When I first learned how to make Pemmican it changed my backpacking forever. A few years ago when I went paleo and started Forest Bathing as part of my healing journey, the first thing I ran into was what to bring for food. Because all my life I was taught to carb load with grains, pastas, dried fruits and these were the things that were now on my non no list. These dried foods are easy to carry and prepare and yet lack the nutrition I was now used to.
There was this mysterious thing called Native American Pemmican that I kept hearing rumors about and eventually things started showing up on the internet about it’s history and how to make it. Pemmican is reported to be the primary staple for many of the tribes and especially the Plains Indians. Think about it how fresh meat would be available during a hunt but not every day was a hunt. How would they preserve their meat without a refridgerator? So because of what I know about the health of these strong and proud people, I had an immediate trust in the power of pemmican to sustain energy and keep my body robust and ready for the rough and tumble lifestyle of my rewilder lifestyle.
I didn’t waste any time figuring it out and started taking it on the trail with me. This ketogenic whole food was reported to have every piece of nutrition to keep you alive and well, and even thrive. It was a little weird at first, kind of dry and bland, but I learned to tweak the recipe until I got something that was beyond anything I have ever taken on the trail. I felt sorry for people buying prepackaged dead foods and oatmeal. I couldn’t imagine going back to that. This food has even passed the crowd pleaser test. I have given it to friends completely unfamiliar with paleo and they loved it. You can spice it in different ways to get a variety of flavors. You can use different oils like lard (rendered fat), coconut oil, and even butter for short trips or cold weather trips.
David Thompson in 1810, described pemmican in detail: “…dried provisions made of the meat and fat of the bison under the name of pemmican, a wholesome, well tasted nutritious food, upon which all persons engaged in the fur trade mostly depend for their subsistence during the open season; it is made of the lean and fleshy parts of the bison dried, smoked and pounded fine: in this state it is called beat meat: the fat of the bison is of two qualities, called hard and soft;…the latter…when carefully melted resembles butter in softness and sweetness.
Pemmican for backpacking is almost too good to be true. It has a practically infinite shelf life, weighs very little, tastes delicious, and doesn’t even require cooking. Pemmican is the ultimate paleo energy or meal bar. No amount of civilization can improve what was already perfect. My next step is to make food wraps made from beeswax and cloth, so I can avoid plastic altogether in my camping.
Each gram, if made with a 50-50 fat/lean mixture, is 6.5 calories. So each pound is 2944 calories. You’d probably need 7-10 lbs for a 7 day trip depending on how hard you were pushing. This would be more than enough calories and contains everything you need to keep moving, and you can bonus supplement with whatever.
I’m not aware of a place you can purchase pemmican. One issue is food safety laws may make it impossible. Even the jerky you see in the stores has been heated to over 120 which would destroy a lot of the nutrition and enzymes. So this is one thing you might want to add to your food prep repetoire.
Pemmican is superior to jerkey. Pemmican is jerkey (dried meat) which is then pulverized and mixed with rendered tallow (lard). You can add other ingredients as well. My favorite all round recipe is:
1 part pulverized meat
1 part tallow (available here)
1 part dried berry powder (available here)
to that I also add salt and sometimes honey.
The berries are optional. I make a variety of flavors to spice up my camping trips. Spices not only provide flavor and antioxidants but they also preserve the meat even better.
My favorite spices are: rosemary, black pepper, cumin, tumeric, nutmeg, coriander, cloves, oregano.
If going on a weekend trip or during colder weather, I sometimes use butter in place of tallow. I feel butter has a lighter feel, is more oily and less waxy, tastes better, and has more omega 3’s than rendered tallow or lard.
There are many varieties of pemmican. You need a Food Dehydrator the best kind is the Excaliber.and a Vitamix Juicer. If you want to do it the traditional way, you would pulverize by placing in a cloth or skin bag and pounding with a wooden mallet.
You can use either ground meat or solid meat that you slice. When using solid meat, get the cheaper cuts but also one’s which are less fatty. Although we definitely like the fat, the fat is best added after the lean meat is dried and pulverized. This will make the pemmican with the best shelf life.
1–Place raw ground meat in a mixing bowl. Mix in your favorite spices like: black pepper, anise, rosemary, lavender. (This is my favorite all-round combo but it’s good to have several varieties.)
2–Spread out on the drying screen. Use a fork to gently press down as flat as you can but no more than 1/2 inch.
1–Slice meat in thin slices no more than 1/4 – 1/2″ thick.
2–Place on drying rack so they aren’t touching each other.
3–Turn on dryer at lowest temperature setting (95) and dry for about 15 hours or until meat is brittle
4–Place pieces in Vitamix Blender and pulverize. Don’t let it get too hot. Push down with the mallet when needed.
5–Slow cook lard until it melts, then let it cool to just above room temperature.
6–Add pulverized meat and berries to mixing bowl and mix. Also add salt and spices if desired.
7–Make an indentation in the middle of the pulverized ingredients. To that gently pour the liquid lard. Then slowly mix into the mixture.
8–Store in airtight glass or plastic containers. For travel use beeswaxed food wrap pouches.
You can find plans for his $10 dehydrator (dead simple to make and use) here: