It’s No-Shave-November in Minnesota, and long before scraggly beards and moustaches became a staple of urban cool from Brooklyn to San Francisco, they signified that month of year many men and women in Minnesota quickly lost hope for the Vikings and went out to shoot those large mousy looking hoofed animals –some with antlers – called whitetail deer.
I don’t hunt, but I have plenty of friends who usually have several coolers full of venison by December. This means that we’re going to get some meat for the expedition and take the first step in concocting a culinary delight that has tickled many a northern traveler’s thoughts: pemmican.
Shakespeare famously wrote: “While many have spoken of pemmican, few have tasted it.” Just kidding, the Bard probably never heard of pemmican. But you might have a vague idea of what pemmican is. If not, here it is in a nutshell: A traditional Native American food made from a mixture of dried and pulverized meat and fruit held together by lard or some sort of fat.
There are a lot of variations on pemmican. You can choose what kind of dried fruit to use, (raisins, cranraisins, dates, whatever, just chop them up real fine like). You can pulverize peanuts, cashews, almonds or any kind of nut and add it to the mixture. As for the meat, just make sure it’s dry enough to grind into a powder. If you don't have access to venison and have to buy beef jerky from the store, you might have to stick it in a food dehydrator or the oven at 200° for some time so it gets crisp. Don’t ask me how long, just check on it periodically.
Note: This is a pretty meaty food, but there is a rumor out there that vegetarians can use textured vegetable protein instead of meat, and honey instead of rendered fat. And for you vegans, well, unfortunately you’re vegan.
Here's a rough recipe for you to play with:
- 3 cups of dried meat
- 2½ cups dried fruit
- ½ cup of pulverized nuts
- 1 – 1½ cups tallow
- A good squeeze of honey
Now, read closely and highlight frequently, because I’m going to tell you how it’s going to happen:
1) You go to a butcher or grocer and buy some suet. And dried beef if you don’t have any.
2) Prep all the dry ingredients by pulverizing them in a coffee grinder, a food processor, a blender, or pestle and mortar. Measure them and combine in a baking pan.
3) Chop the suet into blocks and cook it on really low heat. Note: your kitchen will smell like a pork-rind factory for at least two days. But you know what you’re doing? You’re rendering fat. Check that off your bucket list.
4) Once you get that pan full of clear, clarified fat (called tallow for the wordsmiths out there), measure it out or just pour it into the dry mixture. You might think to use a spoon to mix it all together, but there’s only so much ballyhoo and lollygagging you can do with a spoon.
5) Wash your hands. Get them really clean then plunge them into that slippery mixture of fat and powdered stuff. Make sure there’s some fat clinging to everything. Pat it down nice and evenly in the baking pan and let it solidify and cool.
The first time you taste your pemmican you’ll probably think, gross. And you wouldn’t be too far off the mark. But just wait until you do a few hours of hard labor, work up the proverbial appetite, and fill your shirt with sweat. Then pemmican is amazing.
In my experience, one pemmican bar, say the size of a Cliff Bar, filled me up without any of the sluggish side effects of say, a loaf of bread and a six pack of beer, and gave me a big boost of energy that lasted for hours. With all the vitamin B supplements, caffeine, taurine and tarragon additives out there, nothing has come close to providing me with the same amount of energy that pemmican has. It’s an amazing thing. Make some for yourself this winter, and see how the fat you render with so much love, will give its love back to you.