Making Modern Day “Pioneer” Pemmican

Today I’m turning to our good friend, Orrin M. Knutson, to share his thoughts regarding pemmican. He’ll let us know what its qualities are and how to turn it into something very tasty. Take it away, Orrin.


Thanks, Frank. Early American frontiersmen, mountain men and pioneers did not have MRE’s (meals ready to eat) as we do today. What they did have was a marvelous gift learned from Native Americans: the recipe for pemmican.

Early explorers, mountain men, pioneers, soldiers and cowboys learned to comfortably survive on just a handful of pemmican a day, while on the move or unable to make cooking fires.

Here are a few good reasons to get with the program and make your own pemmican as an emergency survival food.

  • Pemmican does not spoil. There is almost zero risk of spoilage or bacteria infecting your stash of pemmican.
  • Pemmican lasts for decades. With pemmican, you won’t have to worry about expiration dates. Pemmican does not have to be refrigerated, although you may elect to freeze some.
  • Pemmican is a healthy, high-protein and calorie-rich food. Perhaps you did not know it, but your body, organs and brain must have natural fats to work properly and for you to remain healthy.
  • Pemmican can be eaten on the move. It was the primary trail food for Native Americans, explorers, mountain men, pioneers and cowboys. Early colonial, French and British troops also adopted pemmican as a field ration.
  • Pemmican tastes good. Because pemmican is made of mostly jerky, it has a pleasant flavor. It can be made with a variety of additional flavors and seasonings by incorporating dried fruits, nuts and veggies, too.

Modern commercially-made pemmican is expensive… about $50 a pound.   Homemade only costs about $3 per pound.

In the old days, pemmican was packaged in fist or softball-sized balls, and wrapped in cheesecloth and buckskin.

Here are the preferred ingredients for our “modern day pioneer” pemmican:

  1. Ten pounds extra lean meat. Made into extra dry jerky, it will weigh less than one-half of that. Crush into a fine powder. (I use a meat grinder and food processor.)
  2. Six cups of 100 percent pure lard, heated to a liquid; do not boil.
  3. Mix the super dry jerky crumbles into the liquid.
  4. Thoroughly mix the following other dry ingredients in a separate bowl: two tablespoons of non-iodized salt, one tablespoon of pepper or other seasonings, two cups of finely crushed freeze-dried berries or fruit, and two cups of crushed extra dry roasted nuts of your choosing.
  5. I also mix in a double shot glass of pure wild honey for flavor and as a preservative. You can add more if you have a sweet tooth. Some people prefer to sweeten and preserve the mix using natural maple syrup or molasses. NOTE: Do not sweeten with processed sugar, artificial maple syrup or sugar substitutes. That stuff can cause spoilage rather than preservation.
  6. You may have to add more fat a little at a time if the mixture is too dry and will not form into manageable balls without crumbling.
  7. Also, if your product is too fluid, you need to add more dried meat, nuts or fruit. I prefer using good old cornmeal a little at a time when our product is a little too moist.
  8. The goal is to have a product about the consistency of modeling clay.
  9. Now you’ve got to mix, mix and mix some more.

Pemmican Trail Bars

This is my favored way to process our finished pemmican, as it is a lot easier to handle than a mountain man softball-sized chunk.

Use the same recipe as above.

Press the product into baking pans or on cookie tins, about one inch deep.   Chill 24 hours or so in the refrigerator. Then you can cut the block into candy bar-sized pieces.

Wrap them and toss several in your bug-out bag, tackle box and fanny pack.   You can also store your wrapped bars in air-tight canning jars in your pantry. These yummy whole food source bars will keep for years. Vacuum sealed and kept in your freezer, they will last a long time. That is, if you don’t eat it all first.

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