Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Pemmican and Pudding.

Today, September 6th ...

It is with great pleasure today that I give you a story about Canadian "Mounties" - something I have wanted to do for some time, for no better reason than that they are the archetypal rugged wilderness types , and every girl's romantic heroes.

Another pleasure turned out to be that this story led me to find out more about pemmican that I thought there was to know. At the start I thought it was merely the arctic variation of beef jerky - more fat and perhaps added berries, but essentially just an easily transportable form of calories appreciated solely for its ability to satisfy hunger during adventures in the frozen northern wastes, eaten "as is" with no pretence to culinary versatility. How wrong I was! Or perhaps what I really underestimated was the creativity of those cool heroes.

The diary entry that started this epiphany was written on this day in 1874 by one Sam Steele (good name for a Mountie!), who had joined up the previous year.

"It [the pemmican] was cooked in two ways in the west; one a stew of pemmican, water, flour, and if they could be secured, wild onions or preserved potatoes. This was called "rubaboo". The other was called by the plains hunters "a rechaud". It was cooked in a frying-pan with onions and potatoes or alone. Some persons ate pemmican raw, but I must say I never had a taste for it that way."

Here is pemmican way beyond the basic pemmican recipe of our April 6th story, the pemmican defined by the OED as "lean meat, dried, pounded, and mixed with melted fat, so as to form a paste, and pressed into cakes; hence beef similarly treated, and usually flavoured with currants and the like, for the use of arctic explorers, travellers, and soldiers". This is Gourmet Pemmican indeed!

My delight and admiration were magnified a thousandfold when I then read another 1870's Canadian wilderness story about the expedition of Sandford Fleming - a story which brings us to our recipe for the day (or should that be improvisation guidelines?) for plum pudding made with pemmican.

Recipe for the Day ...

I repeat this story almost in its entirety, with no apologies for grossly exceeding the word limit for the day. Some stories are too good to abbreviate too much.

"September 8th. Another day of rest, with nothing to chronicle save our ordinary Sunday routine. But no, - this is doing grave injustice to the Doctor who eclipsed all his former efforts, in the way of providing medical comforts, by concocting a plum-pudding for dinner. The Doctor's prescriptions smelled of the pharmacopoeia as little as possible. Was an old woman that he met on the way complaining of 'a wakeness'? Send her a pannikin of hot soup. ... Was a good 'Father' at the mission in failing health? Fatten him up with rich diet, even on fast days. And finally were we all desirous of celebrating a birth-day, and did the thought make us a little homesick, the only sickness that our party ever suffered from? Get up a plum-pudding for dinner.
But how? We had neither bag, nor suet, nor plums. But we had berry pemmican, and pemmican in its own line is equal to shaganappi. It contained buffalo fat that would do for suet, and berries that would do for plums. Only genius could have united plum-pudding and pemmican in one mental act. Terry contributed a bag, and, when the contribution was inspected rather daintily, he explained that it was a sugar bag, which might be used as there was very little sugar left for it to hold. Pemmican, flour and water, baking soda, sugar and salt were surely sufficient ingredients; as a last touch the Doctor searched the medicine-chest, but in vain, for tincture of ginger to give flavour, and in default of that suggested chlorodyne, but the Chief promptly negatived the suggestion, on the ground that if we ate the pudding the chlorodyne might be required a few hours after.
At 3 pm the bag was put in the pot, and dinner was ordered to be at 5. At the appointed hour everything was ready; the usual piece de resistance of pemmican, flanked for Sunday garnishing by two reindeer tongues. But as we gathered round, it was announced that the pudding was a failure; that it would not unite; that buffalo fat was not equal in cohesive power to suet, and that instead of a pudding it would only be boiled pemmican. The Doctor might have been knocked down with a feather; Frank was loud and savage in his lamentations; but the Chief advised 'more boiling' as an infallible specific in such cases, and that dinner be proceeded with. The additional half hour acted like a charm. With fear and trembling the Doctor went to the pot; anxious heads bent down with his; tenderly was the bag lifted out and slit; and a joyous shout conveyed the intelligence that it was a success, that at any rate it had the shape of a pudding. Brown, who had been completely scoffing, was silenced; and the Doctor conquered him completely by helping him to a double portion. How good that pudding was! A teaspoonful of brandy and a sprinkling of sugar made sauce; and there was not one of the party who did not hold out his plate for "more", though, as the Doctor belonged to the orthodox school of medicine, the first helping had been no homeopathic dose. To have been perfect the pudding should have had more boiling, but no one dared hint a fault, for was not the dish empty? We at once named the place Plum-Pudding Camp, and Brown was engaged to make a better if he could at the Yellow Head Pass Camp."

Question for the Day ...

Now, if any of my Canadian readers can enlighten me as to "shaganappi", I will be a very happy Old Foodie indeed!

Tomorrow's Story ...

On the road again.

Quotation for the Day ...

I am not a glutton, I am an explorer of food. Erma Bombeck.

2 comments:

Canuck who lives near Shaganappi Trail said...

> Now, if any of my Canadian readers
> can enlighten me as to
> "shaganappi", I will be a very
> happy Old Foodie indeed.

According to onelook.com and some other googled sources, shaganappi means rawhide, or certain things made from it. (I heard this on CBC too, but you know how the media are; they often swallow what they find on the Web instead of doing research.)

The Old Foodie said...

Hi Canuck, I had forgotten this question of mine. I have just searched the Early Canadiana Online database, and the word comes up in several texts. Raw hide seems to be the definition, although one text used it to refer to the actual 'lines' (long 'ropes')
One says "Shaganappi in this part of the world does all the that leather, cloth, rope, nails, glue, straps, cord, tape and a number of other articles are used for elsewhere."