Pemmican 101

By Christine Conaway

When writing Beyond the New Horizon, I had the opportunity to investigate long-term storage foods. I bought samples from every food processor I could find. Then I was hit with a dilemma; “What if you had no packaged food?” Long-term storage food doesn’t last forever if you are forced to eat it to survive. You would be surprised the alternatives to store-bought or mylar packaged foods.

The Native Americans had all of the answers. Pemmican…probably the most nutritious survival food made. I confess I tried to use shortcuts the first time around, and my efforts were a dismal failure. Do not substitute anything for suet. Many think of the suet blocks found at the local tractor supply for feeding birds during the colder months…close, but no cigar.

Suet is the hard white fat from above the kidney and loin region on cattle, buffalo, sheep and I imagine most four-legged farm animals as well as deer, elk, and moose.

Myself, I found real beef suet at the butcher shop. I wasn’t sure how much suet I would need so, of course, I bought too much, but no worries. Rendered suet produces a clear, pure liquid that is almost tasteless.

I’m getting ahead of myself. For the meat, I used a three-pound flank steak. I stuck it in the freezer to firm the meat up for slicing. Mindful of fingers, slice the meat across the grain as thin as you possibly can and remove every speck of fat and sinew. Spread the strips in the bottom of a cookie sheet. I don’t think it matters if they touch but be mindful they don’t overlap. With the oven set the lowest temperature, in my case 150 and put a wooden spoon to hold the oven door open to prevent moisture buildup. I left the meat in the oven overnight.

The first time I checked it, (“I couldn’t just leave it alone) the strips bent but didn’t break. It is very important the meat snaps or crumbles under your touch. The natives would have ground it with a mortar and pestle at this point but not owning one, I used the blender to chop it into a fine powder.

I put a cup of blueberries and one of strawberries on a baking sheet and put them in the oven to dry. I hadn’t decided which I would use, but a coin toss told me both may be an interesting flavor.

The chilled suet I cut into very small pieces. A 1/8th cup of water in the pan so the suet wouldn’t stick and burn before it began to melt and I was ready. With the burner on medium-low, I began the rendering process. Don’t sit and stare at it because it won’t boil until you forget it. The water dissipates as the suet renders. When the bubbles all but disappear, you are ready to remove it from the heat. I used several layers of cheesecloth to strain out the crispy pieces and had about two cups of pure liquid fat.

With my meat ground to a powder and my fruit, (both berries mixed) ground into a powder I was ready to make Pemmican. Somewhere I’d heard the ratio was two cups of powder to one of fat, but I wasn’t sure, so I researched it and came up with too many combinations, so I began adding the one to two-part ratio.

I don’t know if I just got lucky or my skills are just that good, but to me, it seemed perfect. When I spread it in a 9-inch pan, it was all gooey, but I didn’t have pools of fat sitting on top of the mixture. I patted it flat and stuck it in the refrigerator to harden some, then I scored it into small 1 ½ inch squares. When it was completely cool, it broke easily where I’d scored it, and it was ready to bag up. Stored in a cool place, the Pemmican will last for years and retain its nutritional value.

As for the taste…It wasn’t bad, but I wished the fruit flavor had stood out more, but in all honesty, it didn’t taste like anything. It was kind of dry, but better than chewing up chalk.

If I were to make this again, I would consider adding dried onion and maybe some garlic powder or salt and pepper. I read that someone had added ground nuts to theirs, but nuts do go rancid and draw bugs, and I don’t know if they would affect the longevity of the pemmican or not.

As a mule rider who does 25 and 30-mile rides, I have taken this and my homemade jerky along. I LOVE the Jerky I make, and it is my mainstay when I pack my saddlebags. Maybe that will be a future recipe to share.
~ ~ Christine

Christine Conaway is the author of several popular series. Beyond The New Horizon, Dangerous Shores, and a new book that we are all waiting for is available for pre-order now! The First Hour

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