First developed by the Aboriginal peoples of North America, pemmican was quickly adopted by the voyageurs and trappers of the 18th and 19th centuries and eventually Arctic and Antarctic explorers both past and present. In short, it has been a staple of the wilderness adventurers diet throughout recorded North American history. Calorie dense and relatively lightweight (depending on the recipe) there are few portable snacks or supplements that pack as much energy into one serving as pemmican. Traditional recipes were made with dried game meat and melted fat and in some cases included locally available berries, but the primary ingredients were always fat and protein due to their favourable energy to weight ratio and slow burning release of nutrients into the bloodstream.
Long vilified as a clogger of arteries, we can thank the Paleo movement for bringing naturally occurring saturated fat and animal protein (ideally from organic or game sources) back onto the list of healthy ingredients for the mountain or wilderness hunter. When embarking on high output activities in unfavourable or extreme conditions, it is essential our fuel sources provide long lasting energy. The majority of conventional ready-made energy bars or supplements are higher in fast burning sugars and other junk carbohydrates than they are in protein and fat so these tend to burn quickly, spike our blood sugars and result in the energy crash typical of high glycemic foods and snacks. This in turn cues us to eat more of these types of bars which translates into more food to carry and more weight in our packs. Fat and protein burn slower with a more even energy release so ounce for ounce you want these ingredients in your portable fuel sources where possible.
As the late season approaches and the temperatures and snows start to fall at higher elevations, the importance of caloric density become even more important. Read any history or even current accounts of Arctic or Antarctic exploration and you’ll find an emphasis on fat and protein in the chosen fuel sources not sugars or quick burning carbs. Combine all this with the fact you can easily make your own version at home and pemmican in our opinion is a must-try for any serious mountain or wilderness hunter.
A word of caution however, if you have not experimented with a higher fat meal or diet previously it’s very important to try this recipe at home and during activities before depending on it on a hunt. Some people’s guts can be a little sensitive to saturated fat in higher concentrations so like any other piece of your kit, test it to ensure you want it in your meal plan.
The recipe below is one of our favourites BUT it is not a recipe that will last for trips beyond three or four days. There are numerous recipes out there so do some research and experiment with ingredients and preparation methods until you find something that works for you and your hunting style. This recipe works best frozen and then cut into bars to add to oatmeal in the morning or wrapped in foil for an energy bomb in between your actual meals. When added to oatmeal, this recipe will easily fuel high energy output in cold conditions for three plus hours.
DIY Bacon and Berry Pemmican
1. Cook 1/2 pound of bacon on low until the fat renders (meat should remain soft).
2. Let the bacon cool then transfer the bacon and fat to a blender. DO NOT waste any of the rendered fat.
3. Add 1/2 cup dried cranberries, 1/2 cup dried blueberries (or other locally applicable berry), 1/2 cup sesame seeds and 2 tablespoons of brown sugar (or maple syrup or honey) and puree entire mixture.
4. Pour or scoop onto baking dish or cookie sheet and freeze.
5. Cut into bars or cubes to add to oatmeal, cereal or eaten straight up on the trail.
6. Grow fuller beard.