The following pemmican recipes will be added shortly. Thanks for your patience. Eldon R. Cutlip
History Of Pemmican
Pemmican is an all but forgotten by-product of dried buffalo meat, first developed by the North American Indians. This high-energy food was easily carried in a leather pouch and used as the primary sustenance when they hunted or traveled overland. Later, this nutritious staple was utilized by trappers and traders involved in the booming fur trade. Early Arctic explorers, as well, depended on this high-energy food for their daily intake of calories. It was the undisputed energy bar of that era, perfect for long treks through an unforgiving wilderness. If need be a person could subsist entirely on this power-packed provision for months at a time. Pemmican was lightweight and packed so much energy that a mere pound and a half could sustain the average trapper for an entire day.
While I was researching the history of this remarkable foodstuff, I was surprised to learn that pemmican was used as a tradeable commodity in the early nineteenth century. Karl Koster, interpreter/ranger at Grand Portage, MN, who lectures on different topics pertaining to the Great Lakes fur trade, explains this little known fact in his excellent piece entitled: Pemmican: The “Power Bar” of the Fur Trade: Karl Koster wrote: “Pemmican was vital and its use was never underestimated. Isaac Cowie, at Wood Mountain, Canada, 1870 wrote, “…found he trader, Kis-sis-away Tanner…He was the only person known to have any pemmican, having ten bags, which he esteemed worth their weight in gold. After some haggling, he sold me six bags at two shillings and six pence a pound, payable in cash at Fort Garry.”
During the fur trade era, pemmican was made from long, thin strips of buffalo, elk, or deer meat. It was hung over primitive racks and dried in the direct sun or slow smoked over a smoldering fire. The addition of smoke added flavor to the meat and helped to keep the blowflies at bay. Once all of the moisture was removed and the meat was hard and brittle, it was spread onto buffalo hides and pounded between stones to form a powder-like substance. The pulverized meat was scooped into buffalo-hide sacks and mixed with equal parts of hot tallow or bone marrow, whichever was on hand at the time. When they were available, dried choke cherries, rose hips, or Saskatoon berries were added to improve the overall flavor of the pemmican mixture.
The full 90 pound (40.82 kg) sacks of pemmican were sewn shut with sinew or strips of cured hide using an awl and bone needle. Afterward, the sacks were turned repeatedly to further mix the ingredients and prevent the hot tallow from settling on one side or the other. The hardened bags of pemmican were flattened into manageable size cakes. Afterward, the seam was sealed shut with hot tallow to protect the pemmican from the elements. It would last for years without spoiling providing it was kept away from moisture, heat and direct sunlight. In fact, there was a report that a farmer in southern Manitoba had unearthed a cache of pemmican that had been sealed in buffalo hides for more than 100 years. According to the account, the cache was still edible––amazing!