Food & Drink » Food

Flash in the Pan

A modern pemmican for today’s hungry hunter


Perhaps you’ve heard of pemmican, the Native American power-paste designed to sustain you through days of strenuous exertion. Packing a dense mix of fat, sugar, protein, and other nutrients to power and replenish your body, pemmican delivers a lot of punch in a small, lightweight package, and can last for years without spoiling. It’s ideal for a long, hard journey.

Elk hunting is my long, hard journey of choice. You leave camp in the dark and walk all day until it’s dark again, carrying enough food and gear to survive the unexpected, like getting lost, bagging an elk 10 miles from nowhere, and other mishaps which might cause you to spend the night out.

Under those circumstances, eating is no longer for fun, or for when you feel a little growl in your tummy-poo. Eating is stripped down to getting the proper nourishment when and where it’s needed—which isn’t to say endurance food can’t taste good.

When my friend Buck goes hunting, he brings homemade pemmican of huckleberries gathered last summer, fat he rendered from local cows, dried meat from last year’s deer, and honey. Of course, pemmican recipes can vary widely and still contain the core components of grease, berries, and meat. Traditional Indian pemmican recipes varied according to the types of meat and berries available. Some used honey, some didn’t. Some used nuts. Some pemmican artists only used fat from the marrow of thighbones.

There are a bewildering array of potential sources of these essential items, especially today with technology the Indians never had—dehydrators, the Internet and the bulk section of the Good Food Store, to name a few. Although it would hardly be “authentic” for me to do so, would it be wrong to use these resources to the greatest extent and for the greatest good, pushing the limits of pemmican beyond our dreams?

Actually, I think it would be wrong of me not to.

I was stalking the bulk bins when I happened upon some trail mix and had a revelation. I realized trail mix is a distant cousin to pemmican. True, trail mix usually doesn’t have meat; nuts provide protein and oil. And trail mix isn’t ground up into a paste and pounded together. But so what? Thus, I invented “mixmican,” a mix of pemmican-like items.

At home I thawed a deer neck, an elk bottom round and an elk heart. (When freezing ungulate necks, I leave the bone in, rather than trying to cut it all off when butchering. Leaving the bone in means removing the soft spinal cord, as I’m paranoid about ungulate nervous tissue because of chronic wasting disease. So when I’m butchering, I push a wooden dowel into the tube where the spinal chord is, and force out the cord. Then I run water down the empty tube to rinse it.)

I put the neck in a big baking dish with a 1/4-inch of canola oil, lid on, and let it brown in the oven at 300 degrees, turning often. After browning on all sides I add a few cubes of veggie bullion, some cumin, coriander, whole peppercorns, nutmeg and salt.

Meanwhile, I peel a few onions and cut them in half, as well as a few heads of garlic, leaving the cloves whole, and add them to the pot. I let it cook a few minutes, then cover the whole business in water and beer and let it cook for hours.

Just when the meat is falling off the bones, some friends show up wondering if it was lunchtime. I let them have the onions, garlic, and broth byproducts, all of which are expendable and delicious. And I let them have some meat too, ’cause I’m such a nice guy. Then I shred the rest of the neck meat and put it in the dehydrator, alongside strips of elk heart and bottom round.

Unlike the neck meat, the heart and bottom round are completely uncooked and unseasoned when they go in the dehydrator. You can taste the flavor of the meat better that way. And the heart—talk about flavor! Thus I have the mixmican meat component, the main protein supply, covered in three ways. The rich flakey neck meat also has some grease, too.

The fruit component comes from my pantry: peaches, cherries and apricots for vitamins, electrolytes, and short-term energy. I dehydrated them last summer, and boy, are they yummy!

The fat component comes from the bulk bins: smoked almonds and wild rice sesame sticks. Since, hopefully, I’m only going out for the day and can pig out at night, my mixmican doesn’t need so much grease. The sesame crackers are a good source of carbos for medium term energy, while the almonds have fat, protein, and that special smoky flavor. If you wish, add chocolate covered espresso beans—otherwise known as “elk turds” in my kitchen.

I keep my components in separate Ziplocs, putting two handfuls each in the front left pocket of my hunting pants. Thus equipped, I eat my mixmican with my left hand, investigate real elk turds with my right, and walk all day long.

Ask Ari: Too much of a good thing

Q: Dear Flash,

Last week’s story about falafel breeding strong babies was very entertaining.  However my experience with the sexual benefits of falafel has been mixed at best.

Years ago while traveling in the Middle East I read about falafel in a guidebook. I finally tracked down my first falafel in Akko, Israel. It was delicious! I continued to consume it in Akko and then in Haifa.

In Tel Aviv I had a date. As I boarded a taxi, I became overcome by an irresistible case of the runs. The toilet session lasted about an hour.

I showed up 45 minutes late for my date. She was long gone. Telephones in Israel were, in those days, a rarity. A succession of Jewish holidays intervened, and with my comings and goings I never made it back to Tel Aviv when her office was open.

Alas! What could have been!

—Frustrated Falafel Fancier

A: Dear F3,

As I mentioned before, I’m trying to stay away from questions that don’t require my expertise in the response. But I decided to run your letter anyway for a few reasons. 1) I didn’t get any other mail. 2) I think something like that happened to my dad once, and had he hooked up with this other chick he might not have met my mom.

Anyway, I think the take-home lesson is clear: Too much of a good thing, even falafel, can still make you feel awful. And beans, including chickpeas of which falafel is usually made, are serious business. When not refrigerated properly after cooking, for example, they can turn into a “high-risk food” on par with pork. So you might as well have been eating fried pork over there on the streets of Israel…oh wait, I guess not, probably.

Send your food and garden queries to

Add a comment