Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Making Pemmican the Indian Way

Cree Indian in the old days

Pemmican was derived from its use as an emergency food by the Cree Indians in Canada.  It is made by preparing strips of game meat such as bison, moose or venison by drying them either in the sun or before a campfire until they were hard.  The meat was then pounded into a powder using stones, and mixed 50/50% with fat from the animal.  A mixture of berries was pounded into the pemmican for additional flavor and added nutrition.  Ordinary pemmican was made from dried buffalo meat and fat.  By adding berries to the pemmican it was more apt to spoil.  Ordinary pemmican however was still edible after as much as 30 years.

The Métis central Canada native people who made their living trapping eventually became the biggest suppliers of pemmican.  They supplied it to the Canadian government the Hudson Bay Company, the US government and anyone else that bought the stuff.  Making pemmican was actually a work for the women of the group.  They used to cut the lean buffalo meat into strips about a quarter of an inch thick and hang on a rack made out of willow twig bows that were interlocked in such a way as to form a framework.  The buffalo meat was hung in this rack and was either dried by the hot sun or place close to an open flame.  The finished product of this step we’re all familiar with as jerked beef.  It was dry and hard.  The womenfolk pounded it into a powder between two stones.  When the meat is thoroughly powdered it was placed in a kettle and an equal volume of hot water was added.  This was thoroughly stirred together with the powdered meat forming ordinary pemmican.  They then poured it into rawhide sacks for storage.  While the mixture was in the sack and still hot they trod on it with their feet in order to flatten the pemmican into a slab for later use.  If they were going to make what was called festive pemmican they added fruits and berries, but this kind of pemmican did not have been keeping qualities of ordinary pemmican.

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