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Pemmican -- great trail food

By DICK MARTIN • Mar 10, 2018 at 8:00 AM

Winter is still here, and there’s more bad weather sure to come that will leave you housebound for a day or even more. What to do? There are lots of choices, but for those who did well during the deer season and now have a freezer full of venison, here’s an activity I think you’ll like – making pemmican. Ohio’s native Americans made it every fall, doubtless clear back into pre-historic times, and it was a staple of their way of life.

It was important in that when they made a large kill, maybe of buffalo, deer, elk, or moose, they had no way of preserving the meat, unless the kill was made in winter, and even then a warm spell could destroy it all. So, they ate what they could, and cut the rest into thin strips, making it first into jerky, and then into pemmican. Either product could last for months, but pemmican was a great trail food, taken on long hunts or war parties or trading expeditions. It was sustaining and lasted for months, even years when properly done. It also eliminated the need to hunt on war trails, and kept the body strong and healthy. How do you make it? You’ll need jerky first.

I’ve made deer jerky for years, and while there are literally dozens of recipes, I’ve always kept mine simple. I cut the venison into thin strips from half frozen steaks, roasts, or even neck meat because half frozen is easier to cut into pieces. Then I trim off all fat, lay the strips onto waxed paper and paint both sides with Worcestershire sauce before salting them lightly and adding a bit of fresh ground pepper. Then they go into my Little Chief smoker to be dried into a tough black product. You can make your own smoker, if you’re handy, or buy any of a dozen or more brands at almost any sporting goods store. The meat is ready when it breaks instead of bends.

Pemmican can be made in a dozen or more ways too, but basically it’s made of multiples of one cup of dried meat, a cup of dried fruit or berries, and a cup of rendered fat. Do a very small quantity at first, to make sure you’ve got it right, then as much as you like at a time. If you have a food processor, place the jerky in it and grind until it’s nearly powder. If not, cut into small pieces and break up in a blender.

Fat is important, and while so many modern folk have a phobia about eating fat, it’s vital when you’re on the trail or hunting. It adds energy when you need it, something the Eskimos (Innuit) and early Indians knew well. Beef fat works well, and this white ingredient must be cooked in a crockpot, oven or on the stove. Use a low setting, stir occasionally, and when it’s all liquid, pour over the dried meat. It will bind the jerky and already added fruit or berries together nicely. The fruit, incidentally, or berries can be anything dried from blueberries to strawberries and various kinds of fruit.

Finally, form the well mixed pemmican into squares or balls or bars, place into air tight containers, and store in a cool, dark place, or even your freezer. Then take it out as needed for a hunt, campout or hike. The native Americans often cleaned out the intestines of their kills, again, deer, buffalo, elk, or whatever, and filled the guts with pemmican, then smoked the lot lightly over a low fire. Likely, that would work too, and better if you used sausage casings. It adds up to making and using a product as old as time, spending some idle hours in a worthwhile manner, and getting a good food to boot, one that Kit Carson, Jeremiah Johnson, and others of their breed would approve heartily as you took the first bite.

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• Rainbow trout releases will take place across Ohio from March 2 to May 19 with more than 100,000 rainbow trout in sizes from 10 to 13 inches released in 64 public lanes and ponds. Fish will be released in Norwalk Reservoir #1 on 4-19, at Shelby Reservoir #3 in Richland County on 4-11, at Walker Road Pond in Lorain County on 4-12, at White Star Quarry in Sandusky County on 4-14, in East Harbor State Park Pond on 4-21, in Cross Roads Industrial Ponds in Crawford County on 5-5, and Malabar Farm Inn Pond on 4-7. For a full list of trout stocking dates and locations, go to wildlife.ohiodnr.gov/fishing/trout-stocking-dates

• On Nov. 6, Ohio voters will choose a new governor, and according to the Sportsmen's Alliance, an organization dedicated to protecting hunters, fishermen, and trappers rights, that person elected will inherit the most challenging environment experienced by Ohio's fish and wildlife resource professionals. The Alliance said that the Division of Wildlife will endure an unprecedented financial shortfall over the next 10 years. It faces an enormous backlog of capital projects, including badly needed shooting ranges, boat access and aging dams. And it faces the prospect of losing access to 60,000 aces of previously available recreational lands owned by Ohio Electrical Power, which desires to sell this vital piece of public land access.

• The Alliance has joined with Ducks Unlimited, Ohio State Trappers Association, Pheasants Forever and more to create the Protect What's Right campaign to address this crisis and restore a healthy working relationship between Ohio's elected and appointed officials and those who fund conservation efforts through their hunting, fishing, and trapping license purchases. The new group could use the support of all Ohio's outdoorsmen. Visit info@sportsmensalliance.org for more details.

• Waterfowl hunters and wildlife enthusiasts are invited to attend a free waterfowl identification workshop on March 17, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR). The workshop will be held from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. at Pickerel Creek Wildlife Area, Vickery. The workshop is free of charge, but preregistration is required by March 15, as space is limited. Interested individuals can register by calling Kelly Schott at 419-898-0960 ext 21. This workshop will be held indoors and outdoors, rain or shine. Participants are encouraged to dress for the weather and dress in layers, as weather conditions along Lake Erie can change quickly. Waterproof boots and binoculars are also recommended. For more information on Ohio’s waterfowl and waterfowl hunting opportunities, please visit wildohio.gov. ODNR ensures a balance between wise use and protection of our natural resources for the benefit of all. Visit the ODNR website at ohiodnr.gov.


Dick Martin is a free-lance writer from Shelby. Reach him at richmart@neo.rr.com. You can also visit his blog at outdoorswithmartin.com.

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