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Pemmican is a high-energy food that Indigenous people of Canada and the U.S. have been eating for centuries. The word pemmican is derived from the Cree word pimîhkân, which comes from the word pimî, meaning “fat, grease.” Pemmican is made from dry meat, animal fat, and sometimes dried berries. Traditionally, pemmican was made from bison meat, but you can use whatever meat—moose, elk, caribou, whitetail—is available to you.

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Pemmican is pretty much the perfect survival food. There are stories of people surviving solely on pemmican for months on end. You get nearly 300 calories from one 2.2-ounce bar, which means you’re getting a lot of energy from something that won’t take up much room in your pack. What’s more, pemmican lasts for a long time—years if you store it properly in a cool environment. It’s also delicious.x Here’s how to make your own pemmican:

Easy and Delicious Recipe for Pemmican

1) Dry the Meat

  • Thinly slice whatever lean meat you’re going to use. For the best-tasting pemmican, use a food dehydrator. Spread the meat slices on the dehydrator trays, and dry the meat for 5-6 hours at 160 degrees. If you don’t have a dehydrator, you can use an oven. Lay the meat on a baking sheet, and dry for 7-8 hours at 180 degrees. Whichever method you choose, the key is to dry the meat to the point where it becomes very dry and brittle.
  • Once the meat is dry, pulverize it into a course powder. A blender works here, or you can go the traditional route and use a mortar and pestle.
game meat for pemmican
Start with lean meat—in this case, bison—and cut it into thin strips. Jim Baird
dehydrated game meat
Dry the meat in a dehydrator, or the oven, until it’s very dry—almost brittle. Jim Baird
grinding dried meat for pemmican
Pulverize the meat in a blender, then set aside. Jim Baird

2) Dry the Berries

  • Next, squash some berries and spread them out thinly on a dehydrator tray. Dry for 6-8 hours at 145 degrees. Again, you can use the over here. Simply spread the squashed berries on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and dry the berries for 5-7 hours at your oven’s lowest temperature. Saskatoon berries and cranberries were used in traditional recipes, but you can make pemmican with blueberries, raspberries, or even cherries.
  • You’ll know the berries are done drying when they’re still semi-pliable but no longer tacky in the middle. At this point, pulverize the berries in a blender, then keep them separate from the heat.
cooking berries in a dehydrator
Spread the berries in a thin layer, and dry in the dehydrator or oven. Jim Baird
berries in a blender
Just as you did with the dried meat, place the dried berries in a blender and grind them into a powder. Jim Baird
berry powder for berries
Keep the “berry powder” separate from the meat. Jim Baird

3) Render the Fat

  • Place the raw chunks of fat in a large pot and simmer on low for several hours, allow the fat to melt slowly into a liquid. When the chucks of fat shrink in size and become hard and crispy, it’s done. Scoop out the chunks and strain the liquid fat to remove any remaining bits. Pour the liquid fat into mason jars for storage. The rendered fat will harden as it cools and last for several months.
rendering fat
Slowly cook chunks of fat over low heat for several hours in a large pot. Jim Baird
rendered fat
Remove the chunks of fat and strain the rendered liquid fat, which should be stored in mason jars. Jim Baird

4) Mix, Make, and Store the Pemmican

  1. Combine equal parts meat, berries, and liquid rendered fats into a bowl and mix thoroughly.
  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and spread the pemmican mixture onto the sheet into an even, 1-inch-thick layer. Place the sheet in the fridge and let cool for several hours.
  3. Once the pemmican has hardened, cut it into bar-size portions for eating. (Note: You could have also formed the pemmican into balls before placing in the refrigerator.)
  4. Store the pemmican for the trail or backcountry by placing a piece of parchment paper between each bar. Stack a few bars on top of each other, then tightly wrap with cellophane. Place pemmican pack in a Ziplock bag, and store in a cool place.
mixing pemmican
Mix equal parts meat, berries, and liquid fat in a large bowl. Jim Baird
how to make pemmican
Place the pemmican in the fridge to cool and harden. Jim Baird
pemmican bars
Slice the pemmican in to bar-size portions. You can also make pemmican balls. Jim Baird
How to store pemmican
Place strips of parchment paper between each pemmican bar, wrap in cellophane, then store in a Ziplock bag. Jim Baird

Experiment with Your Pemmican Recipe

Keep tweaking your recipe slightly until you find one that you like best. For example, when I was using raspberries, which can be sour, I started with a smaller batch of equal parts to gauge the flavor before going all in. I ended up dialing it back on the raspberries for the remaining batches, and wound up with better-tasting pemmican.

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