Even if it’s not the usual item on a restaurant’s menu, pemmican played an important role in history of Canada. Pemmican is a ‘survival’ food that became known in the west through the fur traders (coureur des bois) in North America. It’s a high – energy food made out of meat, fat, and berries.1 Europeans learned how to make it from Indigenous people. The Hudson Bay Company and the North West Companyr”required around forty five tons a year of pemmican” in 1790s.2 The Plains People used dried meat for centuries, which ‘mountain men’ called ‘jirk” (charqui, Spanish word for dried meat, witch later became known as “jerky”).3 The Mountain Men were trappers from the area of Rocky Mountains in the 18th century,4 who used pemmican during the long journeys. Pemmican was made from the “buffalo meat, jerk would be cut into thin stripes, scored, and sometimes smoked for flavour,…placed on elevated wooden racks to keep it away from [animals]. After a few days of drying on a mountain air, the jirk was ready to eat, or…[to be pulverized] to the consistency of mince meat, or sometimes powder, the mixing it with fat, and adding wild berries for sweetness.“5
pamphlet from: PEH MITCHISOOK- COME AND EAT exhibit, Allan Sapp Gallery
For fur traders, pemmican was usually prepared by Indigenous women “pouring the mixture into parfleches or skin containers that held 90 pounds, the equivalent of 900 pounds of raw meat, with an “extremely long shelf life.””6
Recipes varied deepening on the region, due to nature of available ingredients: West coast used Salmon meat, prairies used saskatoon berries, cranberries, blueberries, etc.7 For the People of the Plains (Cree), “pemmican was more than just a survival food;” its production “joined makers with the totality of the animal itself,” and they payed close attention to its preparation process.8 Cree mythologies “reference pemmican as a source of life.”9 Unfortunately, with increased fur trade, production of pemmican changed as well, and pemmican became a commodity, 10 and with ending of the fur trade empire and near extinctions of the bison the production of pemmican almost disappeared towards the end of the 19th century.11
One more of the traditional recipes:
1 lb Jerky (venison, beef, etc.), 2 tbsp Brown sugar, 2 oz Raisins, 5 oz Suet
The First Nations (and Metis) used pemmican as a trail food. It keeps well for long periods of time.
Run dry jerky through a food grinder a few times until it is the consistency of fine meal. For each pound of jerky meal, add 2 ounces of raisins and 2 tablespoons of brown sugar. When the mixture is well blended, melt the suet and stir it in. The result, when the suet hardens and cools, is pemmican. There are many variations of this simple theme.
– Jim Speirs’ Cooking Page”12
Nonetheless, today pemmican is still used by people venturing into the wilderness, e.g. Alderleaf Wilderness College (features 4 recipes).
- Eric Jay Dolin, Fur, Fortune, and Empire : The Epic History of the Fur Trade in America. New York: W.W. Norton &, 2010., 245.
- Cooke, Nathalie, What’s to Eat? Entrées in Canadian Food History. (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2009.), 60.
- Dolin, Fur, Fortune, and Empire, 245.
- Ibid. 223 (chapter 12).
- Ibid. 246.
- Cooke, What’s to Eat? , 61.
- John E. Foster, “Pemmican.” The Canadian Encyclopedia. Accessed March 23, 2017. http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/pemmican/.
- George Colpitts. Pemmican Empire : Food, Trade, and the Last Bison Hunts in the North American Plains, 1780-1882. (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2015.), 10-11.
- Ibid., 12.
- Ibid., 5-6.
- Michael Blackstock, “Bannock Awareness Printed In Celebration of National Aboriginal Day.” Southern Interior Forest Region. Accessed March 23, 2017. https://www.for.gov.bc.ca/rsi/fnb/fnb.htm#pemmican.
Bibliography and Further reading:
Foster, John E. “Pemmican.” The Canadian Encyclopedia. Accessed March 23, 2017. http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/pemmican/.
Colpitts, George. Pemmican Empire : Food, Trade, and the Last Bison Hunts in the North American Plains, 1780-1882. Studies in Environment and History. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2015.
Cooke, Nathalie., Canadian Electronic Library, and Cuisine Canada. What’s to Eat? Entrées in Canadian Food History. Montreal [Que.]: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2009.
Dolin, Eric Jay. Fur, Fortune, and Empire : The Epic History of the Fur Trade in America. New York: W.W. Norton &, 2010.
Blacktock, Michael. “Bannock Awareness Printed In Celebration of National Aboriginal Day.” Southern Interior Forest Region. Accessed March 23, 2017. https://www.for.gov.bc.ca/rsi/fnb/fnb.htm#pemmican.