January 1, 2009 Issue 193 Volume 3
Go Wild With Rice:
By ANNE KELLY
"We are only experimenting and haven't had a lot of success here (in the northern Lower Peninsula)," he said. "In some instances, people have tried to rid the area of wild rice because it's a nuisance and gets tangled up in their boat propellers.
"I'm a biologist," he said, "so at least I'm glad that we're feeding the ducks."
The technique of growing and harvesting wild rice is a generation removed from its American Indian origins. Wild rice and maize are the only cereal crops indigenous to North America.
In fact, wild rice or "Nanoomin," meaning "good berry," was a sacred component of the American Indian culture; the grain provided a nutritious dietary staple diet along with wild game. It was harvested in northern regions in the fall, after Labor Day and for the first few weeks in September. When the time was right, the tribal elder would report that the grain was ready for gathering and "first ricing" ensued.
Wild rice was harvested by means of "knockers," cedar sticks
used to bend and brush the ripe grain heads into a canoe. The
excess fell into the water, both feeding the birds and naturally
reseeding itself for the following year. Stands of grain can
still be found in marshy growing areas in the lakes and rivers
around the Great Lakes and Canada, but only sparsely.
Today, wild rice is cultivated for the most part and has become a thriving business. California -- the top wild rice producer in the world -- and some Minnesota rice paddies are created by flooding a field, seeding and, at harvest time, draining and drying the field so as to bring in the mechanical harvesting machinery. The romance of traditional ricing days is almost over, though certain tribes are giving it a go, trying to reseed some of the lakes and rivers that are still undisturbed by the disruption of recreation and population.
As consumers, we have the option of stocking up on several brands of commercially harvested wild rice, if we don't have access to homegrown grain. We can easily enjoy the fact that wild rice, high in protein, low in fat and a rich source of gluten-free dietary fiber, is delicious. Once simply cooked in deer broth and seasoned with maple sugar by American Indians, now this versatile grain can be served with wild game, fish or poultry in a number of creative ways. Mix wild rice with white, or let it stand alone as a savory side. Add it to casseroles, soups or stuffing; add fruit and nuts for a simple yet spectacular salad.
Recipe from Oryana Food Co-op's "What's For Dinner"