" jerky " or jerked meat has nothing to do with our common word " jerk." It is an anglicized form of the Spanish charqui, which is itself derived from the Quichua (Peruvian) ccharqui, meaning flesh cut in flakes and dried without salt. It is the same as the African biltong. Those who have not investigated the matter may be surprised to learn that the round of beef is 61 per cent, water, and that even the common dried and smoked meat of the butcher shoos contains 54 per cent, water. To condense the nutritive properties of these substances, the water, of course, must be exhausted. In ordinary dried beef this is only partially done, because the pieces are too thick.
In the dry air of uninhabited plains, meat does not putrefy, even when unsalted, and it may be dried in the sun, without fire. Elk flesh dried in the sun does not keep as well as that of deer.
As I have said, real jerky has been dried without salt; but it is common practice nowadays to use some salt in the process, proceeding as follows :—
If you can afford to be particular, select only the tender parts of the meat; otherwise use all of the lean. Cut it in strips about half an inch thick. If you have time, you may soak them a day in strong brine. If not, place the flakes of meat on the inside of the hide, and mix with them about a pint and a half of salt for a whole deer, or two or three quarts for an elk or moose; also some pepper. These condiments are not necessary, but are added merely for seasoning. Cover the meat with the hide, to keep flies out, and let it stand thus for about two hours to let the salt work in. Then drive four forked stakes in the ground so as to form a square, the forks being about four feel from the ground. Lay two poles across from fork to fork, parallel, and across these lay thin poles about two inches apart. Lay the strips of meat across the poles, and under them build a small fire to dry and smoke the meat. Do not let the fire get hot enough to cook the meat, but only to dehydrate it, so that the flesh becomes dry as a chip. The best fuel is birch, especially black birch, because it imparts a pleasant flavor. Only a thin smoke is wanted. To confine it, if a breeze is stirring, put up some sort of wind-break. This will reduce the weight of the meat about one-half, and will cure it so that it will keep indefinitely. You may have to keep up the fire for twenty-four hours. The meat of an old bull will, of course, be as tough as sole leather; but, in any case, it will retain its flavor and sustenance. When pounded pretty fine, jerky makes excellent soup; but it is good enough as it is, and a man can live on it exclusively without suffering an inordinate craving for bread.
Some do not like their meat smoked. A way of jerking without smoking was described by " an old-timer" for the New York Sun:
" Cut the choicest of the meat into strips ten inches long and two inches square. Sprinkle them quite liberally with salt, but not enough to make them bitter. Let the salt work on them for a couple of hours. While it is doing it you go and put down two logs a foot or so in diameter side by side and about the same distance apart. Between the logs make a fire of dry hemlock bark.
" Hemlock, or a relative of hemlock, is always apt to be found in deer hunting regions, and I never go into camp without taking pains to gather up a lot of hemlock bark for use. It is the best material for the purpose because it will make a fire of hot coals without running to blaze or smoke. Birch bark would be ideal for the purpose, but it is all blaze with birch bark. Hickory wood couldn't be beat for jerking venison, but hickory wood would smoke the meat, and jerked venison isn't smoked venison, as a good many folks suppose it is, not by a long shot.
" Having got your bed of hemlock bark coals in fine shape, and having driven at the inside edge of the ends of each log a crouched stick long enough after it is securely driven to have the crotch perhaps a foot above the logs, and having extended from crotch to crotch in these sticks two poles that are thus suspended above the fire, cut as many half inch hardwood sticks as you need, long enough to reach across from one pole to another and rest securely on them. On these sticks string your strips of deer meat by thrusting them through the meat near one end of the strips, the sticks being sharpened at one end to facilitate that operation.
" This will leave the strips hanging from their sticks much as the candles used to hang from theirs in the old fashioned moulds, if any hunter of this generation is happy enough to have recollections of the days when we made our own candles. Place the sticks with their pendent meat over the coals. Turn the concave sides of lengths of hemlock bark over the top of the sticks. This will keep in the steam that will presently begin to rise from the meat, a9 the coals get their gradual but effective work in on it. Keep the fire down there between the logs so it won't make too rapid a heat, for if it does the juice will ooze out of the meat and be lost, and that would detract from the excellence of the finished product.
" If during the process of jerking your venison the meat is taken off the coals before it is done it will be soft and flabby. If it is hard when taken off it will be overdone. In either case your jerked venison might much better have remained unjerked, for it will be a failure. To prevent either of these catastrophes the meat should be tested frequently by pushing a sharp knife blade or other convenient probe into and through the strips. The moment it requires more than ordinary force to push the probe through, your venison is thoroughly and properly jerked. Then shove the coals from under the strips and let tbem cool with the dying embers".