When possible, all parts of the buffalo were used
In processing buffalo, the Ojibwe, Cree, and half-breed (Metis) hunters were quite systematic in how they handled the animals, what parts were used for meat, and what would be processed for trade.
First, the buffalo tongue was processed. The tongue of even an old bull was regarded as a delicate morsel, and was almost always saved first. The hump was generally considered to be next in delicacy and tenderness and would be saved for eating rather than processing as pemmican or for sale.
Next, the meat was cut by the women into long strips about a quarter of an inch thick. These strips were hung upon the lattice-work prepared for that purpose, to dry in the sun and smoke with small fires. This lattice-work was formed by bending small pieces of wood horizontally and vertically to form a grid that was supported by large poles.
After a few days, the meat was thoroughly desiccated from the sun and smoke. It was then folded into proper lengths, and tied in bundles of sixty or seventy pounds of dried meat called a 'viande seche'. These bundles would be transfered to the trading posts for sale and future processing.
The smaller portions of meat which were also dried were not bundled, but rather were dried until brittle and reducible to small particles by the use of a hammer, with the buffalo-hide serving the purpose of a clean threshing-floor. Next, the tallow was cut up and melted in large kettles of sheet-iron and poured upon the pounded meat, and the whole mass was worked together with shovels and hoes until well-mixed. Berries or cherries might be added if available. Then, the mixture was pressed, while still warm, into bags made of buffalo-skin, which were sewn up tightly. The pemmican was allowed to gradually cool and it soon became almost as hard as a rock.
Pemmican without berries or cherries was called 'fine pemmican'; pemmican that contained them was called 'seed pemmican'. People who remember what old-time pemmican tasted like described fine pemmican to be very palatable, but seed pemmican was described as excellent in taste and a delicacy to partake in.
A processed block of pemmican would usually weigh from about one-hundred to one-hundred and ten pounds. A whole cow buffalo might yield one half a bag of pemmican, and three fourths of a bundle of dried meat; so that the most economical calculate that from eight to ten cows are required for the load of a single Red River cart. The robes were, of course, processed and bundled for eventual sale or use.
Other parts of the buffalo would also be used. While the pemmican was being processed, the men would separate and break the bones. The broken bones would be placed into boiling water to extract the marrow. The marrow would be poured into the bladder of the buffalo, which was able to contain about twelve pounds of marrow. Stored marrow was used for frying and for other culinary purposes. A bull could yield forty-five pounds of clean rendered marrow, while a fat cow might yield about thirty-five pounds.
During the autumn months, a few hunters would kill buffaloes for the purpose of curing the meat for winter instead of processing it for pemmican. The best pieces only, from young and tender animals, were selected, and when properly cured were considered fully equal to the best dried and smoked beef found in the eastern markets.
Adapted from Memoirs of the Museum of Comparative Zool̈ogy at Harvard College (1874)
A collaborative effort of members of the Ojibwe and Metis communities