Maple Sugaring Improvements 2019

The Maple Sugaring Improvement Plan

The original plan for 2019 had been to go to 1,000 taps from 500 by adding the Steam Away AND reverse osmosis (RO) to the sap concentration and evaporation scheme. RO can raise the sugar concentration in the sap very significantly, but for starters my plan was to raise the concentration from nominally 2% to 8%. It doesn’t sound like much, since syrup is 66% sugar, but if you give it some thought you will see that it is in fact a lot. For example, to double the concentration from 2% to 4% we would have to remove half the water in the sap, and to get from 4% to 8% half of the remaining water would have to again be removed, leaving just one quarter of the water originally present in the sap. In other words 75% of the water in the sap has to be removed to get from 2% to 8% sugar concentration in the sap; that’s a huge reduction in the amount of wood-fired evaporation required. You can read all about the plan in our post 2019 Maple Syrup Season Planning. I discussed our reasoning for not employing the now industry-standard RO in the post I just mentioned.

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Maple Sugaring Season 2019: False Start?

maple sap buckets

We tapped February 20-22 and had good sap flow Feb 23 and into 24; we started collecting Feb 24 and I estimate we have enough sap in the Sap Storage Tank and in buckets on the trees to make between 20 and 30 gallons of syrup.

Against a goal of 150 gallons of syrup for the year 20-30 gallons is significant. So what’s there to be worried about?

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Geri’s Homemade Mayo Recipe

geris homemade mayo recipe

Healthy Fats – Good For What Ails Ya

Use this mayonnaise anywhere you would use the store bought varieties; sandwich spread, tuna and chicken salad, coleslaw, veggie dips, etc. Geri started with a recipe from Chris Kresser, and then took it in a slightly different direction. Ever wonder how to make mayo? Here you go!

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Primal Plunge – Primal Lifestyle: Why?

Why Do People Adopt a New Diet?

According to the 13th Annual Food and Health Survey commissioned by International Food Information Council Foundation, the most prevalent motivation to adopt a new “eating pattern” is weight loss. Surprise, surprise.

Nothing wrong with these motivations

It’s hard to argue with any of these motivators it seems to me. And the desired benefits largely line up with those motivators, with cardiovascular health and weight loss being the top two. But so what?

Cardiovascular heatlh has been a chief driver of dietary interventions in the lives of Americans for over 60 years; Ancel Keys and the “diet heart hypothesis” being the most infamous
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Primal Plunge – Total Primal Blueprint Immersion

The inaugural program offering of “Primal Plunge – 90 Days of Total Immersion” will start on 2019 January 21st. By then most folks will already have abandoned their 2019 New Year’s resolutions! According to research by Strava in the UK, the second Friday in January, January 11th this year, is “Quitter’s Day.” I’m guessing it’s little different in the US. Based in part on The Primal Blueprint 21-Day Total Body Transformation, the Primal Plunge can help you to turn the corner on health and wellness, making not just change, but true transformation, permanent. Are you ready!?

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Have We Genetically Adapted to Agrigultural Foods?

Survival of the Fittest

There has always been “genetic drift,” and for millions of years nature selected for those hominid adaptations that best ensured the survivial of the species, ultimately giving rise to homo sapiens.  In the paleo community its been said that since the advent of agriculture and the civilizations it made possible, 10,000 or so years ago, we have ceased to evolve.  Of course our genome is still changing, but as the argument goes, in the civilized world favorable adaptions are not selected for; there is no “need” for the adaptation to ensure survival of the species. Similarly, unfavorable adaptations are not deselected; as was achieved in paleolithic times by the inability of the person carrying the unfavorable adaption to reach reproductive age or to actually reproduce the unfavorable adaptation in his or her offspring.  As it turns out though, it’s not quite that simple.

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Pemmican: History, Uses and How-To

Earlier this year we collaborated with Marcelle Phene to experiment in the making of traditional pemmican.  If there is such a thing as “super foods,” pemmican must be counted amont them.  But where did this food come from, and how was it traditionally made?  Read on to learn more.

pemmican history how-to

Buffalo meat drying

History of the American Buffalo

At first glance, it would seem possible, certainly easier, to share a “brief” history of Pemmican without the larger context of the American Buffalo.  Since books have been written on the subject of Pemmican alone, it is certainly possible, but I think perhaps a less valuable undertaking than to put Pemmican inside the bigger story.  And so…

In the beginning…

The buffalo came to North America from Siberia via the Bering Land Bridge, or Beringia, during the Wisconsinan Glaciation, an “ice age” if you will, between 11,000 and 75,000 years ago, peaking in its intensity about 20,000 years ago.  “Bridge” seems to be a bit of a misnomer, as north-to-south the width of the bridge between North American and Siberia measured 1,000 miles!  And since we now live in the Great Lakes region, it is of particular interest to note that this area was under 1.5 miles of ice; the weight of which actually caused the earth’s crust to “sink” into the mantle a distance of about one half mile.  The earth’s surface is still in the process of rebounding from this event.  There were something like seventeen “ice ages” during the Pleistocene epoch, and the first bison migration seems to have taken place during the second-to-last, some 140,000 years ago. 1,2
As a side note: The power of glaciers is unimaginable.  During this period the Glacial Lakes Duluth, Chicago, and Lundy were formed; we now know of these as Lake Superior, Lake Michigan and Lake Erie.3 So much of the earth’s water was tied up in the glaciation that sea levels dropped significantly; exposing lands such Beringia, or the Bering Land Bridge.

pemmican history

Glacial Lakes Duluth, Chicago and Lundy

Estimates of the number of buffalo ranging across the North American plains prior to the arrival of Europeans, start at 30,000,000 and go as high as 60,000,000; my take is that it is towards the lower end.  According to Steven Rinella in American Buffalo, the buffalo “was perhaps the most numerous large mammal to ever exist on the face of the earth.”  That’s saying something.  From that zenith, humans pushed the American Buffalo to near extinction.

Indians and the Buffalo

It seems to me safe to say, the Indians were living in equilibrium with the Buffalo, and likely would have indefinitely had Europeans not arrived on scene.  Make no mistake, the Indians killed a lot of buffalo, and not every buffalo was completely utilized nose-to-tail; you only need so much of each part of the animal, and to subsist you need more of some parts than others.  But as in nature in general, reproduction creates a surplus to that necessary for survival of the species, whether we are talking about grains of wheat, nuts falling from a tree, fish and their eggs, or the offspring of mammals.  There can be and under normal circumstances is a balance in nature, between supply and demand.  Also, the Indians relied on the Buffalo for everything, and the word “everything” is not much of a stretch.  Food, clothing, and shelter were just the beginning of what the Indians created from the buffalo they killed, so they had a vested interest in ensuring the survival of the species.

“Ecological Extinction” of the Buffalo

From this point in the story on, “technology” had a lot to do with the demise of the bison.  The first piece of tech that worked against the bison was the human mind, and that mind gave rise to all of the other technologies. Of course early tech, like Clovis and Folsom points allowed groups of humans to take down large animals, including the bison, but not on a large scale.  That came later.

Buffalo Jumps

pemmican history

Buffalo jump

Rinella argues that the buffalo jump might have signaled the beginning of the end; it enabled the “wholesale slaughter of complete buffalo herds.”  This was an invention of the Indians, and make no mistake, it was no simple matter to get a herd of buffalo to “jump” to their deaths.  Rinella discusses buffalo jumps in detail, but I’ll leave it at this; finding naturally occurring landscape suitable as a “jump” was not a no-brainer. Not to mention the issue of getting the herd to approach the jump at a dead run.  The surplus of buffalo killed, those beyond the need to subsist, allowed for trade between tribes within the bison range, and without.


Horses and their domestication, were introduced to the “new world” by Cortez; the horse arrived in Mexico in 1519 and was in the hands of the Pueblo Indians by 1700.  Before the horse, hunting of buffalo had been seasonal, in summer when the buffalo massed at the major rivers.  After the horse, tribes became fully nomadic, leaving behind their horticultural ways, able to carry everything they owned with them and following the buffalo year-round.  Of course the horse also enabled movement for other purposes, like making war with the neighbors.


Railroads split the bison north and south, and as time went on into ever-smaller subdivisions.  The rails brought hunters and guns, and took trade goods including buffalo hides, tongues and bones to faraway markets.  In the end it was the market for hides that took down the American Buffalo; tongues came easily as part of a package deal of sorts, and bones were an afterthought.  Meat in ungodly quantities was left on the plains to rot.

What Happened?

After the not-so Civil War ended, it wasn’t long before the American Buffalo met its end, for all practical purposes.  Ten or twelve years of hide trade was all it took; by 1880 is was pretty much over.  It didn’t take much longer before a conservation movement was mounted in an attempt to preserve what was left, this in the early 20th century.  Today there are about half a million American Bison; 96% of which are “privately owned livestock,” according to Rinella.  And of that, “only three herds of government-owned buffalo – those at Yellowstone and Wind Cave national parks and a state-owned herd in Utah, are know to be genetically pure.”1
This story-line brings to mind a quote from “The Matrix;” Agent Smith speaking to Mopheus, “I’d like to share a revelation that I’ve had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species, and I realised that you’re not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment; but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply, and multiply, until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer on this planet, you are a plague, and we…are the cure.”4
Unfortunately that has been all too true since the advent of “civilization.”  I suppose we can’t turn back the clock…but time travel…I wonder when I’d go back to, as the future state does not hold much allure for me. Hmmmm.

History of Pemmican

According the the wiki Pemmican entry, “Pemmican is a concentrated mixture of fat and protein used as a nutritious food. Historically, it was an important part of Native American cuisine in certain parts of North America, and is still prepared today. The word comes from the Cree word pimîhkân, which itself is derived from the word pimî, “fat, grease”. The Lakota (or Sioux) word is wasna, with the wa meaning “anything” and the sna meaning “ground up”. It was invented by the native peoples of North America.
Pemmican was widely adopted as a high-energy food by Europeans involved in the fur trade and later by Arctic and Antarctic explorers, such as Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton, Fridtjof Nansen, Robert Falcon Scott, and Roald Amundsen.”
There seems to be some argument as to which tribe is responsible for the “invention” of pemmican, but it’s probably safe to say that it was plains Indians of the far north of the current United States (Minnesota, North Dakota and Montana) and the southern provinces of current day Canada.  Since the origin of the word is Cree, I’ll give the nod to the Cree for the creation of pemmican, although the Métis are oft mentioned.

Uses of Pemmican

Traditionally it was used by Indians as both a travel and survival food, and it became a key advantage of the North West Company in their competition with the Hudson’s Bay Company for dominance of the fur trade.  To say that pemmican was an important commodity, is probably a significant understatement.  There was actually a bloody “seven-year feud of 1814-1821 between the North West Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company,” known as the Pemmican War.
In traditional pemmican, only lean muscle meat and fat were ingredients.  The lean meat was dried, either by the sun or over open fires.  The dried meat was then pulverized between two rocks, akin to a mortar and pestle, atop a hide, fur side down, to catch the “beat meat.”
A bag would have been made, about the size of a pillow case, typically from bison hide, fur-side out.  A combination of “beat meat” and melted tallow would be mixed in the bag, until the meat (shreds, granules, particles) was fully encapsulated in tallow.  The bag would then be sewn shut, and melted tallow dripped along the seams to waterproof the bag.  By English speakers the bag was called a “piece,” and by the French a taureau ( for “bull”); each piece weighing approximately 90 pounds.  The ratio by weight of dried lean to tallow was generally between 1:1 and 2:3 (50:50 to 40:60).

Characteristics of Pemmican

Pemmican has a number of attributes recommending it both as a travel and survival food:
  • the tallow protects the lean meat from moisture and resulting decomposition; “shelf life” is said to be north of 20 years, without refrigeration
  • nutritional value of the lean meat is better preserved by drying, than by cooking or the use of salt curing
  • once made, no cooking, and hence no fire or cooking utensils, are required
  • few, as in two, ingredients; simple to make without specialized equipment
  • very high in calories per unit of weight; over 3,000 kcal in 16 oz. of the 40:60 mix
  • nutritionally complete
According to George Monroe Grant, D.D., L.L.D (1835-1902), as cited in Not By Bread Alone, by Vilhjalmur Steffansson, “A bag weighing a hundred pounds is only the size of an ordinary pillow, two feet long, one and a half wide, and six inches thick.  Such a bag then would supply three good meals to a hundred and thirty men.”5
Again from Not By Bread Alone, “Rear Admiral Robert Edwin Peary (1856-1920) is usually considered the greatest of modern Arctic explorers… ‘Too much cannot be said of the importance of pemmican to a polar expedition.  It is an absolute sine qua non.
definition sine qua non
Without it a sledge-party cannot compact its supplies within a limit of weight to make a serious polar expedition successful. … With pemmican, the most serious sledge journey can be undertaken and carried to a successful issue in the absence of all other foods.'”

Notes on Making Pemmican: How-To

Pemmican is an excellent nutrient-dense and energy-dense food. As you can see from its history, it is meant to be kept for long periods of time, at room temperature. This makes it one of the best possible sources of nutrition for traveling. It is also quite easy to prepare yourself making it very affordable too.

John and I chose to use ground venison for the “lean” in our Pemmican because we decided it would be more similar to the traditional buffalo meat. It was also venison that John had hunted himself, so it aligned more with the traditional lifestyle of living off the land. However, you can certainly use ground beef for the “lean” if you don’t have access to venison.

We made two different versions of the Pemmican as an experiment to see which we would like more. The first version was a 50% lean to 50% fat ratio. For the second version, we tried a higher fat ratio and added dried blueberries, similar to what was traditionally done for a “holiday” Pemmican. The second version resulted in a 40% lean to 56% fat ratio with 4% blueberries (by weight).

Pemmican Recipe

(AIP, Paleo, GAPS, SCD, Whole30, Dairy-Free, Egg-Free, Gluten-Free, Nut-Free)

Prep time:   24 hours (dehydrating time) + 30 minutes (hands-on)


50% lean : 50% fat

  • 48 oz ground venison, raw (16 oz dried)
  • 16 oz beef tallow, melted

Makes approx: 32 oz or 2.0 lbs of pemmican = 6,137 kcal

40% lean : 56% fat : 4% blueberries

  • 64 oz ground venison, raw (19.5 oz dried)
  • 27.25 oz beef tallow, melted
  • 2 oz dried blueberries

Makes approx: 49 oz or 3.0 lbs of pemmican =  9,821 kcal


50% lean : 50% fat

Using a dehydrator, John dried the ground venison for approximately 24 hours.

We measured the dry weight of the venison to calculate how much tallow to use by weight for a 50% lean, 50% fat ratio.

While the tallow melted in a saucepan on the stove, we used a food processor to grind the dried venison to a near-powder.

We added the dried venison to a large metal mixing bowl.

We slowly mixed in the melted tallow, making sure to evenly coat all of the dry components.

We continued to stir for another 15 minutes while the mixture cooled to keep the fat from separating.

Then we spooned the mixture into 2 pint-sized mason jars and sealed them.

40% lean : 56% fat : 4% blueberries

Using a dehydrator, John dried the ground venison for approximately 24 hours.

We measured the dry weight of the venison to calculate how much tallow to use by weight for a 40% lean, 56% fat ratio.

While the tallow melted in a saucepan on the stove, we used a food processor to finely grind the dried venison to a powder.

We added the dried venison to a large metal mixing bowl with the dried blueberries.

We slowly mixed in the melted tallow, making sure to evenly coat all of the dry components.

We continued to stir for another 15 minutes while the mixture cooled to keep the fat from separating.

Then we spooned the mixture into 3 pint-sized mason jars and sealed them.

Nutrition Information

50% lean : 50% fat

pemmican how-to

Macronutrient Ratios:

80.7% fat, 19.3% protein, 0% carbs

40% lean : 56% fat : 4% blueberries

pemmican how-to

Macronutrient Ratios:

82.7% fat, 16.1% protein, 1.2% carbs

*Note that the Nutrition Facts labels use rounded numbers. The macronutrients were calculated by what was actually used, not based on the rounded numbers of the label.

I really hope you enjoyed this post.  Merry Christmas,
1 American Buffalo: In Search of a Lost Icon, Steven Rinella
3 By Frank Leverett – The Illinois Ice Lobe; U.S. Geological Survey, Monograph, #38; Government Printing Office; Washington, D.C.; 1899, Public Domain,
Not By Bread Alone, by Vilhjalmur Steffansson
“Pemmican: The Native American Survival Food,”
Métis in Canada
Métis buffalo hunt

Muscle Building Power Meal Recipe

Plan ahead and cook in bulk for days or the entire week; Geri’s design, my execution this time

Build Muscle – Reduce Body Fat

The purpose of using this meal is to build muscle and develop a lean(er) physique.  I intend to eat a lot of it in the next 4 months, up to three 12 oz servings per day.  It’s loaded with protein in an amount sufficient to stimulate muscle protein synthesis.  Since we lead busy lives, whipping this up in large batches will help to ensure that we eat well, even if time does not allow for regular daily meal preparation.  When pressed for time I tend to get to the meat, but not the veggies.

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Blog Subscriber Update

From John’s Desk – 
Blog Delivery Logistics

Primal Woods John at work
Not a big fan of pictures of me, but I’ll take this one

If you are reading this it means that at some point in the past you “opted in” to an email subscription to our Primal Woods blog.  I want you to know that yesterday I transitioned e-mail delivery of the blog posts from Feedburner to Zoho.  There are a couple of reasons for that; one, Feedburner is an old google product, and is no longer supported, and two, Zoho offers some additional capabilities.  If everything goes according to plan, Zoho should have sent you this post at 6 a.m. Eastern Time on 2018 December 15.  And, since I don’t want to be an unwelcome “spammer,” you are reminded that you can “opt-out” at any time; you will find an “unsubscribe” link at the bottom of the email.  I thank all of you for having subscribed in the first place, and next I will introduce you to some of my thoughts on where we might go from here with respect to my communication with you.  I need your help.

What’s Next?

Well, that depends on you and the feedback you provide to me.  I’ll continue with the blog, though I certainly tend to post there less frequently than on Instagram and Facebook.  I use the blog to provide in depth information, and writing and publishing the posts is a time consuming process.  Still, that sort of documentation comes naturally to me, so it will continue, and probably no less frequently than now.  I’m looking for something that will allow me more depth than Instagram or Facebook, but with less investment of time than the blog or video (given my current capabilities).

primal woods communication channels
Spectrum of Communication Channels

A Newsletter Perhaps?

One of the things that Zoho offers, is the capability for sending you email on a variety of subjects.  A lot crosses my mind and my desk that I think might be of interest to you, but frankly the work required to put these bits in a blog post is off-puttting.  Conversely, I could put interesting and informative content in a quick “Newsletter” email far more easily; it would I think fit right between Facebook and the Blog on the Spectrum.  These newsletters would touch on all areas of the Primal Woods business, including Sawyers, Sugarers, Soapers, and soon, Primal Health Coaching.  Zoho also offers the capability of managing various “interest group” lists,  so if you only wanted to read about soap, or sugars, or sawyers, or health coaching, or any combination of those, you could manage your subscription accordingly.  What do you think about the newsletter idea; I would be very appreciative of hearing your thoughts?  Since this is a blog post you can provide feedback on the blog, or simply reply to via the email delivered by Zoho, I hope!

Video and/or Audio?

It’s also perfectly clear that a lot, probably the vast majority of people, now consume information either via live or recorded audio or video.  These are routes I have experimented some with, and the YouTube channel garners new subscribers almost daily; frankly, that surprises me.  Having said that, producing audio and video is even more timeconsuming (currently) than the blog, and so it has not happened as frequently as it should.  Some of that is due to my own limitations.  I will find a way to make audio and or video more manageable if that’s what you want to see.

Along that line of thought, again I would appreciate your feedback.  Would you be more engaged with audio and/or video than with the blog, Facebook, and Instagram?  If so, audio or video?  And on what platform; YouTube, Vimeo a podcast, Facebook or IG Live videos?  The possibilities are seemingly endless, and your feedback will certainly inform the decision.  It’s hard for me to believe you’d want to see my mug more often, but if so I’ll buckle-up and make it so!

Thank You!

I want to thank you for all of the love and support as we come to the end of year three in Primal Woods.  To say that it has been an adventure is a gross understatement.   Our customers, you, are in a class all by themselves.  I’m continuously amazed by what you are up to, in business and in life.  It’s my fervent prayer that we can be of service to you.

All the best, happy holidays, and Merry Christmas,



The Business of Primal Health Coaching

Primal Health Coaching

There’s that old saying, words to the effect that “you are what you think about all day long.”  It might be better said, you become what you think about all day long.

As most of the long-time readers will know, Geri and I have been very serious about our health since I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Disease of the thyroid in mid-2014.  I’ve been moving along the ancestral health path for almost 5 years now, and it has been an amazing journey.  Some bread crumbs have been left along the way, here and here.  Even before 2014 I was in search of the trail-head for about five years, and in that search one of the first books I came across was The Primal Blueprint.  More recently you might have noticed that I’m a student at the Primal Health Coach Institute; both the book and the course are the creations of Mark Sisson and his team.

It’s no coincidence that “Health” is one of the three elements of “The Purpose.”  Like most “vision” or “mission” statements, ours was aspirational, which is to say we weren’t necessarily being all, or indeed any of those things when “The Purpose” was drafted in June of 2015. You become what you think about. All. Day. Long. Read more