Exploring Jerky and Dried Meats: History of Dry-Preserving
A Matter of Survival
At the beginning of time, our ancestors were hunters and gatherers. The dictates of climate and availability of water drove prey from region to region and as meat sources migrated so did the human race. Whether born of necessity or a fortuitous accident, the preservation of meat by drying became an integral component of survival, enabling people to travel long distances and endure periods of famine.
Did You Know?
Archeologists have discovered dried meats that are more than 5,000 years old.
The ancient Egyptians believed that our life on this Earth is just a fraction of our total being, death is a mere interruption, and our final destiny is an eternity in a perfect Field of Reeds where disappointments, sickness, and death are banished. The Egyptians believed that the soul ultimately would be reunited with the body. Therefore it would be necessary to preserve the body (mummification). When the soul and body were rejoined, the newly-living would have needs—furniture, clothing, pets, and food. Tombs dated 3,200 B.C. have been explored, and in those explorations, archeologists have found remnants of beer, wine, grain, produce, and dried meat.
The Egyptians were not the only people who formulated the craft of meat preservation by drying. In Ethiopia, quant'a was made of dried beef seasoned with salt and cardamom. The peoples of Hausaland produced kilishi, thin sheets of goat coated with a paste of honey, spices, and ground peanuts. And in South Africa, biltong was cut in thick slices and cured with vinegar before drying.
Cold Climate Europe
In Norway, the Vikings were producing fenalår (fen = mutton and lår = leg) a thousand years ago or more. Of all of the Nordic countries, Norway is the top producer of sheep and in the 21st century still manufactures this delicacy, more than 1,700 tons per year. The traditional way of eating fenalår is to take very thin slices with a sheath knife and serve them with flatbread, scrambled eggs, and beer.
The people of Switzerland still make Bündnerfleisch, the traditional accompaniment to Raclette. It is made of beef, cured with white wine, salt, onions, and herbs, then hung and dried in a temperature-controlled environment.
The art of preservation by drying was not isolated to the African continent and Europe. In the Quechuan language of the Incas, the word ch'arki means dried meat. This product of the Andes was made of alpaca and llama meat debonded, pounded, and dried in the arid climate of South America. The tribe shared this food with Spanish conquistadors who took the concept back to Europe. The Quechua word eventually evolved from "ch'arki" to "jerky."
Among the poor in South America, dry-preservation of meat is still used today. In her book Pickled, Potted and Canned: How the Art and Science of Food Preserving Changed the World, Sue Shepard reveals that "...one can still find dried beef in the form tassajo, which is made with strips of meat dipped in maize flour, dried in the hot sun and wind, then tightly rolled up into balls to be carried easily on journeys."
In North America, the Cree Indians combined dried meat, fat, and dried berries to produce pemmican. This calorie-dense, portable food with an endless shelf-life sustained many pioneers, trappers, and explorers as they expanded their conquest of the continent.
Originally, buffalo meat was hunted, prepared, hand-sliced into long strips, and massaged with salt. Then it was furled inside the animal's hide, dried under the sun, treated with slow smoke, or dehydrated outside over rocks, leather sheets, and trays for at least 2 to 3 days. Smoking the meat actually finishes the cooking and drying procedure in about half a day. It became the preferred choice since the process of sun-heating and air drying the meat required a longer stop in their journeys.— Source: Amazingfoodmadeeasy.com/info/history-of-beef-jerky
Still Popular in the 21st Century
Although no longer needed to sustain explorers and pioneers or vagabond peoples of Europe, dried meat has not dwindled in popularity. It's a low-cost, light-weight source of protein for day hikers and backpackers, a quick snack for the after-school athlete, and welcome sustenance for hunters, fishers, and survivalists.
Recipes in this article:
Type of Meat:
- Duck or Goose
- Ground meat
Recipes Using Jerky
- Beef Noodles
- Tomato Sauce
This should be your standard go-to recipe for preparing jerky. You won't need a smoker, a food dehydrator, or an air fryer. With the heat of your oven, you can create your own beef jerky. Not only will it taste better (beefier) than what you buy in the store, it will have a better texture.
Duck or Goose Jerky
If you are a wild game bird hunter (or know someone who is) I hope you can give this recipe a try. Hank Shaw developed this recipe using a dehydrator but gives advice on how to adapt the instructions to use your oven as well. He flavors his dried duck or goose with garlic powder, thyme, and cayenne but says you can use the flavoring of your choice as long as you maintain the same ratio of meat:water:salt:Worcestershire.
I do hope you appreciate all that I do for your guys. Most internet recipes for pork jerky use ground pork. I looked high and low and finally found this maple-flavored treat. Bill (JerkyHolic) has written a cookbook dedicated to jerky and shares his tips and recipes in his blog. This pork jerky has just a few simple ingredients and can be processed in the oven or dehydrator.
But, maybe you really want a jerky made from ground meat. I aim to please, so your next recipe is...
Ground Meat Jerky
Heather has children, and they love beef jerky. But, jerky is expensive and loaded with salt, sugar, and preservatives. That's a problem.
One day there was a power failure; the freezer stopped freezing and Heather was left with 2 pounds of thawed ground beef. It needed to be rescued and so Heather, being ever resourceful and a problem solver, melded these two problems to create an imaginative, easy, and tasty solution. She made jerky with the ground beef.
This salmon jerky hits all the notes—sweet, salty, savory, and spicy. Personally, my family and I prefer it without the spice. If you like it "hot," go with the recipe as written. If you prefer your salmon more on the teriyaki side, omit the hot sauce and decrease the ground black pepper to 1/4 teaspoon.
Vegan jerky. It sounds like an oxymoron, doesn't it? Firm tofu is sliced, pressed, marinated and then baked in a 200-degree oven. Easy, tasty, and guilt-free.
Turkey Jerky (It Rhymes!)
The mild flavor of turkey makes a perfect starting point in this turkey jerky recipe. Turkey is also lower in fat than beef jerky making it a healthier option. Mindy gives directions for making this with a dehydrator or in your oven at the lowest setting.
Salty with soy sauce and spicy with garlic and ginger, this venison version is some of the best jerky you will ever taste. Be sure to not overdry it.
Foods Made With Jerky
Laura Moss created this imaginative recipe for Mother Nature News. Believe it or not, you can create gourmet meals when you're backpacking. Her stir-fry beefy noodles are the evidence.
Jerky Tomato Sauce
Pasta sauce made from jerky? Don't laugh. Beef jerky has all of the savory/salty/umami flavors that you expect in a tomato-y sauce, it's compact, and doesn't need refrigeration. So here's another backpack meal idea to elevate your campout meal from the traditional hotdog on a stick. Thanks to Alton Brown of the Food Network for this idea.
Questions & Answers
© 2019 Linda Lum