Walk into any grocery store or outdoor gear shop, and you'll see a smorgasbord of granola bars, protein bars, seasoned beef jerky, energy gels, and other calorie-dense travel-ready snacks. But that wasn't always the case. Hundreds of years before the dawn of the supermarket, compact calorie-dense survival food was hard to come by. There were no Power Bars or Clif Bars — if you wanted portable food, you probably had to make your own, or buy it from a trader who knew how to do so.
Pemmican could be called the original protein bar. It originated from Native American tradition, and was widely used by early American trappers, fur traders, and explorers. It was usually composed of two or three simple ingredients: dried powdered meat, animal fat, and (sometimes) dried berries.
Pemmican typically started out with a bison, deer, or elk, but beef, fish, and other meats can also be used. The meat was cut into thin strips against the grain, dried out over a fire, and pounded into a fine powder. An equal quantity of fat was melted and added to the powdered meat, creating a thick mixture. Dried berries could also be added for additional nutrients, though this wasn't always done. Once the mixture dried, it could be stored for 10 years or more, as long as it remained in a sealed container in cool and dry conditions.
Pemmican equates to about 2,000 calories per pound, and it's unsurprisingly high in fat and protein. It can be eaten cold (though some may consider it gritty and unpleasant), heated in a frying pan, or boiled into a stew along with wild vegetables and biscuits or flour — this was called a rubaboo (roob-uh-boo).
In the video below, 18th-century historical YouTube channel Jas. Townsend and Son, Inc. discusses the origins and core components of pemmican. Don't be put off by the period-correct colonial apparel, the information in this video series is extremely informative, even in today's modern context.
Subsequent videos in this series show how to produce pemmican, how to cook it into rubaboo stew, and how to make rousseau (pemmican hash) in a frying pan. The channel also features videos on pemmican storage and potential additions to spice up your pemmican. If you're interested in these topics, check out Jas. Townsend and Son's other videos. There's lots of good primitive and semi-primitive survival info to be found on this historically-oriented channel.