simply roll into small balls if you prefer.
9. Pemmican storage. No refrigeration needed. Store squares or balls in zippered bags in the freezer. In a power out situation, put in airtight containers and store in a dry place, cool and dark to extend shelf life. Glass jars, plastic, or pottery containers are good. Even bark containers can be used. Pemmican has been known to last more than fifty years if done correctly.
Tips & Tricks
- Melt fat properly, use lean, organic meats when possible, and ensure meat and fruit ingredients are completely dried prior to mixing.
- Meat used should be as lean as possible. Venison thigh and shoulder is ideal.
- Your local butcher may be able to provide organic meat choices.
- Suet may be found free in certain places.
- Slicing meat across the grain will allow it to dry more quickly.
- The more humid the area, the more thinly you need to slice the meat for drying. Thicker slices, up to ¼ inch, are possible in dry climates. If conditions are not ideal, a fire can be used to help with the drying process.
- Dry meat in one day if possible to reduce chance for spoilage. If you cannot dry in one day, refrigerate indoors overnight to prevent meat from reabsorbing moisture.
- Meat should crack when bent and be brittle prior to mixing.
- Take care not to burn the fat or suet or make it smoke while rendering it.
- The amount of fat ratio for the pemmican can be less in warmer climates or summer and should be more in the winter or in cold climates.
- Recipes will taste better if you measure ingredient ratios equally by weight not volume.
- Use raw honey for recipes. It is a great survival food to have on hand and is ideal for preservation of food.
- Instead of fruit and rendered animal fat, vegans can use peanut butter. Vegetable leather can replace meat jerky.
- Dried meat, otherwise known as jerky, can be eaten and stored also. It does not contain fat and so should NOT be used as a long term survival food. Trying to survive on jerky can be fatal.
- Because of its high fat content, pemmican should be eaten sparingly. Use only when you are physically active and for short periods of time as needed. Pemmican can be unhealthy if you are normally sedentary.
- An overload of protein, from any source, can cause a build-up of uric acid and lead to gout or cause you to develop kidney stones due to too much of the mineral, calcium oxalate.
- Breath that smells like nail polish or too ripe pineapple, known as ketone breath, can be a signal of too much protein. Overconsumption of protein and subsequent ketone accumulation can lead to kidney damage.
Most pemmican recipes follow the same basic instructions for drying, rendering, mixing, and storage as above and include three main ingredients: Meat, Fat, and Extras. Start with the ones below and experiment to find the one that suits your tastes and works well for you. Mark your pemmican with ingredients and amounts used so you can modify in the future.
- 32 oz. lean meat of your choice (moose, beef, deer)
- 24 oz. dried fruit (for a fun texture, try chunkier dried fruit)
- 16 oz. fat
- Unsalted nuts
- Honey to bind
- 2 pounds’ beef, kidney, or other meat dried
- 12 ounces of your favorite dried fruit
- fat or suet (enough to hold mixture together)
- 12 to 16 ounces dried bacon
- 4 ounces melted coconut oil
- 8 ounces dried cranberries
- 16 ounces’ dates
- 24 ounces powdered tofu jerky
- 16 ounces’ raisins
- Honey as needed (use for binding, add bit by bit and mix well each time)
- 16 ounces your choice of nuts
Modern Day Pemmican
- 16 ounces Dried lean beef or venison
- 8 ounces Beef suet
- 8 ounces Seedless dried fruit (apricots, plums, grapes)
Mountain Man Survival Pemmican
- This is a basic paste of dried meat, melted beef or pork fat, mixed with dried berries or nuts.
- Dry meat until harder and more brittle than other recipes. Cut in strips 1 inch by ½ inch and as long as possible.
- Pound jerky strips into powder.
- Heat fat gradually in a large pot over the fire and let cool.
- Set aside only the hardest and purest fat, the softer fat can be utilized for soap making if desired.
- Mix powdered meat and fat in equal parts (50/50) with the powdered nuts and fruit.
- Pemmican balls can be rolled up in cheesecloth and dipped in fat, wrapped in wax paper and dipped in fat, or in classical, mountain man style, simply dip the balls uncovered into melted fat.
- Store in a cool dry place.
Long term storage capability and use of dried ingredients make Pemmican a valuable and lightweight addition to your BOB or EDC kit. It really is the ultimate survival food when made correctly and actually doesn’t taste too bad either. Made up of enough calories for a complete day’s energy, it just could be save your life.
Experiment with different meats and extras to find the perfect recipe to fit your needs and tastes. If you’ve tried pemmican, share your favorite recipe below. If you’re just learning how to make pemmican, which recipe is most appealing?