Plumas County Living History Days, sponsored by Plumas County Museum, was the featured activity at the county museum grounds and county fairgrounds Tuesday, May 29, through Friday, June 1. Fourth-grade students from county schools participated in learning about how things were done in the pioneer days. The members of Plumas-Sierra CattleWomen were asked to participate by giving a hands-on presentation about the history and making of jerky.
Dehydrating or drawing the moisture out of fresh foods such as meat, vegetables or fruits to prevent spoiling for later use has been around for many, many years. Jerky and dehydrated foods were a staple for travelers as they were not bulky or heavy and provided easy access to help satisfy hunger until something edible could be found along the trail.
They were also a necessity for home use as refrigeration and cool boxes were many years away from being available. Thus, dehydration was a means of preserving foods for later use when they were no longer in season.
The Native Americans had killing trips when hundreds of bison were harvested near a river. The hunters needed a means of preserving the food for winter and they prepared the meat at that site. Chunks of meat were salted and hung to preserve for later eating. Their camps remained for months to properly prepare food for the winter.
Pioneers traveling in wagons would trade things with the natives for food and would hang their food to preserve along the side of the wagons for later use or until they reached their destination.
The name jerky comes from a Spanish word called charqui (pronounced sharkey). As the white communities moved westward with different language barriers the name later became jerky. Jerky is meat cut into thin strips, then seasoned with salt and pepper to pull the moisture out for preservation. As dried jerky is chewed while eating, saliva puts some of the moisture back into the meat, thus satisfying hunger.
There were four students in each living history group so each was able to measure and place ingredients of the marinating sauce as each step was explained. All wore gloves for sanitation purposes. Then the students placed the strips of beef into the marinade solution they had mixed and hung the strips with drapery hooks on a rack to dry.
All students, teachers and chaperones were given a sample of jerky and a copy of the recipe used. One hundred fifty students, plus teachers and chaperones, participated in the educational event.
Jerky has many recipes. But the main ingredients are salt and pepper to draw the moisture out before hanging until dry. Jerky can be dried in other ways today: in a 170-degree oven for four to six hours, in a dehydrator at 145 degrees until ready or, as one CattleWomen member did with great success, on a cookie sheet on the dashboard of a pickup truck with the windows rolled up.
Jerky seems very expensive in marketplaces but buyers may not realize how much moisture is lost in dehydrating. Typically, 3 pounds of fresh meat yields about 1 pound of jerky. It can be made from many different types of meat. Many hunters have made jerky from their harvest of different animals.
Interest in the presentation was so great that the CattleWomen group has been asked to participate again in the future. But this can only be done through the volunteer efforts of CattleWomen as the project was quite an undertaking for four days. The group thanked the six ladies that took the time, effort and expense to promote beef in this way.
The group also thanked the Plumas Historical Society for inviting the CattleWomen to participate.
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