September 7, 2008


I've written before on rice, as it's my favorite food. Wild rice is a grass, like other rices, but of a different genus. True rice is of the genus Oryza and wild rice is Zizania. Wild rice and maize are the only cereals native to North America. It grows in the shallows of the Great Lakes region of Minnesota and Canada. "Manoomin" is the Ojibwe Indian word for wild rice, translated as "good seed". The Chippewa and Ojibwe tribes still harvest wild rice in the traditional way.

Native Americans harvest wild rice by canoeing into a stand of plants, and bending the ripe grain heads over the edge of the canoe, with wooden sticks called knockers, so as to thresh the seeds into the canoe. The size of the knockers, as well as other details, are prescribed in state and tribal law. (Don't get me started on the innuendos....I'm thinking I would be good at this! HA!) After knocking, the rice is parched, thrashed and winnowed. Parching is the drying of the moist rice kernels, thrashing is removing the hulls from the parched wild rice, and winnowing is separating the kernels from the hull. These steps are now mechanized, but were formerly done in the old ways, by hand and foot and birch bark containers.

True wild rice is not like the shiny, black grains usually sold commercially. The "real" stuff is brown and thinner than the cultivated variety and has a distinctly nuttier flavor. It also takes less time to cook than the cultivated type. Both, however, are delicious and healthy. Wild rice is high in protein, lysine and fiber and is gluten-free. It is high in B-vitamins and potassium.

A Minnesotan friend of ours once gave us a "share" of the Chippewa harvest of wild rice for Christmas. We had to wait until the following autumn to receive our 2 lb. share. It was worth the wait and it felt good to know the money went directly to the tribe. I've posted a recipe for wild rice salad since autumn is just about here!

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