Pemmican

Pemmican is a dried meat first created in the late 1770s and has an important connection to the Métis people.

Pemmican is traditionally made from bison and is crushed into a coarse powder and mixed with equal parts melted fat and a variety of berries like Saskatoon berries or cranberries; the berries improve the taste of the pemmican. Because it was dense, high in protein, and could easily be stored and shipped, it became an important provision for the voyagers in the fur trade, especially in the winter when food could be scarce.

The sale of pemmican played an important role in the economy of the Métis Nation and helped to grow the fur trading companies. The Métis traveled across the prairies in Red River carts to hunt bison, which they would then convert into pemmican.

During the 1800s, the bison hunt was the main economic driver - and food source - for the Métis as the fur trade was still the dominant way of life in the west and widescale development had yet to take place. The Métis were the main suppliers of pemmican for those involved in the fur trade and without it, neither the employees nor colonists could have survived the harsh Canadian climate.

A single bison supplied the Métis with a large amount of meat and being long before refrigeration existed, they created a way to preserve that meat. Comprised of bison meat, fat, and berries - commonly blueberries or saskatoon berries, though chokeberries, cherries, or cranberries were also utilized - pemmican was a simple, yet caloric-dense food. The process of making pemmican was labour-intensive. The dried meat was pounded with rocks and sticks into a coarse powder before being mixed with melted fat and berries and then packaged into hide bags for transport.

The filled hide sacks had a few different names, depending on what ingredients had been added to the pemmican. For example, they were known usually as "taureaux" - meaning "bulls" - of pemmican. Sacks treated with the fat from the udder were called "taureaux fins" - or "fine bulls" - and sacks treated with berries or other fruit was called "taureaux a grains" - or "berry bulls". Each bag or sack could weigh from 41 to 45 kilograms (90 to 100 pounds), and one kg (2.2 lbs) had the equivalent food value of four kg (almost nine lbs) of fresh meat.

The word Pemmican is derived from the Cree word "pimikan" meaning "manufactured grease." It is a highly nutritious, filling, and portable food staple that has become symbolically associated with Métis history and the fur trade era. Once made, pemmican could last for years before it spoiled, which made it vital to supporting the highly mobile traditions of the Metis in the 1700s and 1800s. It can be eaten as is, cooked like hamburger, or boiled with flour and water to make soup. Another option, "Rubaboo," called for pemmican to be boiled with potatoes and/or onions.

Without pemmican, the fur trade would not have expanded at the rate and with the success that it did. Pemmican's vital role in the industry came to a head on Jan. 8, 1814, when Assiniboia governor Miles Macdonell issued the Pemmican Proclamation, banning the export of provisions, namely pemmican, from the territory for a year. Macdonell's justification at the time was to ensure a secure food supply for settlers expected to arrive later in the year, though North West Company (NWC) traders, whose work took them outside the territory, saw it at a Hudson's Bay Company tactic. Within six months, Macdonell issued another proclamation banning the "running of buffalo with horses," which was a second direct blow to the livelihood of Métis families. The tense rivalries between the competing fur trade companies and the Métis and the colonists ultimately led to the Victory at Frog Plain, which was the culmination of the Pemmican Wars, on June 19, 1816.

Pemmican Recipe

2 lbs. of buffalo

1/4 cup dried berries (blueberries or saskatoon berries)

5 tablespoons of animal fat

Cut the meat into long strips and hang in the sun to dry for several days.

When completely dry, pound each strip until broken into flakes, then mix the flakes and dried berries. The meat, berries and melted fat can be mixed into a bowl.

When the fat has cooled, the ingredients can be rolled into large balls and stored into plastic bags.

Pemmican can be eaten as is, cooked like hamburger, or boiled with flour and water to make soup.

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