Pemmican and How To Make It Part 2
James Isham, writing fifty years earlier, comments on the quality of
the marrow-fat, it being "...fine and as sweet as any butter or fat
that is made, moose and buffalo fat they reserve after the same manner
in great quantities." He mentions that the meat, cut in slices, is
dried on poles over a fire, which takes about four days, and then
pounded or beaten between two stones till some of it is as small as
dust. "Pemmican" he claimed, was "reckon'd by some very good food by
the English as well as natives."
There were three ways of eating pemmican. There was the soup or stew
called rubbaboo in which a lump of pemmican was chopped off and put in
a pot of boiling water. If it was available, flour was added and
possibly wild onions, sometimes a little sugar, occasionally a
vegetable and a scrap of salt pork. Frying the pemmican in its own fat
resulted in what was called rousseau (or rechaud or richot) and to it
also might be added some flour or a suitable wild plant for flavour.
The third method was to hack off a lump and eat it raw, a slow
process, since it dried extremely hard, but a satisfying concentrated
food for the travelers with no time to stop.
Though they realized its worth, not everyone enjoyed pemmican, no
matter how prepared. A party from Boston traveling to the Saskatchewan
to see the solar eclipse in 1860 commented that "rousseau is by
comparison with the other palatable, though it is even then impossible
to so disguise it as to avoid the suggestion of tallow candles; and
this and the leathery, or India-rubbery, structure of the meat are its
chief disqualifications. But even rousseau may lose its charms when
taken as a steady diet three times a day for weeks."
While it is known that pemmican lasts for a long period it is doubtful
if there is any lying about now. At times a strange lump of organic
matter is dug up and is claimed to be "fossil pemmican." This is a
trap for the unwary for in a all likelihood this "relic" will turn out
to be a fungus known as tackahoe (Polyporus tuberaster) which is found
in the prairie black soils in conjunction with aspen.
The first step in making pemmican is to procure a moose, or other
large animal. The raw meat is sliced, as thinly as possible, in sheets
or strips. A rack is built to hang the sheets and strips of meat on
and this rack is enclosed in a canvas shelter, or a lumber smokehouse
is built. A slow fire of dry poplar, willow, or other hardwood is made
under the meat and kept going till the meat is completely dried and
smoked. This takes two or more days.
The dried meat is then partially enclosed in a moose hide or a strong
canvas bag and pounded with a heavy instrument such as an axe or a
wooden mallet made for the purpose till the meat is in very small
pieces or, for the best pemmican, completely powdered. In these days
after pounding, the meat might be put through a grinder.
The best parts of the animal fat are taken and rendered. The bones of
the animal are broken up and boiled for their marrow content. The
rendered fat is heated to boiling point and put in a container. Then
as much of the pounded meat as can be absorbed is added to the hot
This is now pemmican and it is put in animal hide bags, or, more
probably today, in moulds such as small dishes to set. Such is the
food on which the western travelers of former years depended.
By Dorthea Calverley
http://www.calverley.dawson-creek.bc.ca/Part01-FirstNations/ [now dead]
Posted to rec.food.preserving by Jim Weller (in Yellowknife)