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Basic Information

Pemmican (from the Cree pimi "fat/grease") is a long life, high calorie food, of particularly great value to those operating in extremely cold climates.

At its core, pemmican is more or less a 1:1 mixture of animal fat and dried meat, with the meat cut so fine as to be almost ground to a powder (or at least in good pemmican it is). This produces a soft but solid mixture (at room temperature at least), extremely energy dense and with a high protein content. Many producers add dried berries of various kinds to the mix, which presumably provides a useful source of vitamins as well as improving the texture, but this is not compulsory. A 2:1 meat:fat blend without fruit was also made for feeding sled dogs, but occasionally ended up in humans as well. Once blended the pemmican is traditionally cut into conveniently sized lumps and wrapped for protection. It may then be eaten raw (said to be an acquired taste) or used as an ingredient in stews or fried dishes with whatever else was to hand (onions and preserved potatoes are often cited, presumably dried beans and biscuit would also have played a major role, as might maize, especially amongst the natives).

As the etymology implies, this was invented amongst the Amerindian peoples of North America (tribes besides the Cree use the stuff under different names), but was quickly adopted by Europeans and, beyond the Americas, played a significant role in the exploration of both Poles and was even issued (tinned) to the British Army during the Boer war. From being a craft that the natives performed to store food over the winter, pemmican production became a major trade supporting the North American fur trade and other primary industries of the North such as logging and mining. At its peak, whole communities of Metis made a living by producing the stuff, engaging in large scale buffalo hunts in order to secure the raw materials and living a migratory existence between the hunting grounds, places where the berries could be harvested and dried, and their markets in the settler colonies.


1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • Presumably, bearing in mind the existence of candlefish a similar, seafood variant could be made with (for example) dried cod or salmon and fish grease. There is no evidence that this happened historically, but a fantast counterpart culture could easily adopt the tradition. Frankly whales, seals and similar things could also furnish meat and fat alike.
  • Vitally important for peak, pulp era cold weather work, whether on the Yukon trail or exploring the Mountains of Madness.
    • Frankly, still kind of useful - it's hard to find anything else so energy dense that is still edible.
  • The hardcore vegetarian or vegan could probably make something similar with vegetable shortening and fruit, but might lose out on protein and probably wouldn't get as many calories.
    • Itrion is probably the nearest vegetarian equivalent.
  • As noted, raw pemmican could be a challenge for those used to a European diet - presumably arctic peoples used to an all-animal diet, including raw blubber, would take in in their stride, but others would need time to get used to it. A good camp cook would be a real asset here, although even just the ability to melt it and pour it over crushed hard-tack would help. That may be below the resolution level of most RPGs.
  • Speaking of Europeans and pemmican, quite a lot of recipes for potted meat produce something very similar - a long lived preserve of meat and fat. Generally these use scrap meat and other leftovers stripped from the bone - the sort of thing that might also end up in a sausage - cooked down and sealed in fat. These products are generally used as a spread on bread products or for cooking and serve as functional iron rations.
  • The mountain man almost certainly lives on this stuff when he can get it, and/or makes his own.
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