Pemmican – An Ancient Recipe for Survival

Wild Maine BlueberriesMost of us are not out climbing mountains, exploring the unexplored, or stacking up for a month-long snow blizzard.  Whether you are one of the adventurers among us, or simply curious about the basic nutritional needs of the human race, an ancient Native American recipe holds answers to our most basic needs, tested time and again by the endurance of the human spirit.

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Pemmican, aka the ancient version of the energy bar, was a survival food of Native Americans.  Traditional pemmican was made from meat dried in the fire or under sunlight, and pounded into a paste-like consistency.  Bone marrow fat and various types of berries were mixed in with the meat and stored in cases made of rawhide.  Pemmican was packed for long journeys and winters, to provide vital sustenance in times when wild game was in short supply.

Most of us are not jotting this recipe down for our next excursion into the wilderness, but we can all learn a great lesson on basic human nutrition. No fad diets, no gimmicks.  What a man really needs is quality protein, fat (yes, fats), and vitamins from raw sources.   Pemmican has been proven to provide adequate nutrition being eaten alone for months at a time.  The Native American peoples have given us a true insight into life’s most basic necessities.

Meat is the ideal source of protein.  Pemmican “bars” were traditionally made from the meat of deer, elk and buffalo.  Whether one eats steaks daily or upholds a strictly vegetarian diet, protein should be an important part of one’s daily diet.  From beef, to poultry, to fish, to nuts and seeds, no dietary restriction should restrict the daily intake of protein.  The FDA recommends an intake of 50g of protein daily.

Low fat foods and low fat diets have been around for a while, yet the obesity epidemic in the United States keeps growing.     Native American peoples knew the importance of fat in healthy nutrition.  In fact, melted fat made up approximately 50% of pemmican!  A diet that does not satisfy the body’s basic needs keeps one reaching for more food in search for satisfaction, resulting in extra weight and obesity.  Sometimes, more fat in food means less fat on the waistline.  Care should be taken to ensure an intake of healthy fats rather than those that come from hydrogenated sources, or fats that have had their chemical composition altered by excess heat such as that resulting from frying.  

Vitamins from Raw Sources
Berries such as cranberries, currants and blueberries provided the Native American traveler with essential vitamins and fibers that are crucial for eliminating waste from the body.   Berries are considered by many health professionals to be among the world’s healthiest foods.  Whether eaten fresh or baked into a home-made pie, there is nothing quite like the sweet and sour goodness of these nutritious wonder foods.
Now if you really are out for an adventure, below are some tips for making good pemmican.

1.    To avoid E. Coli and Salmonella poisoning, all meats should be thoroughly salt brined before drying.
2.    Pemmican can be stored easily in Ziploc bags.  
3.    Although pemmican can last for years under specific temperatures and conditions, it is not recommended to exceed 8 months of storage.
4.    Contemporary variations of pemmican include substituting home-made dried meats with jerky, melted fat with peanut butter, and a granola berry mix instead of, or in addition to fresh berries.
5.    If using jerky, look for the kind that has been made using organic food standards.  You will get a higher quality meat without the high chemical content.
6.    The addition of nuts and other contemporary variations can shorten the storage potential of pemmican significantly.

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