By: Blonde Two
I am afraid that, for this post, I am going to refer you once more to one of the two most formative books of my childhood – Swallows and Amazons. The other was The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. I spent approximately equal amount of my growing up time standing in my Mum’s wardrobe looking for snow and pretending that our big fir tree was a sailing boat (we lived a long way from the sea and apparently even further from Narnia)!
The Swallows, as those of you who were properly educated will know, liked to spend time camping away from home and spent a lot of time preparing their rations for their trips. I like that fact that they collected fresh milk from nearby farms but my favourite of their rations was “pemmican”. I have placed the word pemmican in speech marks in the previous sentence because the Swallows did not actually eat any of it. They took a more sensible, tasty and obtainable stance and substituted corned beef. They called it pemmican because they wanted to be as much like explorers as possible.
Pemmican has been linked to exploration and survival for a very long time. Scott and Amundson both used it on their Antarctic expeditions. If you are interested, the history and disasters of rations on polar expeditions is fascinating. Franklin’s final expedition to navigate the North West Passage (now worryingly sometimes clear) was doomed to failure and some theories attribute this to a failed experiment with tinned food.
Pemmican was not originally made by British (or Dutch) explorers though. It was invented by native in North American peoples who needed to carry it on hunting expeditions. I have never tried it but am sure that it isn’t as tasty sounding as corned beef which is also a great emergency ration – we had a tin in our family camping box for ten years before we finally ate it. Pemmican is made of dried, finely shredded meat, you are unlikely to be able to get bison or elk but venison should do the trick should you want to make some, mixed with a good quantity of hot, rendered fat (usually beef). If you want to make wedding pemmican, you can add berries too. I am thinking of presenting Six-Foot-Blonde with some when he gets married – he loves all things explorer.
It occurred to me that it would be relatively easy to make pemmican out on Dartmoor. If I could figure out how to make it, I may not need to carry so many emergency rations. There are no elks but plenty of cows and ponies and I am sure dried lamb would be quite tasty. I might need to be near to woodland to make the necessary fire to dry the meat on (obviously I would never even consider a fire on Dartmoor!) and it might be easiest to carry a block of lard (love that word) to use as fat but I think it could be done.
Of course, this survival trick would only work if you were planning to be in your emergency for a good number of hours on a very dry day. Imagine your annoyance if Dartmoor Rescue turned up just as your pemmican was ready to eat. You would have to share it with them!