Pemmican, real pemmican, is seeing something of a renaissance among preppers, campers and other outdoorsmen. This ancient and traditional survival ration made by native North Americans is renowned for its combination of calorie density and long life, seemingly making it an ideal survival food even today.
Depending on who you ask, pemmican will last 6 months or 60 years. That much variability begs investigation if we are going to consider pemmican seriously for a modern survival provision.
So, how long does pemmican really last? Traditionally prepared pemmican has a shelf life of anywhere from 6 months to 5 years depending on storage conditions and the exact ingredients. Because pemmican is so variable and its preparation and ingredients list pinning down a precise figure is difficult.
It should be noted however, that pemmican lends itself well to long-term storage, and will last dramatically longer as a storage container and storage conditions improve.
This alone is enough to get some folks interested in adding pemmican to their survival pantry. But there is a lot more to learn and consider before you throw out more common, modern options. Keep reading to get a good primer on pemmican, and how long you can expect it to last.
What is Pemmican?
Pemmican, real pemmican, not the beef jerky branded “Pemmican”, is nothing more than a mixture of generally equal parts of tallow, dried berries and dried meat. This is an ancient foodstuff that has long served as an ingredient and survival ration and traditional native North American diets, and it is still prepared today for much the same reasons.
When the new world was being settled, European explorers and colonists were first introduced to pemmican where they discovered that it was a stable and high energy ration.
From here pemmican’s renown and recipe spread, and it was found to be eminently suitable as a purpose made survival ration, even being issued in various mass produced forms for military service.
Today, those very same qualities make it an excellent choice as a survival food for campers, hikers, preppers and anyone who needs a highly mobile, nutritious, filling and most importantly stable food stuff for including in their supplies.
The preparation of pemmican is contentious, not because it is shrouded in myth or mystery but because there are so many tribal, regional and local variations on the recipe.
Whatever recipe you adhere to as best and proper, pemmican is typically prepared from lean, dried meat. Way back when, this most often took the form of bison, deer, moose or other big game. However, any kind of animal meat can be used with varying efficacy, including fish and fowl.
The meat would be dried in a fashion typical of beef pemmican after being cut into thin slices. This could be accomplished over a low fire, or simply laying it out in hot and direct sun.
Once the meat was very dry and brittle, it would be ground or beaten until it crumbled into a consistency close to powder, and then mixed with melted animal fat, typically tallow, in equal proportion. This is the basis of the pemmican in all variations.
After mixing the dried meat and fat, sometimes dried fruit similarly reduced to a powdery consistency would be added to the mixture and varying ratios, typical among traditional recipes or cranberries, blueberries or Saskatoon berries.
After this, all that was left to do was pack the mixture into a bag or other container before allowing it to cool and harden.
The result was versatile, filling pemmican, able to be eaten raw, fried into patties or turned into a sort of soup or gumbo.
Storage Specifics and Shelf Life
One of the most contested characteristics about pemmican is the shelf life. As mentioned above, getting a straight answer is difficult owing to so much anecdotal information about the historical preparation and consumption of pemmican, but also the vast amount of local and regional recipes that are still considered true pemmican.
For most preparations, so long as it is performed correctly with high quality ingredients and an eye toward best procedure you can expect pemmican stored at room temperature in a sealed container to last anywhere from one year to five years.
Pemmican stored in the same type of container but in a cool or refrigerated environment can last up to a decade.
As it turns out, pemmican lends itself very well to modern food preservation methods and this is where things get really interesting if you’re considering pemmican as a survival ration or staple.
Pemmican that is properly prepared, placed in a suitable container, and vacuum sealed can theoretically last for a century or even longer. Sound unbelievable? Well, hold off that disbelief for a minute!
We have confirmed accounts of military issued pemmican rations from the late 19th and early 20th century persisting in perfect condition for many decades before being consumed, either out of desperation or morbid curiosity.
As recently as 2019 US military issued emergency rations from the early 1900’s consisting of pemmican were eaten by social media personalities who filmed the entire thing, and recorded the subsequent experience:
Not only was the ration still entirely edible, but he prepared it in a variety of different ways and ate it all live on camera. To date, he has not suffered any ill effects attributed to the consumption.
If that is not proof enough of the viability of pemmican as a long term, shelf stable ration I don’t know what is!
Viability of Pemmican as Long Term Survival Food
Pemmican definitely has much to commend it for preppers as a survival food. It is made from natural, clean, and comparatively easy to source ingredients, and the mode of preparation also lends itself well to primitive settings.
Even at its worst, pemmican has a long shelf life of several months to a year that you can rely on, and if you can employ better storage containers and improve the conditions in which it is stored you can get several years out of it.
This is obviously a great way to get prepared for contingencies, but also to maximize retention of the fruits of your labors.
However, like most things, pemmican is not perfect. Though it is highly nutritious, contains an excellent blend of protein and fat for energy, and is hard-wearing, compact and shelf stable. It is not nutritionally complete, notably being lacking in several vitamins according to most recipes.
Though it is theoretically possible to overcome these deficiencies by adding additional ingredients part of its long life is attributed to its simple ingredients and careful preparation.
So long as you understand its shortcomings and can overcome them or work around them, pemmican is still a survival food par excellence today, and one you would be wise to familiarize yourself with, both its preparation and incorporation into other dishes.
Pemmican is an ancient survival food, but one that is incredibly well-suited to use today thanks to its extraordinary shelf life and also its versatility. It can be adapted into a variety of other dishes or preparations and is extremely calorie-dense, consisting of dried meat, animal fat and dried berries.
Once other cultures discovered pemmican from North America natives it did not take long for them to realize its better properties, and you should take a lesson from them and do the same!
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