This is pemmican. It’s food from the 18th and 19th centuries, originally made by indigenous peoples in North America and then used by voyagers, frontiersmen, and explorers alike. It is a highly condensed nutritious form of food. It’s in fact, the ultimate survival food. Over the next few episodes, we’re going to talk about exactly what pemmican is, how it was made historically, how you can make it in your modern kitchen and also how we can cook with it, whether it’s at home, at an historical event or in your next survival outing.
18th Century Cooking
I want to thank you for joining us today on 18th Century Cooking with Jas Townsend and Son. Pemmican was traditionally made of just two or three ingredients; dried meat, animal fats, and dried berries. At the height of it’s production, from the late 18th century to the mid 19th century, the vast majority of it was made with bison.
Although at times deer, moose and elk were used depending upon availability. A group of people called the Metis were most famous for their pemmican. The Metis were a unique people group with their own cultural identity. They originated from the descendants of French voyageurs and their Native American wives.
They were responsible for most of the pemmican that was sold and traded throughout the northern regions of North America. The Metis people developed an entire societal structure based upon the buffalo hunt. While the men hunted buffalo, the women processed them. Period accounts say that a skilled Metis woman could dismantle up to 10 buffalo carcasses a day leaving very little behind for the wild animals to scavenge.
Once the useable portions of the animal harvest, they’d process over the next few days. The meat was cut into thin strips and laid out on wooden racks to dry near the fire and in the heat of the sun. The skins were stripped of their hair and sewn into rawhide bags that use to store the pemmican. Suet was melted and refined into tallow and the bones were cracked and the delicate marrow extracted. A single bison cow when processed properly, would produce about 250 pounds of raw meat or about 50 pounds of dried meat.
This same cow would produce, also, about 50 pounds of rendered tallow. The dried meat was pulverized and placed into rawhide bags. Sometimes dry berries mixe in. Then the liquid suet was poured in over the top and mixed in well. Then the bag was sewn shut. Pemmican produced and stored in this fashion would last a long time. Some reports suggest 10, 20, even 30 years.
It was the ultimate survival food. In our next episode, we’ll show you how you can make this authentic pemmican at home. If you haven’t already, please subscribe to our YouTube channel. You can also visit our website and you can request a print catalog. I want to thank you for joining us today as we savor the flavors and the aromas of the 18th century. .
As found on Youtube