Pemmican – Bird or Magical Food?



I used to think a pemmican was a kind of bird. Seriously, when I read The Call of the Wild, I’m pretty sure they talked about giving their sled dogs pemmican and I thought they were just tossing the dogs birds. I finally found out what it was the other day when I came across this website for U.S. Wellness Meats.

It turns out that pemmican is a highly nutritious, life-sustaining food that Native Americans of the U.S. originated (who knows if they actually originated the recipe – seems like people have probably been doing this for millenia). It’s a combo of dried, lean meat, rendered animal fat and berries (optional). Sometimes they would add maple syrup, salt or other herbs to the mix, too.

They’d dry the meat out or slow cook it over a fire until it was brittle, then pound it into a powder with rocks. They’d then add the rendered fat in a 1:1 ratio to make it all stick together. Often they’d throw some dried, powdered berries, currants, cherries or other fruit into the mix, which presumably helped stave off scurvy.

It’s like a power bar but actually Paleo. It’s like the magical, delicious and satisfying lemba the elves bestowed upon the Fellowship of the Ring. If I were a traveling fur trader in the 1800’s, I would’ve felt just like Frodo if a Native American had gifted me some pemmican. That’s actually exactly what happened – pemmican became a hot commodity back in the day, after European explorers realized you can’t live on purely lean meat: you get scurvy and rabbit starvation.

In fact, one polar explorer, Admiral Peary, said this about it: “Of all foods I am acquainted with, pemmican is the only one that a man can eat twice a day for 365 days and have the last mouthful taste as good as the first.”

Quite an endorsement.

Now, like me you might be itching to try some. Be aware that it’s not exactly a low calorie food, so eat it with some discretion.

Here’s a recipe if you want to make your own. Or you can find Tanka Bars, made from bison in South Dakota, at a store near you or buy them online. U.S. Wellness Meats also sells bars and pails of pemmican online, but there’s a strange minimum of $75 or 7 lbs you must meet if you want to buy anything from them.

I’m going to get some at Vitamin Cottage today. Let me know your own experiences with pemmican – I’m so excited to try it!