Dalish Food Preservation: Jerky, Pemmican, and Hot-Pot
For most cultures throughout Thedas, preserved foods are a necessity. For the peoples of the Anderfels, and the Elves of the Dalish Clans, this is especially true. The Anders have to deal with the volatile climate of the Anderfels, and the Dalish must deal with their nomadic lifestyle which leaves little room for fresh food storage of any meaningful value.
One thing many cultures have in common throughout Thedas, and even our own real world, is that each cultures has some variation of dried meats. In Thedas, two kinds of dried meats are very ubiquitous throughout most cultures that still make liberal use of preservation: Jerky, and Pemmican.
Jerky is meat that has been sliced or pounded very thin, and then dried with the aid of liberal amounts of salt and seasonings. In the modern era, we usually use nitrates of some kind to aid in the curing of meats like Jerky. In Thedas, and our own middle ages, however, they would have used only salt.
The Dalish typically make their jerky using salt, ironbark syrup (which is similar in flavor to mollasses), fermented rashvine sap and various herbs and spices that are native to the area in which they are staying. For example, Dalish clans in Ferelden and the Free Marches typically use a lot of borage, bay leaf, mint, juniper berries and parsley in their jerky.
Pemmican is essentially a loaf of dried/cured meat, mixed with fat and sometimes other ingredients. Some cultures add fruits and grains, whereas others use only meat, fat and seasoning.
In our own world, it is unknown who truly invented pemmican, but the word comes from the language of the Cree, one of the many indigenous peoples of North America.
Likewise, in Thedas, it is unknown who invented Pemmican. But almost every culture has, or used to have, a variant of it. The Dalish variation is known as ghial’bradh and incorporates a lot of dried berries and wild grains.
Hot-pot, hochepot, or hodgepodge is a stew made of a mixture of various ingredients, usually whatever the cook has on hand at the time. In many cultures throughout thedas, hot-pot is made with pemmican or some other cured or preserved food as its base.
Most cultures througout thedas have a variant of Hot-Pot. In Fereldan and the Free Marches, it is known as either hodgepodge, or rubaboo. In Orlais it is known as hochepot. In Antiva it is known as either mezcolanza or misto. In Nevarra it is known as miktí, and in Tevinter it is known as farrago.
Among the Dalish, it is known as grid’iathe. It is typically made with Dalish ghial’bradh along with whatever fresh vegetables, grains and herbs that Dalish clan is able to forage.
DALISH MEAT JERKY (Dil’Selem)
Dalish jerky is usually made from wild ram, bear, sheep or boar meat. However, some clans will trade with human settlements for mutton, pork and beef.
yield: about 1.5 lbs of jerky
- ¾ cup hickory salt (about 6 oz by weight) (pickling salt will work fine)
- ¼ c ironbark syrup (Maple syrup, molasses, or honey will work fine)
- 1 large amrita vein bulb or 4 arbor blessing bulbs, crushed (4 spring onions or 4 cloves of garlic will work fine)
- 2 large spoonfuls purified and fermented rashvine sap (2 tbs Worcestershire sauce plus 2 tbs black pepper will work fine)
- 5 pounds fresh meat
- spices of choice (vary by clan, so just use your favorites, or none at all)
- Rub the meat with the salt, making sure to cover every inch of meat in a thin layer of slay. If you need to use more than ¾ cup, do so. However, do not use less than ½ cup.
- Lay the meat on a rack in a large container and allow to rest in a cold place for at least 12 hours (the Dalish usually use tightly packed snow or ice, but i’m pretty sure a fridge will work fine). Do not allow the meat to rest for more than 48 hours.
- Check the meat every day to check to see if any liquid needs to drained from the container. Make sure that any liquid that is drawn from the meat does not touch the meat. While there is enough salt on the meat to prevent bacterial formations, the same cannot be said for any liquid that is leeched out by the salt. Make sure to remove liquid when necessary.
- After 12 hours, remove the meat and wash thoroughly, making sure to remove all salt. Then vigorously pat dry until the surface of the meat is completely dry.
- Once dry, slice meat into long, thin strips no larger than ¼ inch thick. Make sure to slice the meat with the grain, otherwise your jerky will fall apart once dried.
- Combine syrup, crushed bulbs, rashvine sap and any other spices of choice in a bowl until you form a smooth paste.
- Dip each piece of meat into your seasoning paste, making sure that each piece is thoroughly coated in a very thin layer of seasoning.
- Dry your meat using a wire rack over a low burning fire for at least 24 hours, or until fully dried.
- In the real world: use a food dehydrator, making sure the temperature stays between 130 and 140 degrees at all times. Dry your jerky until it is firm and stiff but not ready to fall apart.
- Alternatively, you can dry your jerky in the oven, making sure to use your oven’s lowest setting and leaving the oven door slightly open.
DALISH PEMMICAN (Ghial’bradh)
Similar to Dalish jerky, Pemmican or ghial’bradh is typically made with ram, bear, sheep or boar meat. Unlike jerky, however, it is not as salty, and usually incorporates dried fruit and grains. What results is a thick, dry meat ‘bread’ that is usually stored and then sliced to be heated and eaten later.
Many Dalish clans will store ghial’bradh is bags made of animal hide. These bags can be made to be air-tight and oftentimes clans will bury bags of excess ghial’bradh and leave specific markers so that other Dalish clans can make use of their good fortune later.
yield: about 3 lbs of pemmican
- 5 lbs of fresh meat
- 1.5 lbs of suet (animal kidney fat, specifically of beef, venison and pork)
- 2 oz (by weight) dried fruit
- 1 oz (by weight) cup cooked, drained and dried wild rice, or wild wheat berries
- Slice meat very thin against the grain.
- Dry meat on a wire rack over a very low smokey fire for about 24 hours until completely dry. (alternatively, dry on your oven’s lowest setting with the door slightly open for about 10-12 hours. If you use a dehydrator, bake your meat strips in the oven for 30 minutes at 200, and then use your dehydrator normally). Meat should be completely dry and brittle once done.
- Using a mortar and pestle, ground your dried meat into a coarse powder (alternatively, you can use a food processor in the modern world).
- Make sure the amount of dried meat is equal (in weight) to the amount of rendered fat you have. Adjust if needed.
- Melt your rendered fat completely, but do not allow it to become too hot.
- In a large bowl, combine the cooked grain, dried fruit and meat powder.
- Add your rendered fat and stir until combined into a smooth paste.
- Pour your paste into molds of your choice (the dalish use clay bread pans) and pat down to get rid of any air bubbles. Store in a cool place until set and firm.
- Remove pemmican from your mold and wrap in cloth (or use plastic wrap if you live in the real world).
Your pemmican will keep for longer if you choose to omit the fruit and grain. Many Dalish clans would choose to leave out the fruit and grain until it was time to eat, and then they would mix the pemmican with the fruit and grain in a large bowl before eating.
Do remember that pemmican is very high in calories. 1 pound of pemmican typically contains 3000 calories, so it is very much not a food that you want to snack on. This is, however, the perfect food to take when you go backpacking or camping (or if you’re a constantly travelling nomadic Dalish clan).
Additionally, I recommend buying pre-rendered suet if you can get it, but if you’re interested in being a bit more traditional, check out this instructional video on how to render your own suet.
DALISH HOT-POT (Grid’iathe)
yield: about 8 portions
- 1 pound Dalish pemmican (ghial’bradh)
- 1 large bowl rashvine nettles, boiled, drained and washed (feel free to using stinging nettles or fiddleheads instead. Learn how to prepare stinging nettles here, and how to prepare fiddleheads here. Warning: Never EVER eat fiddleheads or nettles raw.)
- 1 large bowl fresh elfroot, washed and drained (you can use spinach or kale instead)
- 1 pound potatoes, peeled and diced
- 6 large Amrita Vein bulbs, roughly chopped (or 2 large onions)
- Any other fresh vegetables and herbs you can forage (or buy at ye olde grocery store)
- ½ pound fresh wild rice or wild wheat berries (you can use farro or rye berries if you like)
- 1 spoonful of lard or butter (you can use vegetable oil as well)
- Salt to taste
- Roughly chop your pemmican
- Heat the butter or lard in a large pot. Once the butter has started to brown, add your onions. Cook until translucent, and then add all of your other vegetables.
- Put in another water to cover all of the vegetables by at least 2 inches.
- Add in your chopped pemmican and wild rice. Cook until stew has reduced to a thick consistency and pemmican and rice are fully cooked.
- Add your rashvine nettles, elfroot, and any other fresh greens and herbs that you wish. Cook just long enough for them to wilt and release their flavor.
- Season to taste and serve immediately with a large mug of fresh Dalish ale.
Your stew should have the consistency of thin chowder. If you wish for a thicker soup, simply use more grains.
Bon Appétit, or as they say among the Dalish: Son’ava!