So, when I asked on Facebook and Twitter what you all suggested for real-world foods that would be at home in Castle Black, a number of you suggested Pemmican.
I’d never heard of it, but when I looked it up, I knew you’d nailed it.
Pemmican is a Native American Indian food consisting of dried and ground meat and berries, held together with fat.
I know, it doesn’t sound very appealing, does it? But this amazing food has sustained not only natives, but also early colonial fur trappers, AND (here’s the good one) Arctic explorers. Shackleton and Peary, among other, relied heavily on pemmican’s relatively dense calorie count for survival. As soon as I read up on it, I knew it was getting made.
Making it, however, is no light task, but rather a drawn out preparation for such a relatively plain meal-replacement. The meat has to be completely dried (which would be done over a fire in Westeros), then ground to a powder (with stones. STONES.), and combined with equally dried berries and tallow (rendered from the same fat as the butchered animal). I sorely pity anyone who had to grind their dried meat between stones. I even gave my food processor a peck on its little plastic cheek. Even with modern conveniences, this took the better part of a day to complete.
The resulting, ah, food, is… curious. Very dense, and not unpleasant, it’s somewhat bland, if nutritious. The rendered fat helps it harden, so it travels very well. Flavor-wise, it’s not unlike jerky, which makes sense, as it essentially was that before shredding. A friend who tried it also said it resembled a very dry pate in flavor, due in part to the fat content.
I’d wager that with the addition of a few key modern ingredients, such as freeze-dried veggies, it could actually be a pretty decent trail food.
Where in Westeros?
Definitely up north. I imagine that the Wildlings would rely heavily on something like this, and that the rangers of the Night’s Watch, as well as some other lords of the hilltribes surrounding Winterfell, would have picked it up from them. It would make a great source of protein in a small size for rangers out north of The Wall, where foraging can be difficult even at the best of times.
Were I a ranger, I’d add some ground rosehips for the vitamin C content. Once their limes run out, scurvy is bound to become an issue, as Jon muses in Dance. As a wildling, can you even conceive of how much pemmican one could make with a mammoth? It boggles the mind. The more I think about it, though, the more I like what could be done with this. Wild duck, cherry, and thyme? Venison, rosehip, and acorn? *Drool*.
Cook’s Notes: This is a highly adaptable recipe. You can use your choice of meat, and add whatever berries youlike. Also, if you’ve got a dehydrator, you’re golden. Otherwise, you’re stuck making this in a conventional oven. I suppose you could also use pre-made jerky as a starting point, but the additives in it might throw off the recipe, and it would probably still need further drying.
- 1 lb. steak meat
- rendered fat, ~2 cups
- 1/2 cup dehydrated berries
- pinch of salt
Preheat your oven to its lowest setting (mine was 170F). Slice your meat as thinly as possible, against the grain. Arrange on a cooling rack over a baking sheet, and place in the oven. The ideal temperature for dehydrating the meat is between 130-150F, so you may need to prop the oven door open with a wooden spoon, like I did. The drying process takes many hours; mine was completely dry and no longer pliable after 6-8 hours, depending on the size of the slice.
When the meat is completely dry, place it in a food processor and blitz until it is a light and powdery consistency (this won’t work if the meat is at all still soft). Place in a bowl, and do the same with the dried berries, keeping the two separate.
If you need to render your own fat, you will need to start with suet, often available in the weirder-foods section of the meat department in grocery stores, alongside liver, tripe, and pig feet. Cut the suet into chunks, and place in a tall pot. Cook over medium heat until you have a nice layer of melted fat in the bottom of the pan, then reduce the heat to low. Continue to cook for around an hour, or until the bits of suet have become brown and crispy, and there is a substantial layer of clear golden fat in the pan. Strain into a clean container, and allow to cool somewhat (it should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: hot fat is really hot, and the spatters burninate).
To actually make the pemmican itself:
To the powdered meat add about 1/4 volume of ground berries. Weigh this mixture, and gradually add a little less than the same weight of rendered fat in its liquid form. Mix these as much as possible with a spoon, then by hand once it’s cool enough to handle. Press into cupcake tins to harden, or roll out into flat shapes, and cut into bars. Wrap in parchment or wax paper, and slip into ziploc bags.
By all accounts, it shouldn’t need to be refrigerated as long as it’s kept cool and in a dark place, but it can’t hurt to put it in the fridge. Historical accounts claim it would last for decades, but I’d recommend eating within two weeks, just to be on the safe side.