Grub on the Go

About a year ago my boys discovered the joys of beef jerky. A Sunday School teacher introduced them to the protein-packed snack, and ever since, we”ve had a package in the house for them to snack on after school. They love the salty taste and the chewy goodness. Yet every time I see them gnawing on a piece, I smile because in my mind, I see a cowboy, mountain man, or trapper out on the trail.

Native Americans taught the early settlers how to preserve meat by rubbing it with salt and drying it either over a smoking campfire or simply hanging strips

to dry in the sun and wind. The most common game meats used included bison, deer, and elk. Instead of eating the dried meat in strips, many Indian tribes preferred to use it to make pemmican.

To make pemmican, they would pound the strips of dried meat between a pair of rocks until it was shredded and nearly pulverized. They would add dried berries to the mixture then mix it with hot marow grease to bind it all together. They would pack this mixture into a pouch made from bison stomach or intestine and seal it with hot grease. As ith epouch dries, a vacuum is created which can preserve the pemmican for several years. They

would add this to stews or soups or even eat it straight from the pouch when travelling. It”s small size and light weight made it perfect for warriors on the go.

The Hudson”s Bay Company bought huge amounts of pemmican to supply to their trappers who were constantly on the move and required to pack their supplies on their own backs. The protein from the meat, vitamins from the berries, and the energy source from the fat, made this an efficient yet very nutiricously balanced food product.

During the time of westward expansion, travelers would stretch strips of meat across their covered wagons to dry (taking about 2-3 days), or sometimes they would call a stop for half a day in order to build a scaffold and smoke the meat for 3-4 hours. This allowed them to make the most of whatever game they were able to hunt and to preserve the leftovers for consumption farther down the trail when game became scarse.

There is some disagreement about how this dried meat became known as jerky. Some say the Incas first named it in the 1500s, calling it “Ch”arki” which means dried meat. Others say that the Spanish explorers coined the phrase “Charqui” to North America when they noticed the Indians drying meat in a similar fashion to they methods they used with goat meat to store it aboard ship. The name took on different pronunciations until it finally landed on jerky.

So what about you? Are you a fan of jerky? Have you ever eaten jerky made of something other than beef? Anyone ever tried pemmican?

Karen Witemeyer
For those who love to smile as they read, bestselling author Karen Witemeyer offers warmhearted historical romance with a flair for humor, feisty heroines, and swoon-worthy Texas heroes. Karen is a firm believer in the power of happy endings. . . and ice cream. She is an avid cross-stitcher, and makes her home in Abilene, TX with her husband and three children. Learn more about Karen and her books at: www.karenwitemeyer.com.
Updated: October 8, 2013 — 7:39 am

22 Comments

  1. Karen, I would like to thank you so so so so much for this:
    >>>>>>>then mix it with hot marow grease to bind it all together. They would pack this mixture into a pouch made from bison stomach or intestine
    <<<<<<<<<<<<
    I am dieting and this is like an ingenious appetite suppressant.

  2. I actually have a recipe for beef jerky. I make it in the oven with the door open, turned low, baked for hours.
    And when I say, “I make it” what I mean is, I made a couple of batches about 20 years ago and gobbled up by ravenous children in about ten minutes.

  3. I’ve had various trail mixes.. but never jerky.

  4. I have never tried jerky.. Beef or otherwise. But I know it still a popular item in a lot of places today… I am sure if I lived in the times when it was a food staple I would munch on it. I can’t say it is my food of choice to much on.. But thanks for the history lesson on this “snack food”.

  5. How interesting! I love this blog. It’s given me lots to think about. I’ve never been a big fan of jerky. I hate the way it makes your breath smell. I didn’t know it was so nutritious though. I can certainly understand why pioneers made and ate it. Cowboys in my stories have eaten it. But I never knew what pemmican was. Lots of great information.

  6. Ha, Mary! I knew that description would set your mouth to watering. Sometimes it’s just better not to know, isn’t it?

    One source I read said they would make jerky out of anything they could find on the trail. Turkey, goose, etc.

    How cool that you’ve actually made some yourself! I think once still counts as having experience. 🙂

  7. CateS – Trail mix is one of my favorite snacks. I love the nuts and dried fruit. That sweet-salty mix. My kids like the teriaki jerky, just that touch of sweetness. I’ve had a piece or two, but it’s not something I’m dying to eat when I get home.

  8. Hi, Kathleen. Jerky seems to be one of those truck stop staples. Kind of like prok rinds. Always seemed weird to me that someone would want that. But then, at least with jerky, I guess it’s been a travel food for hundreds of years. So the tradition continues.

  9. Now you are talking about something I know about! I have made jerky out of beef and venison, but have eaten it made of duck, too. I have a dehydrator that I use and it takes about 12 hours to do a good job. I have made it in the back country, at cow camp, in the meat house. But it takes too long. I have many funny stories about making jerky. One is every time I would check the dehydrator and turn the meat over, there would be a few less on each shelf. Then thee were NO pieces. I had several sons and a husband who had red faces. They couldn’t wait.
    I have a meat house that cuts my meat for me. I dredge it in soy sauce (no salt), lay it out on the shelves and put the lid on. I turn each piece several times to make sure it is all dried. Then I put them in paper bags.
    My Mother in law used gunny sacks, but the material of the sack got all over the meat. (I didn’t like that).
    She would use jerky all winter and make stew. And she also used acorn mush to go with it. YUM. (That is a process I never learned. That is an art by itself).

  10. Hi, Linda. I had never known what pemmican was either. I had read about it in western novels countless times and figured it was some kind of buffalo meat product, but I didn’t know about the dried berries or the marrow grease. Although the fat content makes me shudder a bit. I keep trying to tell myself it’s like adding shortening to pie crust. A necessary evil for a yummy end product. Still not sure I’m ready to try it, though.

  11. Jerky isn’t just for travel. In the Alaska North, they jerky the fish to keep it for later. We also dry veggies and fruit for later. That was the original reason for jerking meat. So it wouldn’t go bad before you needed it. Then it waa handy to carry with you.
    I’ve never eaten pemmican, but my husband had some and said it was OK. (Just OK).

  12. Mary J – How fabulous to have an expert in our midst!!! Thank you so much for sharing. I can completely picture my husband and boys sneaking pieces, too. 🙂 That’s great. Is your husband a hunter? Do you make jerky out of the meat he brings in or do you buy meat at the store then have it cut into jerky strips? Great to have your input, today! 🙂

  13. We have a neighbor who’s a butcher and works for hunters during deer season, he butchers dozens of deer and does other stuff, too. Turkey, pheasant. And he makes a LOT of jerky.

    I like it. And that’s good because about once every hunting season My Cowboy will come home with a three pound bag of venison jerky.

    There is a limit though, trust me.

  14. Hi Karen, so interesting! I’m not a jerky fan myself but recall buying big bags of it at Costco for my son. Our daughter brought her dad kangaroo jerky when she visited Australia (yuck.) I see how this type of meat would be a great thing for mountain men and those in the outback somewhere.

    Me, I prefer dried fruits LOL.

  15. Hey, Tanya. Kangaroo Jerky? That’s crazy. I don’t think I could have eaten any of that, either. Too many hours watching Winnie the Pooh with sweet Kanga and little Roo to be able to stomach that.

  16. LOL Karen, fortunately it was a joke; he never ate it. And I don’t mean joke, really. It’s just…’roos are kinda roadkill in Oz, kind of annoying critters even though we here find them so so sooo adorable.

    But yes, my grandbaby has a stuffed ‘roo and he loves pointing at the “baby” in the pouch. Too cute there too.

  17. I can go so far as to say I’ve had Turkey Jerky, and maybe one with a little spice added, but that’s it. I do love jerky– my kids, even as grown ups, get it in their Christmas stocking every year. We are all fans. Great blog!!

  18. Jerky in the stockings…great idea, Charlene. I’ll have to remember that! 🙂

  19. Not a big fan but can eat it. My sister makes it from time to time and I think its better then what you buy.

  20. Great blog, Karen. I’ll definitely take a pass on the pemmican, but I do love jerky. I’ve had bison, antelope, and beef jerky all good. 🙂 There’s a store, or at least there was a few years ago, in Cody, Wyoming that has about any kind of jerked meat you could want. I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t have jerked skunk. 🙂

    –Kirsten

  21. We did taste pemmican once a long time ago, but it was a tiny piece. Don’t remember what I thought of it.
    We have had elk jerky and turkey jerky. In the Philippines they make something that really is a type of jerky. They use beef heart or water buffalo heart, slice it thinly, rub it with a salt and sugar rub, then dry it. It is quite good. The heart muscle is smooth and fine, making for a jerky which is easy to eat and yummy.

  22. HI, Quilt Lady – I bet your sister’s jerky is great. Thanks for sharing!

    Kirsten – You’re cracking me up with the jerked skunk. Ha! It might taste good, but I would have a hard time getting past the thought of the stink the animal makes to try some.

    Patricia – You are a brave soul to try that beef heart. I would have to eat it before I knew what it was, otherwise my imagination would probably make me too squirmy to try it.

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