Pemmican nowadays is made from beef. Bleas-dell Cameron gives the following details: A beef dressing 698 pounds yields 47 pounds of first-class pemmican, 47 pounds of second-class pemmican and 23 pounds of dried meat, including tongues, a total of 117 pounds, dried. The total nutritive strength is thus reduced in weight to one-sixth that of the fresh beef. Such pemmican, at the time he wrote, cost the Canadian government about forty cents a pound, equivalent to six pounds of fresh beef.
Pemmican is sometimes eaten raw, sometimes boiled with flour into a thick soup or porridge called robiboo, or, mixed with flour and water and fried like sausage, it is known as rascho. The pemmican made nowadays for arctic expeditions is prepared from the round of beef cut into strips and kiln-dried until friable, then ground fine and mixed with beef suet, a little sugar, and a few currants. It is compressed into cakes, and then packed so as to exclude moisture. It can be bought ready-made in New York, but at an enormous price when sold in small quantity, and the tins add considerably to the weight. If one has home facilities he can make it himself. Leave out the sugar, which makes meat unpalatable to most men. The sugar item should be separate in the ration.
Desiccated meat is disagreeable, and not nearly so nutritious as pemmican, which is already concentrated as much as meat should be, and has the advantage of containing a liberal amount of fat.
In 1870 there was issued to every German soldier a queer, yellow, sausage-shaped contrivance that held within its paper wrapper what looked and felt like a short stick of dynamite. No, it was not a bomb nor a hand, grenade. Tt was just a pound of compressed dry pea soup. This was guaranteed to support a man's strength for one day, without any other aliment whatever. The soldier was ordered to keep this roll of soup about him at all times, and never to use it until there was no other food to be had. The official name of the thing was erbswmrst (pronounced airbs-voorst) which means pea sausage. Within a few months it became famous as the "iron ration" of the Germans in the Franco-Prussian war.
Our sportsmen over here are well acquainted with erbswurst, either in its original form or, at present, as an American "pea soup with bacon" done up in cartons. For many it is the last call to supper when they have had no dinner and see slight prospect of breakfast. Besides, it is the lazy man's prop on rainy days, and the standby of inexperienced cooks.
Erbswurst is composed of pea meal mixed with a very little fat pork and some salt, so treated as to prevent decay, desiccated and compressed into rolls of various sizes. It is much the same thing as baked beans would be if they were dried and powdered, except that it tastes different and it contains much less fat. I understand that the original erbswurst, as prepared by its inventor, Grunberg, included a goodly proportion of fat; but the article of commerce that appeared later had so little of this valuable component (by analysis only 3.08%) that you could scarce detect it.
Nobody can spoil erbswurst in the cooking, unless he goes away and lets it burn. All you have to do is to start a quart of water boiling, tear off the cover from a quarter-pound roll of this "dynamite soup," crumble the stuff finely into the water with your fingers, and boil for fifteen or twenty minutes, stirring; a few times to avoid lumps. Then let the mess cool, and go to it. You may make it thin as a soup or thick as a porridge, or fry it after mixing with a little water, granting you have grease to fry with.
It never spoils, never gets any "punkier" than it was at the beginning. The stick of erbswurst that you left undetected last year in the seventh pocket of your hunting coat will be just as good when you discover it again this year. Mice won't gnaw it; bugs can't get at it; moisture can't get into it. I have used rolls that had lain so long in damp places that they were all moldy outside, yet the food within was neither worse nor better than before.
A pound of erbswurst, costing from thirty-two to forty cents, is about all a man can eat in three meals straight. Cheap enough, and compact enough, God wot! However, this little boon has a string attached. Erbswurst tastes pretty good to a hungry man in the woods as a hot noonday snack, now and then. It is not appetizing as a sole mainstay for supper on the same day. Next morning, supposing you have missed connections with camp, and have nothing but the rest of that erbswurst, you will down it amid storms and tempests of your own raising. And thenceforth, no matter what fleshpots you may fall upon, you will taste "dynamite soup" for a week.
In its native land, this iron ration lost its popularity and was thrown out of the German army. Over here, we benighted wights keep on using it, or its American similitude, in emergencies, simply because we know of no better substitute, or because it is the easiest thing of the kind to be found on the market. We all wish to discover a ready-made ration as light and compact as erbswurst, as incorruptible and cheap, but one that would be fairly savory at the second and third eating, and polite to our insides (which "dynamite soup" is not).
Now I am not about to offer a new invention, nor introduce some wonderful good grub that has lately arrived from abroad. Before the outbreak of the present war, I believe, every army had discarded all the emergency rations it had tried. And yet all of them were searching for a better one. Which goes to prove that a satisfactory thing of this sort is most desirable, but the hardest thing in the world for a commissariat to find. We wilderness prowlers join heartily in praying that somebody will find it; for we, too, like the soldiery, may be cut off from supplies, no telling when, and with the added dilemma, perhaps, of being lost and alone in the "big sticks".