Welcome to pre-winter, the exciting hunting season when the deer are lively and the game is on! Living off-grid in the woods, I’ve discovered the art of preserving food without relying on a constant stream of electricity. For years, I stored wild game and homegrown veggies in freezers, but as I strive to live closer to the land I’ve been opting for canning or dehydrating. Making Pemmican is my all-time favorite method for preserving meat.
Pemmican is crafted from dried powdered meat, dried berries and tallow. Pemmican sustained me during my time in Labrador on the TV series “Alone,” and it has a rich history of sustaining indigenous people and explorers. This high-energy food is loaded with vitamins and minerals, making it a hearty snack for outdoor adventures.
Here’s how you make Pemmican
- Dry the meat like jerky, slicing thin pieces against the muscle grain. Marinate the sliced meat in a salty brine overnight with your preferred seasonings such as soy sauce, tamari or teriyaki sauce.
- Build a drying rack over a fire. Often, a tripod formation will work best. Once marinated, skewer the pieces of meat on thin pieces of green wood, loosely spaced, so that smoke and air can go between the slices. Smoke or dry the meat until it is crispy, dry and breaks easily. (Note: Test the temperature of the smoke just under the rack of meat. You should be able to hold your hand in place without it burning. Do not cook the meat! This will deteriorate the integrity of the meat and you will lose the nutritional value.)
- Powder the dried meat finely using stones, a mortar and pestle, or a food processor.
- Dehydrate the berries. Traditionally Saskatoon or cranberries are used, but you can easily substitute organic blueberries. Dehydrate until they’re crispy and can be easily powdered.
- Melt tallow from beef, venison, elk or bison. Do not substitute a soft fat such as lard, bear fat, duck, or goose fat, Crisco or butter. The denser and more saturated the fat, the better.
- Combine powdered meat and berries, pouring melted tallow until coated. The ratio is flexible, but I use roughly four parts meat, three parts berries, and two parts fat. More importantly to note: the tallow acts as a binder, filling the void between the fibers of the meat and berries, thus sealing out oxygen that can cause rancidity.
- Optionally, you can add ingredients like honey or spices. I love adding dried Stinging Nettle powder for extra vitamins and minerals.
- Form the mixture into snack bars, let them cool until the fat solidifies, and wrap them up for safekeeping. Traditionally Pemmican would be wrapped in rawhide, but modern-day wrap such as wax paper works in a pinch!
Now you’ve got a powerful, high-energy food to accompany you on outdoor adventures or enjoy as an afternoon snack. If you want to explore this process together, join my online Pemmican making class on Nov. 13 and 16.
Karie Lee Knoke is a wilderness/primitive skills instructor and founder of Sacred Cedars Wilderness School. She was a contestant on the reality survival TV show Alone Season 9 on the History Channel. For more information, visit Karieleeknoke.com or follow her on Facebook @SacredCedarsWildernessSchool or Instagram @karie_lee_knoke.
Cover photo courtesy of Karie Lee Knoke