Find the Pemmican, the Power Bar Invented Centuries Ago by Native American Tribes
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Find the Pemmican, the Power Bar Invented Centuries Ago by Native American Tribes

Non-vegetarian outdoor enthusiasts, are you tired of garden variety energy bars and trail mixes?

Maybe you’re feeling adventurous enough to make your own pemmican, which is variously described by Taste of History’s Max Miller, above, as a “historical Power Bar” and a “meat version of a survival food whose shelf life is measured not in months but in decades, like hard nails.”

Perhaps you’re familiar with this portable supply of low-carb ketogenic, a staple diet in upstate North America long before the first European grocers set foot on the land. Many indigenous peoples throughout North America still produce pemmican for personal and ceremonial consumption.

In 1743, Hudson’s Bay Company fur trader James Isham was one of the first to document the production of pemmican for English readers:

[Meat] shake it between two Rocks, until it is a small part like Dust… when it is pounded they put it in a bag and will Keep It For Years, The Bones also they crushed small and Boiled… to Save the fat, which fat is fine and sweet like Butter.. .. Considered by some very good Food by British as well as Indigenous.

Perhaps now is a good time to give thanks for the abundant food choices that most of us in the 21st century have access to (and repay them with a donation to organizations fighting food insecurity…)

There may come a time when knowing how to make pemmican will help us survive, but for now, executing this recipe is likely to satisfy the curiosity.

To be fair, it wasn’t designed to be a delicacy, but rather a very long-lasting source of calories, four times more nutritious than fresh meat for the same weight.

If you want to give it a try, throw in 2 pounds of meat — bison is historically the most popular and best documented, but elk, deer, deer, beef, fish, or poultry also work well.

You’ll also need an equal amount of suet, though heed Miller’s advice and add just enough to get things going.

Enhance the taste with dried berries, sugar or salt.

(Miller went the traditional route with chokeberry, obtained in an extraordinary 21st-century fashion.)

When it comes to appliances, feel free to use modern conveniences like ovens, blenders, and small pots or molds.

(Please report back if you took the old school route with fire, direct sunlight, a mortar, pestle, and a bag molded from stripped leather.)

Given Miller’s response to the ready-made dish, we suspect most of us will be content to feast solely on historical context, as Miller delves into the Pemmican Proclamation of 1814, the Seven Oaks Incident, and the unique role the biracial people, the bilingual Métis of Canada played in the fur trade. North America…

Those who still want it should feel free to take their pemmican to the next level by braising it with wild onion or parsnip tops, to make a rubaboo or rechaud, as scrubber maker Mark Young does below.

You can also experience pemmican by ordering a Tanka Bar produced by a small business owned by Oglala Lakota on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation.

Watch more Max Miller Tasting History videos here.

Come on Halliday is Chief Primatologist of Inky East Village zines and authors, latest, from Creative, Unknown: The Little Potato Manifesto And Creative Activity Book, Not Famous. Follow him @AyunHalliday.

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