Pemmican is a traditional food of native North Americans that was later adapted by European fur traders and explorers. It generally consisted of a lean game meat such as Deer, Elk, Moose or Bison which was preserved in rendered fat and combined with whatever other “superfoods” were available: Dried berries, nuts and seeds. Preserving dried meat, berries and nuts in rendered fat creates an ultralight, calorie charged meal that is has an indefinite shelf life. The concept shares close similarities to both confit and traditional Mincemeat pies. With the high calorie to weight ratio and storage ability, pemmican is the perfect backcountry hunting/backpacking/paleo meal. Throw in the historical relevance that pemmican fed generations of hunter/gatherers and you need to look to further for a calorie rich, ultralight superfood.
In the spirit of tradition, pemmican need not be a fixed or rigid recipe, rather, use what you have and improvise. Here is an outline of my most recent experiment.
*1-5 pounds dried venison (or beef)
1/2 pound (or more) Bacon
Coconut Oil (optional)
Dried berries of your choosing (I used Cranberries)
Dried nuts and/or seend of your choosing (I used Walnuts)
*Traditionally, the meat was dried in the sun (Southwest) or slowly next to a fire. What you are doing is making jerky without using a cure or marinade. Follow these steps to dry jerky out in your oven, or use a smoker or food dehydrator. I dried a couple of pounds even though I only used 1.5 cups in this recipe. The rest will be stored for use on the next batch of pemmican.
- You will need to grind the jerky into a powder form. Consistency is probably nice, but this is a rustic meal we’re talking about, so inconsistency is welcome in my opinion. Traditionally, this task would have been done using rocks or a mortar and pestle. Let me tell you, after a few minutes of manually grinding venison, I went for the food processor. This was no easy task!
- Slowly render fat from bacon. How much bacon? That’s entirely up to you. I used the fact from 3 pieces of center cut bacon, used some stored bacon fat and then added coconut oil until I had about a half a cup of fat. If you have some bacon grease stored away, this is the perfect time to put it to use. The cooked pieces of bacon were used in the recipe.
- Place the nuts, seeds and berries in a blender or food processor and chop them into a medium fine consistency. I used 3/4th a cup of Walnut and 3/4ths a cup of dried Cranberries. Exact amounts can vary and feel free to mix and match. Macadamia nuts are a high calorie nut that would be excellent choice. Dried blueberries are also excellent.
- Remove the nuts from the blender and chop the cooled bacon. Add 1.5 cups of Venison (or beef) powder and blend together.
- Add the nuts and fruit back into the blender (or, probably better move everything to a mixing bowl or mixer)
- Add Nutmeg, Cardamom, Maple Syrup, Ground Allspice, Ground Cloves, & Brown Sugar. How much of each? Experiment. You can always add more later. Salt shouldn’t be necessary as the bacon should provide plenty of that.
- You’ll need a minimum of ½ cup of rendered fat (I used a blend of bacon fat and coconut oil) and you’ll want it to be hot so that it doesn’t start solidifying on you while mixing.
- Mix in the hot, rendered fat. A mixer works great here. A blender can easily get overwhelmed by this combination. You can also manually mix using a wooden spoon. You should have a moist consistency that sticks together. If your mixture is too watery, add more ground meat. If it is too thick, add more fat and/or syrup.
- Sample and adjust your spices if necessary. You should have a delightful combination of saltiness, sweetness and richness.
- Place the mixture in a greased pan and cool in the freezer. You can cut the finished product into squares or roll into balls.
Pemmican will store fine at room temperature, but it won’t do particularly well in warm temps as the fat will melt and become messy. I store it in the refrigerator, but pemmican should store and travel well so long as the temperatures are reasonably cool. You can also store it in the freezer.