Pemmican and Sauerkraut. Expedition Superfood.

Pemmican has been used for centuries by explorers and hunters/traders to sustain them in hostile environments. Think of Scott of the Antarctic and Shackleton for instance. Pemmican is a traditional Native American food which was used by the French  voyagers as they travelled up the river systems of Canada in the Eighteenth Century. It is simple food but highly nutritious and calorific, meaning that you can carry enough food for a long spell out, and it keeps virtually indefinitely. The constituents are lean meat that has been dried then crumbed or powdered, animal fat that has been rendered down to clarify and remover remove all water, then any other seasonings or additions that increase palatability. Any addition like dried fruit will reduce the ‘shelf life’, though it will still keep a very long time.

In the Alps many of the mountain guides take salami for long days out on the mountains, which I suppose is the same principle. There are high temperatures that would spoil many foods, and the exertion is high so that good food is needed.

Sauerkraut is another superfood in my opinion. It is a living culture when made at home (unpasteurised), which means that not only does the fermentation make the plant’s vitamins and minerals more available, but the microbes help to keep the gut healthy. One of the main benefits of taking it on expedition is that it provides electrolytes to keep the nervous system working properly. Being fermented it is also protected from rotting, though will not keep indefinitely. It again is simple to make, though the process of fermentation is complicated (but takes care of itself). It is traditionally made with shredded cabbage, though many vegetables and fruits can be used to supplement cabbage or as additions (I like to add juniper berries). To these you add dissolved salt, and you can also use a ‘starter’ culture like unpasteurised whey.

Here’s how I made my pemmican – enough for nine days out with no additional food other than sauerkraut and dried dates.

Take 1kg of lean beef and slice thinly.

Take 500g of beef fat and chop.

Dry the beef in a very low heat until it snaps rather than bends.

Render the fat by heating and strirring/squeazing until most of the fat has dissolved away from the membranes and it stops bubbling, meaning there is no more water left.

When the dried meat is cold crumb or powder it, either in a food processor or by wrapping it up in a towel and thumping it with a rolling pin.

Pour your rendered fat over the beef and, when set, roll it into portions or cut it into strips.

My sauerkraut failed I’m sad to say because air got into the crockpot when I was away (the water seal around the lid dried out). This meant that a yeasty growth developed which smelt and tasted off. It is not dengerous to eat but you just woudnt want to. Instead of the sharp, zinngy, sort of pungence that you get from good sauerkraut, it was a more sickly sweet smell. I was, therefore, forced to use shop-bought sauerkraut.

I can report that the ration of 1kg wet sauerkraut, pemmican from 1.5kg wet ingredients, and 500g of dried dates was sufficient to keep me healthy and strong for the nine days. Any longer time away and with the same exertion and I would have needed bigger portions, since I lost some weight with this ration.


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