As a matter of practice, I make it a point to learn from those who came before me. How did they store meat for long periods of time without refrigeration? How did they make the foods they ate?
The art of making pemmican, a Native American survival food, is the perfect answer to questions like these.
We’re going to explore its history, learn to make it with lean meats and fruits, and understand how to store it for long-term use.
Whether you’re a prepper, an adventurer, or just curious, join me in uncovering the fading knowledge of how to make this nutritious, long-lasting food.
Knowing how to make traditional pemmican will ensure you’re always prepared with a reliable food supply, regardless of the situation.
What Is Pemmican?
So, what exactly is pemmican?
It’s a traditional Native American food made with very few ingredients. This nutrient-dense food is rich in protein and fat.
It was traditionally made with bison meat as a survival food for scarce winter months. However, with modern conveniences like refrigeration, the practice of making pemmican has become less common.
Native American Historical Origins
Pemmican has rich historical roots in Native American culture where it served as a vital survival food. The name is a derivative of the Cree Tribe’s word “pimikan” which means “manufactured grease”. The Lakota tribe made the same food and used the word “wasna”.
Later, it became a staple food source supporting the fur trade throughout North America.
Pemmican is a blend of ground dried meat, rendered fat, and sometimes berries. It provided a highly nutritious, long-lasting survival food for many tribes during harsh winters or long hunting expeditions.
This survival food impresses me with the resilient spirit of Native American tribes and is a practical solution for long-term food storage.
Pemmican Ingredients and Tools
What ingredients and tools do you need to make pemmican?
To make your own homemade pemmican you’ll need a few modern appliances: a food processor, a dehydrator, a crock pot, and inch-deep cookie sheets.
Modern appliances do make the process easier, but traditionally, pemmican was made without the conveniences of today’s kitchen. Understanding the original methods and materials helped us appreciate modern conveniences in making this long-lasting survival food. I would suggest that you learn to make it both ways because in an SHTF situation, you may not have the use of some modern conveniences.
Making Pemmican Without Modern Kitchen Tools
Making pemmican without the luxury of modern kitchen gadgets isn’t a daunting task, it just requires some traditional tools and a bit of patience for the long prep time.
Start by thinly slicing lean meat (bison or buffalo meat) and drying it until it’s cracker dry. This can be done in the sun or over a fire. If you’re drying the meat in the sun you’ll need a few items: a corrugated metal panel to use as a reflector, bricks to surround it, and some garden netting to keep pests away.
Spread the thin strips of meat out on the cooling racks and then set the cooling racks on the corrugated metal. This will allow the air to circulate while the meat dries. Protect the meat from birds and pests with the garden netting. Depending on the weather I’ve had this process take two full days so be prepared to bring the meat in overnight.
Once fully dried you’ll grind the dried meat into a powder with a mortar and pestle. To me, this is a sentence of hard labor. An idea I’ve wanted to try is pounding the meat into small pieces with a tenderizing hammer and then further grinding it with a table-mounted hand-crank grain mill. This might be an easier approach…
Next, you’ll slowly add in rendered beef tallow. Tallow is the hard white fat that stays solid at room temperature. Avoid fats that spoil quickly, like lard. You want to render it to remove impurities.
Basic Pemmican Recipe
Let’s get into the basics of how to make pemmican.
We’ll start with preparing the meat. Then, we’ll move on to rendering the fat. After that, we’ll discuss mixing the pemmican ingredients.
Preparing the Meat
In preparing the meat for my basic pemmican recipe, I start by choosing a lean cut from my local butcher. I thoroughly clean the meat and remove all the fat.
Then I slice it as thinly as possible which is ideal for the drying process. Once sliced, I run the meat through my food dehydrator until it’s as dry as a cracker. If you don’t have a dehydrator you’ve got a few other options: the makeshift kiln I described above, an oven set to the lowest temperature will work, or even over the embers of a fire (this gives it a nice flavor).
I strongly suggest that you try the makeshift kiln and the fire embers methods. Each has its own challenges and I made some mistakes when I tried each the first time. Better to practice before you really need to know…
Once dried, I use a meat grinder to create ground meat powder. This dried beef is then ready to be mixed with fat and any additional ingredients.
Again, I strongly suggest learning non-powered methods to make pemmican. Dried meat can also be ground into powder using a stone mortar and pestle. This is labor intensive…
Beef Tallow vs. Beef Suet
Both Beef Tallow and Beef Suet can be used to make pemmican. They are both animal fat, they just come from different parts of the animal.
Suet should be kept refrigerated and tallow is considered shelf-stable. Beef tallow is the fat that you find on steaks, ribs, or a rump roast. Beef Suet is the fat from around the kidneys and heart.
In my opinion, tallow is easier to work with than suet for two reasons: first, because the higher melting point of tallow makes it easier to shape, and second because its shelf-life contributes to the viability of the final product.
If you find yourself needing extra tallow or wanting to store some, start by aksing your local specialty butcher for some.
After preparing the meat, it’s time to tackle the fat-rendering process. I definitely prefer to use beef tallow.
To render fat, chop it into small pieces and heat it slowly until it melts. Be careful not to let it burn. The goal is to have pure, liquid fat with the impurities cooked off.
Once the fat is liquified, scoop the solids with a strainer then strain the liquified tallow through cheesecloth to remove any remaining solids. Allow the rendered fat to cool, then transfer it into an airtight container for storage.
Mixing Pemmican Ingredients
Now that I’ve got my rendered fat ready, it’s time to mix all the pemmican ingredients together for our basic recipe.
In a large mixing bowl, combine equal parts of meat powder and dried berries. The berries add some fiber and sweetness to the finished product, but they do shorten the shelf-life.
Next, slowly pour in the rendered fat while stirring the mixture. You want enough fat to bind the ingredients, but not so much that it becomes runny. I had to experiment with this, but you’re basically looking for a consistency that matches firm mashed potatoes or play-doh.
Once you’ve got a nice, thick consistency, your pemmican mixture is ready to spread in the cookie sheet.
Shaping and Drying Pemmican
Once my pemmican mixture is ready, I mold it into small cakes for drying. I prefer to shape them into pemmican bars as they’re more compact and easier to pack. To prevent sticking, I use parchment paper.
To dry the pemmican, I use a food dehydrator set on low heat. It’s important to dehydrate it slowly to allow all the moisture to be removed. This can take up to 12 hours depending on the size of your pemmican bars.
Once the pemmican is dry, I allow it to cool completely before storing it. If you have the necessary appliances, I suggest vacuum sealing. This process ensures your pemmican is safe to eat and prolongs its shelf life in your prepper pantry.
Proper Storage of Pemmican
Let’s talk about how to properly store pemmican to ensure its longevity and preserve its nutritional benefits.
A ton of effort goes into homemade pemmican so proper storage is crucial.
Firstly, make sure the pemmican is completely cool before storage. Once cooled, it should be packed into airtight containers, like zip-lock bags or vacuum-sealed bags. This is a key step for maintaining the long shelf life of pemmican.
Let’s talk preservation methods… You can store pemmican at room temperature for a few months, but for more extended storage, it’s best to place it in the refrigerator or freezer. In the fridge, it can last for a couple of years, while in the freezer, it can extend to several years. As with everything else in your prepper pantry, keep it cool, dry, and away from sunlight.
Using Pemmican in a Prepper Pantry
Having a stockpile of pemmican in my pantry gives me peace of mind, knowing I have a reliable source of nutrition that can last for years. It’s a high-energy food, rich in protein and fat. It’s ideal for survival situations.
Pemmican is incredibly practical for long periods without access to fresh food. It’s lightweight and compact, making it easy to store and carry. Pemmican doesn’t rely on refrigeration or canning, and its impressive shelf life surpasses most store-bought goods.
To maximize the shelf life, I recommend storing pemmican in a cool, dark place, like a pantry or basement. Airtight containers work best for long-term storage, preventing exposure to air and moisture, which can degrade the pemmican over time.
I can prepare simple, nutritious meals by rehydrating it with hot water or incorporating it into soups and stews. It’s also a great snack as-is, providing quick energy when needed.
Learning how to make pemmican and adding it to our prepper pantry will be a game-changer. It’s a testament to the knowledge of Native Americans and a crucial addition to our survival toolkit.
Pemmican Shelf-life and Rotation
I can’t stress enough the importance of understanding the shelf-life of pemmican and the need for its proper rotation in the pantry. As a survival food, pemmican has an impressively long shelf-life, especially when made with only meat and fat. When stored properly, it can last up to 25 years or more!
When pemmican is made with only meat and tallow, its shelf-life can be measured in years. As soon as you start adding dried fruits or dried berries the shelf-life shrinks considerably down to just a few months. We don’t have any pemmican made with fruits or berries in our long-term stores.
Just because pemmican lasts a long time doesn’t mean you should forget about it at the back of your prepper pantry. Regular rotation is key. Use the oldest batches first to ensure you’re always eating the freshest pemmican. Mark your containers with the production date and ingredients to make rotation easier.
Enhancing Pemmican With Dried Fruits
Adding dried berries or fruit to your pemmican recipes not only adds to its flavor, it also boosts its nutritional value.
We’ll look at how to select, prepare, and mix dried fruits into your pemmican, discuss the nutritional benefits, and discuss how adding fruits will affect its shelf-life and storage.
Selecting, Preparing, and Mixing Dried Fruits
Pemmican doesn’t taste bad to me, but you might want some extra flavor to avoid getting tired of eating the same stuff every day. Adding dried berries is a superb way to add a sweet contrast to the savory meat. I recommend using dried cranberries due to their tangy taste and high nutritional value.
I highly suggest experimenting with your pemmican recipes to find the flavors that you enjoy the most.
The process of selecting, preparing, and mixing dried fruits is straightforward. Simply choose high-quality, unsweetened dried fruit, finely chop or grind them, and mix in with your meat and fat mixture. Other dried fruit options could include blueberries or apricots.
By incorporating dried fruits into my pemmican recipe, I’m not only boosting the flavor but also significantly enhancing the nutritional value. Dried fruits add essential vitamins and fiber, making this high-energy snack even more nutritious.
The dense animal fat in pemmican provides calories needed in a survival situation. I find that fruits like berries, apricots, or even apples work best and they really perk up the taste of this staple food.
It’s not gourmet dining, but with a little creativity, it’s quite palatable. I also appreciate the peace of mind I get from knowing I’ve learned to make this survival food.
Shelf-life and Storage Considerations
While adding dried fruit to your pemmican recipe enhances the flavor and contributes to its nutritional value, it’s important to note that this will reduce the overall shelf-life down to a few months.
I’ve experimented with this and in our prepper panty we’ve decided that we will keep the fruit out of our pemmican recipes except for that pemmican that we might make after SHTF happens.
Learning to make pemmican was a process for sure. If I can encourage you to do anything, I would suggest that you actually go through this process and experience it for yourself before SHTF.
If you have to make it entirely without the aid of modern kitchen appliances (which I suggest you try), it’s an evolution to be sure. There is nothing like real-world hands-on experience to improve your confidence and to improve your SHTF planning.
With a bit of effort and patience, you can make your own nutritious and incredibly long-lasting pemmican.
It’s perfect for your prepper pantry or your next outdoor trip or hike. Remember, proper storage is key to maintaining its shelf-life.
Happy prepping. You never know when you might need to rely on these age-old survival skills.