The mixmican


by Ari LeVaux

They say that when you’re lost in the desert and sweat out all your salt, salt will taste like sugar because your body needs it so much. Along the same lines, an Arctic explorer once said that when she’s out exploring the arctic, her favorite meal is a stick of butter rolled in sugar.

Real hunger, deep down body hunger, is context-dependent. And so should the food that addresses this hunger. When my friend Buck goes hunting, he brings homemade pemmican made from huckleberries gathered last summer, fat he rendered from local cattle, dried meat from last year’s deer, and honey. The flavor is not for everyone – I’ve heard it compared to sweetened cat food – but when it’s getting the job done, it tastes right. Pemmican is a 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. Pemmican is ideal for a long, hard journey, and in that context would taste a lot better than it does on the couch.

Under prolonged strenuous circumstances, food is no longer for fun, or for that little growl in your tummy-poo. Eating is stripped down to getting the proper nourishment when and where it’s needed. Traditional Indian pemmican recipes can vary widely and still contain the core ingredients of grease, berries and meat. Different recipes reflected the types of meat and berries locally available. Some used honey, some didn’t. Some used nuts. Some artists used fat from the marrow of thighbones.

Today, there are a bewildering array of potential sources of these essential items, especially with technology the Indians never had – dehydrators, the Internet and the bulk section, to name a few. I was stalking the bulk bins, preparing for a hunting trip, when I happened upon some trail mix and had a revelation. I realized trail mix is a distant cousin to pemmican. True, it doesn’t usually 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 an elk bottom round, an elk heart, and a deer neck. 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 added a few cubes of veggie bullion, some cumin, coriander, whole peppercorns, nutmeg and salt.

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

Just when the meat was falling off the bones, some friends showed up wondering if it was lunchtime. I let them have the onions, garlic and broth, all of which are expendable and delicious. And I let them have some meat too, ’cause I’m such a nice guy. Then I shredded 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 were uncooked and unseasoned when they went in the dehydrator. You can taste the flavor of the meat better that way. And the heart – talk about flavor! Thus I had meat component – the main protein supply – covered in three ways. The rich flakey neck meat also contained some grease, too.

The fruit component came 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/energy component came from the bulk bins: smoked almonds and wild rice sesame stick crackers. Since when I go hunting I’m only going out for the day and can pig out at night, my mixmican doesn’t have as much grease as it would were I eating nothing but pemmican for days. The sesame crackers are a good source of carbs for medium-term energy, while the almonds have fat, protein, and that special smoky flavor. If you wish, add chocolate covered espresso beans – also known as “elk turds” – for extra-immediate energy release. You could argue that all I’ve done here is make my own trail mix. This is mostly true, but what’s new is adding meat to the mix. And what’s surprising is how good the meat tastes along with the other bits of mixmican. I store my three core components – meat, fruit, and fat/carbs – in separate plastic bags, putting a few 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. •



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