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Meat dehydration in the high desert.

It’s that time of year again, time to dry the meat! I did it up on the last ridge of high desert just west of California’s central valley. This is the driest region you can find that’s not too far from the Bay Area. It was so arid that the meat was quite dry and crispy after just 2 days in the sun. I couldn’t have lasted much longer out there myself it was so intense!

Most of the meat was submerged in brine for 5 minutes before hanging. The brine was a 3 lb box of kosher salt in a pot filled with water up to the 5 gallon mark. The meat hooks are just plain galvanized wire bent and cut with needle nose pliers. The Italian style clothes drying rack I used is available at, it’s just like ones I would see on the streets of Naples. ย I put vaseline on the lower part of each of the legs to prevent ants from climbing up them. ย I hung a small bell from the rack to hopefully wake me up if a larger critter tried to tug on the strips in the night but thankfully that never happened. ย The meat was all grass-fed rump roasts that I purchased from the good folks at Moon Meadow Natural Beef, 28 pounds of it. It took almost 5 hours to slice it all up. I’m able to create very long strips by slicing into alternate sides of each roast and them pulling them out and flat and then further slicing into narrow strips. The second morning I inspected every strip and further sliced ones I found that were too thick and drying too slowly. By the 3rd morning it was all basically very dry with only a tiny bit of moisture left in a few spots. I loaded all the strips into a 6 gallon white plastic bucket with a few pounds of rice in a paper bag to absorb ambient moisture. The black rubber seal in the lid is coated with food grade silicone to try to create an air tight seal. It should last like that without refrigeration for many months. In case of a public emergency you won’t find me fighting over canned goods at the supermarket ๐Ÿ˜‰ The beef can be cooked up with the rice, olive oil and salt. The raw dried meat also makes a great meal with fresh corn on the cob not to mention my special orechiette alla Bolognese recipe (coming soon). Having this kind of dried meat and healthy fats on hand to supplement any fresh produce you can find is a great strategy for long-term, off-grid survival. Dried starches of good, organic quality are great also: rice, lentils, pasta, you can even turn your dried beef and tallow into pemmican, though that’s hardly necessary unless you’re going to be too busy to cook anything.

Looking east towards the Central Valley.
Looking north along the hills on the west side of the Central Valley.
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Ask yourself “do I really need pemmican?”

Sure, pemmican is great, for it’s nutritional value, it’s shelf life, and of course it’s portability. Even though it has always had these advantages it was usually the custom to NOT eat pemmican if and when anything else was available and save the pemmican for when you really needed it. It was so valuable for its portability that if you had other food on hand and time too cook then you’d always do that first. If you never really needed your pemmican then you would eat it after a few years anyway and restock with some that’s fresh. Although pemmican was reputed to last for decades I’d rather be safe than sorry, there are no guarantees with homemade pemmican.

Sun dried meat is a great thing to have on hand and it has many uses besides just making pemmican. You can make a great pasta sauce with it if you shred it and combine with fresh onion, carrot, sun dried tomatoes, celery salt, lard, olive oil, white wine, salt and black pepper (full recipe to come). A little dried meat is also great after a hard strength workout or as a way to add a little protein to any meal with fresh starches and vegetables.

Tallow is great for deep frying. Although I think that raw tallow it probably more nutritious you don’t have to fear good food that’s been fried in tallow that hasn’t been used too many times ๐Ÿ˜‰ Green plantains are great this way and so are the ripe ones especially when they are very soft and the skin has turned all black. Hannah sweet potatoes come out really nicely if you slice them and soak them in salt water overnight and drain in the morning some hours before frying. Fry bread can also be a great treat, I use full-fat plain yogurt, water, salt and baking soda with whole wheat pastry flour to make a dough that I then form into something like a big doughnut and later slice and top with the rest of the yogurt and raw honey (recipe to come).

If you start making your own pemmican and have extra ingredients lying around you may find as I have that they are just as useful, if not more so, for many different situations including camping and emergencies. The only time you would really need pemmican is if you’re on the move and can’t stop long enough to find or prepare any other kind of food OR when that’s just all you have left. It would take a pretty massive amount of pemmican to feed any kind of family exclusively for a few years. I think the best preparedness solutions involve ways to produce and prepare food in situations with bare shelves and long lines at markets in addition to having some long shelf life provisions like pemmican, lard, tallow, etc. on hand to makes ends meet.

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HOT FAT! Great Pemmican secret #2

I mentioned that there are a couple of tricks to making great pemmican. One well known online guide cautions against using melted tallow that is too hot as it might cook your dried meat that you have taken pains to keep raw as the heat can activate and denature the enzymes found in raw meat that help you to digest it and derive maximum nutritional value. This is not really a problem though if the meat is completely dry because the enzymes require water in order to be activated. According to the amazing historical pemmican resource that I cannot recommend more highly: The Fat of the Land by Vilhjalmur Stefansson, Native Americans would sometimes use fat that was hot enough to fry donuts which is like 350 degrees Fahrenheit!

One good reason to use fat that’s pretty hot and not just melted is to make sure that the ground meat fibers get completely saturated with hot fat. If not then your pemmican will have a weird mouth feel as described in the first secret to great pemmican post. The fat doesn’t have to be super hot when you combine it with the meat as long as you keep the mixture hot until the meat is completely saturated. I will usually mix the ingredients in a double boiler to make sure they stay warm until they are fully saturated and the mixture takes on a much darker hue. You can even cook the mixture a little until it gets even darker. It seems that the darker the pemmican the better. Pemmican that looks very light and pale in color is bound to be unpalatable.

Using a double boiler can also keep the mixture soft enough while you fill molds or pans for making pemmican bars. If you want to get really traditional you can fill a buffalo hide bag with pulverized meat which you then pour hot fat into. This technique would require fat that is very hot, well over 300F as mentioned above.

It’s also worth noting that the temperature required to kill pathogenic microbes on meat is the same temperature that will denature, or “kill”, the enzymes, and that meat has to be wet in order for the microbes to be killed otherwise they can go into a dormant, heat resistant state ready to resume their biological process, which include their own enzymes, at a later date when conditions are favorable again. Of course we want to use meat produced by operations that should be free of pathogens or use other methods besides heat to make sure we are not ingesting these harmful agents.

I’m not sure how much you can fry and brown the dried meat before it reduces the nutritional value and/or how much that would improve the taste of the final product. That’s why I’m sharing this information here so people have a good point from which to start experimenting and then hopefully share their experiences.

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The BIG SECRET you need to know in order to make GREAT PEMMICAN!

Good stuff but hard to chew.

Ok everyone, this is it, time to spill the beans! This information needs to get out there so we can finally dispel the myth that pemmican is nasty stuff that you would only eat if you had nothing else just to avoid starvation.

The problem with the way we usually try to make pemmican is that we’re trying to use about 50% tallow by weight in the recipe. 50%-60% are traditional and so we just use that much tallow, as in rendered organ fat (or suet). The problem is that tallow has a melting point of about 120F so when you try to chew pemmican made with only tallow and meat it will never melt in your mouth. You just keep chewing and chewing and nothing happens until you just have to swallow it whole and it just feel really weird in your mouth the whole time. Apparently mouth feel makes a huge difference in how you experience flavor, way more than I could have ever imagined. Pemmican that would otherwise taste great, especially when made with sun dried meat that tastes amazing on it own, tastes really God awful when it doesn’t feel right and doesn’t melt in your mouth after a few chews like any normal energy/protein bar would do.

I solved this issue without really understanding it by producing pemmican that contained a lot of dried fruit, nuts and raw honey. The inclusion of those other ingredients with only 30% tallow ultimately produced a normal enough mouth feel that the flavors of the quality ingredients used could shine through in a pemmican product that wasn’t really that traditional.

So what if you don’t want to use fruits, nuts and honey in your pemmican? A real traditional pemmican with only meat and fat should have much better shelf life and is also perfect for a ketogenic diet where about 80% of your caloric intake comes from fat and the other 20% from protein. Obviously then some other fat could be included. Something with a much lower melting point should solve the mouth feel problem by lowering the over all melting point of the pemmican. I believe that Native Americans had already solved this issue a long time ago by using a combination of tallow and rendered bone marrow fat. According to the amazing historical pemmican resource that I cannot recommend more highly: The Fat of the Land by Vilhjalmur Stefansson, the best pemmican always included marrow fat. Marrow fat has a much softer texture than hard, waxy tallow and substituting enough of it for tallow in the standard pemmican recipe ought to be a huge improvement. Marrow fat is also supposed to have nutritional benefits beyond the very healthy fats already supplied by tallow.

The problem with marrow fat is that it may take a lot of bones to make enough to be able to produce an appreciable quantity of pemmican for you and your family. Also I’ve never tried it myself so I don’t know how much to use. I’m not really in a position to render fat from bones myself right now and I haven’t had any luck getting anyone to do it for me yet. I’m certainly willing to pay a fair price for a small quantity to experiment with (hint, hint…;)). I have tried using pork lard instead, replacing half the tallow with it and it’s definitely easier to chew and swallow but I’m not sure that’s the best solution yet. There are a number of other things you could try though. Coconut oil immediately comes to mind but it changes from solid to liquid so easily in summer heat that I’m not sure that would be such a good option either. A relatively small amount of oil that is liquid through a normal room temperature range might be just the thing, or not, I don’t know, that’s why I’m putting these ideas out there so different people can experiment and together we can build a knowledge base to work from.

I think that marrow fat is probably the best solution as tried and true traditional methods always are but again it might not be that easy to implement so no harm in experimenting with alternatives. As I can attest the fruit/nut/honey alternative worked pretty well. Other alternative might work just as well if not better. If you give it a go please post some kind of short summary of your experience here in the comments, thanks!

Feel free to quote any part or all of this post on any site as long as you provide a prominent link back to the original here on this site. Thanks!

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Real pemmican network?

Not sure if and when I’d be able to produce enough pemmican for sale here. Not sure if I want to get into it at this point. I was thinking instead of just sharing my discoveries and letting people do it on their own. The only piece of equipment you really need is a decent meat grinder and there are inexpensive, old-fashioned, hand operated models readily available though electric is very convenient. I don’t recommend trying to use any kind of food processor. You can buy an electric slicer or just use a knife. The meat can be air dried, just wait for the driest season of year in your area, usually late summer to early fall in the northern hemisphere. Dehumidifiers and space heaters may help. Native Americans used open fire to dry meat when the weather wasn’t dry enough. At this point I really don’t think an electric dehydrator is the best solution but they are pretty convenient. You can read about drying meat outdoors here. Rendering fat isn’t that hard either, you just need some pots, strainer and a stove burner OR just buy some already rendered from Fannie & Flo on Etsy!

I think the main issue that would prevent people from making their own is that they may have tried, or know of someone who did, and ended up with results that weren’t very palatable. I’ve made some very unpleasant pemmican myself. There’s a trick or 2 to making it come out nicely that are neglected in all online recipes I’ve seen. I think that situation should be easy to remedy ๐Ÿ˜‰

A major obstacle with making and distributing pemmican is that for it to be truly REAL with all the traditional benefits associated with it then the meat used has to be raw. It’s almost completely dry but it’s still technically raw as it hasn’t been heat treated. Neither the USDA nor any US state agricultural department will allow the sale of a dried meat product, like jerky, that hasn’t been scientifically guaranteed to be free of pathogens like e coli, salmonella, etc, etc… From what I can tell the exclusive method used for this in this day and age is a “lethality phase” BEFORE dehydrating which involves raising the internal temperature of the meat high enough, quickly enough, and long enough while maintaining sufficient humidity to be 100% sure that any pathogenic organisms present have been killed off. This however means the meat is cooked and you loose the particular nutritional benefits of raw meat which was the main reasons that pemmican was so highly valued besides it’s shelf life and portability. From what I understand keeping the meat raw is what allowed people to subsist very well on pemmican alone for months and even years even avoiding scurvy without any fruits or vegetables!

I don’t want to make almost real pemmican. I only want the real thing for myself and I don’t want to try to pass off a fake on other people either, even if they don’t mind or don’t know any better. It may or may not be illegal to give away a raw meat product like that, even if you just want to trade or barter it locally although no one else knows you’re doing it.

Another idea is to try to find an acceptable solution for guaranteeing pathogen free pemmican that does not require cooking the meat, maybe post-production testing? This would probably require the participation of some university laboratory to get it fully worked out and approved by the powers that be. Lobbying for changes in regulations could be another approach though not something I find very personally appealing.

A public forum where interested individuals could discuss real pemmican process is what I have in mind at this point. Either on some decentralized social media platform, like steemit, or a forum right here on this website. I don’t imagine many people actually visit this site very much these days but if you’re reading this and have any ideas please feel free to post a comment. I’ll just start posting my insights here as time permits and maybe re-post them elsewhere in the future.

Feel free to quote any part or all of this post on any site as long as you provide a prominent link back to the original here on this site. Thanks!