Pemmican is a traditional Native American food that served as a high-energy, nutrient-dense, and protein-rich source of sustenance, particularly during times when fresh food was scarce. Learn how to make pemmican for yourself and your family.
It is a type of dried meat, typically beef or bison, and in times past, elk, deer, moose, and other wild animals were used, combined with tallow, aka rendered fat, and sometimes berries.
Pemmican has a long shelf life and was historically used by indigenous peoples, fur traders, and explorers as a portable and long-lasting food source. It is also suitable for preppers or those simply putting together a food pantry storage as our ancestors did.
How to Make Pemmican
Lean Meat Today, bison or beef is used. You can use big game if you desire. Choose a lean cut and remove as much fat as possible.
Rendered Fat Animal fat, such as beef tallow or rendered suet, is melted, and used to bind the meat together.
Berries (Optional) Dried berries, such as cranberries or blueberries, can be added for sweetness and flavor.
- Prepare the Meat
- Select a lean cut of meat and remove any visible fat.
- Cut the meat into thin strips or small pieces.
- Dry the Meat
- Dry the meat thoroughly by placing it in the sun, using a food dehydrator, or drying it in an oven at a low temperature. This should be dried to crispy, more than for jerky.
- Grind the Meat
- Grind the dried meat into a powder using a mortar and pestle or a food processor.
- Render the Fat
- Melt the rendered fat in a pan over low heat. Strain out any impurities.
- Mix Meat and Fat
- Mix the ground meat with the melted fat. The ratio is typically about 4 parts meat to 1 part fat, but this can vary based on preference.
- Add Berries (Optional)
- If using berries, add them to the mixture. The sweetness contrasts with the savory meat.
- Form into Cakes
- Shape the mixture into small cakes or bars. This can be done by pressing the mixture into molds or forming it by hand.
- Cool and Store
- Allow the pemmican to cool and harden. Once solid, store it in a cool, dark place.
Tips and Considerations
- Lean Meat: The key to making pemmican is using lean meat. Fat in the meat can go rancid over time, affecting the quality and taste of the pemmican.
- Variations: Pemmican recipes can vary, and different indigenous groups had their own variations. Some added nuts, dried fruits, or even powdered herbs for additional flavor.
- Storage: Pemmican has an incredibly long shelf life and remains edible for months or even years if stored properly. Keep it away from heat and moisture.
- Energy-Dense: Pemmican is energy-dense and rich in protein and healthy fats, making it a sustaining food source.
- Modern Use: While pemmican has historical significance, it’s not as commonly consumed today. However, some outdoor enthusiasts and survivalists still make and use pemmican for its long shelf life and nutritional benefits.
Making pemmican can be a fun and educational experience, offering insights into traditional food preservation methods and the resourcefulness of indigenous cultures. If you decide to make pemmican, ensure you follow food safety guidelines and store it appropriately to maintain its longevity.
For long-term preservation, vacuum seal it in mason jars or mylar bags. Keep it in a cool, dark place. For short-term storage, like a camping or hiking trip, zip-lock bags are acceptable. Some people wrap it in foil or waxed paper. It will last for several weeks like this.
If you really want to be a traditionalist, you can store it in a leather pouch.
Pemmican can also be used in recipes. You can make a stew or soup by adding potatoes and vegetables, or anything you have on hand.
Whatever recipe you decide to make, enjoy. And be sure to check out the other pages on this website about pemmican, including recipes and uses for pemmican in other foods.
Check Out These Other Pages
Pemmican Recipes – How to make pemmican with other ingredients…
Beef vs. Poultry – You may be surprised by what exciting facts you discover here…