Pemmican: The perfect primal stick-to-your-ribs survival food

Here’s my dilemma…

I subscribe to a primal/paleo lifestyle. I don’t have tons of grains stored as most preparedness gurus recommend. Some for extreme emergencies, but not tonnes. I’ve written about my lifestyle choice here, and over on my other blog here. No need to re-hash.

So what’s a preparedness minded, Primal Blueprint groupie like me suppose to store for lean survival times? A must-store, life-sustaining item is pemmican. No refrigeration required, full of hunger stopping fat, long storage life, tasty (with the right seasoning), and easy to make. What’s not to like?

Here’s Mark Sisson’s recipe on how he made pemmican. A simple search (use Startpage - it’s the world’s most private search engine) for pemmican recipes will yield many results. Now, get started rendering that fat!

Source: Mark’s Daily Apple

How to Make Pemmican

rii0lxVihljamur Stefansson, eminent anthropologist and arctic explorer, went on three expeditions into the Alaskan tundra during the first quarter of the 20th century. His discoveries – including the “blond” Inuit and previously uncharted Arctic lands – brought him renown on the world stage. People were fascinated by his approach to travel and exploration, the way he thrust himself fully into the native Inuit cultures he encountered. Stefansson studied their language, adopted their ways, and ate the same food they ate. In fact, it was the diet of the Inuit – fish, marine mammals, and other animals, with almost no vegetables or carbohydrates – that most intrigued him. He noted that, though their diet would be considered nutritionally bereft by most “experts” (hey, nothing’s changed in a hundred years!), the Inuit seemed to be in excellent health, with strong teeth, bones, and muscles. He was particularly interested in a food called pemmican.

Pemmican consists of lean, dried meat (usually beef nowadays, but bison, deer, and elk were common then) which is crushed to a powder and mixed with an equal amount of hot, rendered fat (usually beef tallow). Sometimes crushed, dried berries are added as well. A man could subsist entirely on pemmican, drawing on the fat for energy and the protein for strength (and glucose, when needed). The Inuit, Stefansson noted, spent weeks away from camp with nothing but pemmican to eat and snow to drink to no ill effect. Stefansson, a Canadian of Icelandic origin, often accompanied them on these treks and also lived off of pemmican quite happily, so its sustaining powers weren’t due to some specific genetic adaptation unique to the Inuit. In fact, when Stefansson returned home, he and colleague adopted a meat-only diet for a year, interested in its long-term effects. A controlled examination of their experience confirmed that both men remained healthy throughout.

So, pemmican has a reputation as a sort of superfood. While I’m usually leery of such claims, the fact that the stuff is essentially pure fat and protein (plus Stefansson’s accounts) made me think that maybe there was something to it. I set out to make my own batch.

I got about a pound and a half of lean, grass-fed shoulder roast, let it firm up in the freezer, then sliced it thin. After adding liberal amounts of salt and pepper, I set the oven to the lowest possible temperature (around 150 degrees) and laid out the strips of meat directly onto the rack. I cracked the oven door to prevent moisture buildup. At this point, I also put a handful of frozen wild blueberries on a small oven pan to dry out with the meat.

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I let the meat dry out for about fifteen hours, or until it was crispy jerky that broke apart easily. I tossed the jerky in the food processor until it was powder. After the meat, in went the blueberries to process. Again, you want a powder.

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Now I was ready to render some fat. I used grass-fed bison kidney fat, which was already diced into tiny pieces. I put about half a pound of that into a cast iron pan and cooked it slowly over super-low heat.

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I made sure to stir the fat as it rendered out, and watched closely so that it wouldn’t burn. When the fat stops bubbling, the rendering is done.

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Use a strainer to avoid all the crispy bits; you just want the pure, liquid fat.

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Mix the meat and berry powder together, then slowly add the hot liquid fat. Pour just enough so that the fat soaks into the powder.

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I think I poured too much too quickly, so I added a bit of almond meal to firm it up. Let it firm up, then cut it into squares or roll it into a ball. I went with a ball.

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Pemmican will keep almost forever. Pure, dried protein and rendered (mostly saturated) fat are highly stable, so I wouldn’t worry about it going rancid. If it does, you’ll know.

Now, my pemmican wasn’t exactly delicious. In fact, it tasted a bit like bland dog food [SS Note: Try smoking the meat for more flavor]. Maybe I’ll jazz it up next time with some more salt and spices, but I don’t think pemmican is meant to be eaten for pleasure. This is utilitarian food, perfect for long treks through the wilderness. It gets the job done, and I’ll probably make it again. It definitely doesn’t taste bad; in fact, the taste grows on you after awhile.

My dog certainly enjoyed cleaning up the bowl.

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Categories: Bushcrafting, DIY Preparedness Projects, Frugal Preps, Primal Skills, Primal/Paleo Lifestyle, Survival | Tags: , , , , , | 14 Comments

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14 thoughts on “Pemmican: The perfect primal stick-to-your-ribs survival food

  1. Very interesting! I had heard that word several times before, but I didn’t know the definition.

  2. I just don’t understand the science behind it staying fresh, as other articles say, “for decades”. It’s half fat. I’ve had rancid Crisco, rancid lard, even rancid vegetable oil. What makes pemmican store so well, long term?

  3. Jimmy, I believe the rendering process at low temps (240 and below) is the key to removing all the water out of the fat/tallow. Meanie bacteria can’t live without the water. The tallow, if rendered properly, actually acts as an anti-bacterial.

    Here’s another interesting link for pemmican:

    http://www.lns.cornell.edu/~seb/pemmican.html

  4. Jimmy, here’s more science. I love the science of it all. I teach science and math at my school :-) Hope this helps.

    Source: http://paleohacks.com/questions/4899/why-doesnt-pemmican-turn-rancid

    By rendering the fat, you remove all the water and protein. If you are rendering suet, you are left with a very high saturated fat tallow. Saturated fat is pretty stable stuff. If you protect rendered suet from light and water, it should stay edible for years.

    Rancidity occurs three basic ways: via oxidation of unsaturated fatty acids (you avoid this by having a high saturated fat mix to start out with), via reactions with water, and via microbial digestion. Pemmican avoids all of those through rendering the fat, thoroughly dehydrating the meat and hopefully being stored in a waterproof container.

  5. Pingback: Q&A: What makes pemmican store so well, long term? « Survival Sherpa

  6. Pingback: DIY Pemmican: Bread of the Wilderness « Survival Sherpa

  7. Pingback: Pemmican | Prepper Skills

  8. Pingback: Pemmican

  9. James Carmean

    I am very interested in this topic, but it is almost impossible to read this with the background wood grain and black small print. We need some contrast and bigger print. Don’t use red either it does not read well. Please fix this if you can. Thank you.

    • James Carmean

      OKAY, after I signed in and posted the white background appeared and all was well. A slightly larger font would be nicer. So no problem.

    • It’s funny you brought up the background in your comment, James. I’ve been planning to give the site a total facelift. It’ll be a very clean, simple look. I didn’t realize the wood grain would be a distraction until recently. You just confirmed it :)

      Are you reading the site on a mobil device or tablet? I don’t know why the font size seems small to you.

      I appreciate your feedback. I’m always open to suggestions to make this site more user friendly and effective.

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