I thought in this issue we
would talk about a common, yet correct edible grown here by the
first peoples to walk this land and still available today. Even a
small amount of research will turn up more information than you'll
ever use, this item has more information than almost any other
edible I have ever studied.
The great French explorers
were probably the first white men to enjoy the delicacy that is wild
rice. In their writings and other historical documents, the great
Indian wars were described: Ojibway and Sioux battling for over 250
years for the stands of "manomin", as they called wild
Today, Indians harvest wild
rice much the same as they have for over 500 years. One poles a
canoe through the rice beds, the other strikes the heads of the rice
with a stick, knocking the ripe grain into the canoe.
The Indians of old then
parched the grain in a kettle (similar to roasting coffee) and
thrashed it by stamping on it with their feet. It was then cleaned
by shaking it in a birch bark basket on a windy day.
Trader magazine - Oct 1968
In the last couple
centuries one of the simplest business operations that still works
closely to the original plan is the growing and preparation of wild
rice (manomin) in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Wild rice grows in lakes,
ponds, and slow moving stream in these states and in the Atlantic
and Gulf states, in the Mississippi Valley sloughs, as well as along
the shores of the Great Lakes. The wild rice for many natives has
become one of the staple articles of diet, along with maple sugar,
water fowl and venison in these regions.
The presence of wild rice
in the Great Lakes was cause for war between the Sioux and the
Ojibwa, it made possible the extension of the fur trade in that
region with the available food source for traders and trappers. The
expansion of settlements and development of other resources where
helped with the wild rice production throughout the area, as a food
source, a trade item and an income source.
The preparation of wild
rice has always been one of the most picturesque activities of the
Native American and has been a cooperative enterprise by families,
tribes and neighborhood groups.
The rice was gathered in
the early fall just before maturity in canoes poled by women. With a
pole or forked stick the kernels were knocked down from the stalks
into the canoes, where blanket had been spread to catch the grain.
Since the rice is being gathered before maturity it is necessary to
cure it before removing the hulls, this is done by spreading it on
the rocks and drying it in the sun or over a slow fire, or parching
or popping it in large iron kettles while being stirred with
paddles. In the old days the parched rice was then placed in a skin
lined holes in the ground, a skin placed over the rice and
"new" moccasined footed men tramped down the rice breaking
the hulls. Today modern threshing machines do this part of the
The rice was then winnowed
by the wind as the women shook small quantities in birch bark trays,
the clean rice was then stored in woven bags of cedar bark with a
layer of hay placed over the top and sewed down to the bag. It was
also packed in skin containers and put in caches for long periods of
The collection and
preparing has changed to modern equipment with today's demands,
still being conducted under the shade of the trees, but if one looks
hard enough "old ways" harvesting can be found, even
today, usually by small operations.
A word to the wise, I have
gotten some wild rice done the old way and have found it to be of
poor quality - do to having fine sand mixed within the bag of rice.
Apparently when drying on the rocks or when being shaken in the
birch bark trays the wind has blown in the fine sand.
So to our modern day
adventurer, and traveler, yes wild rice is correct and was traded
from the Great Lake states long before a white man ever came into
this land, and it would have been in the diet of the trapper, trader
and long hunter. It was listed on trade lists of supplies in St.
Louis warehouses, on menu's of the hotels and found in the small
settlements up and down the major rivers from the north.
Minnesota Wild Rice
Growers - 1989