Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Over Labor Day weekend, a wild rice camp was sponsored by several organizations, including Ferris State University and Lac Vieux Desert Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. It happened that I was looking for a source of Michigan wild rice to complement my stash of fruits and vegetables. I spoke with Roger LaBine (email@example.com) from Lac Vieux Desert; he invited me to stop by. Manoomin is the traditional name for wild rice.
It was a beautiful late summer day with the beginnings of crispness in the air. A friend and I headed north. On the way, we stopped for lunch at The Blue Cow Café in downtown Big Rapids. As their menu states, they are a “farm to table restaurant featuring seasonal, sustainable, local, and organic cuisine.” They purchase food from the farmers market located right down the street. As a starter, I had the Caprese (bruschetta) which featured yellow heirloom tomatoes and fresh basil. We sat on the patio out front. The fence wrapping it on the sidewalk side was topped with window box planters. Herbs and jalapeno plants were growing there. For lunch, I had the blueberry spinach salad featuring local blueberries both fresh and in the vinaigrette. In addition to other local foods, the menu includes their own house-made beer and a large selection of Michigan wines. For dessert, we strolled across the street for homemade chocolates from Kilwin’s (based in Petoskey).
Then, on to the camp! When we arrived, the attendees were sprayed around the site in various stages of wild rice production. Everyone was friendly and seemed to enjoy telling me about what they were doing. NPR was also there (http://www.environmentreport.org/show.php?showID=465). And, at some point, the Grand Rapids Press stopped by (http://www.mlive.com/outdoors/index.ssf/2010/09/campers_pay_homage_to_american.html).
Wild rice is an annual plant that grows in 6 inches to 3 feet of water. It is a traditional food for the Great Lakes Native Americans. It is harvested right on the water by knocking the rice into the canoe. The camp started out with instruction for how to make the tools needed. When gathered, the rice goes through a series of processing steps:
1. Drying: On a tarp. This also gives the insects a chance to wander off of the rice.
2. Parching: In a large pot to make the chaff brittle. It is stirred constantly to prevent scorching.
3. Dancing: The dancers put on moccasins and work the rice to loosen the outer chaff and begin separating the kernel from the chaff.
4. Winnowing: Shaken in a birch basket (also made at the camp) to separate the chaff from the kernels.
5. Separating: The final separation by hand.
I asked Roger what the chaff could be used for; he said it is often used in pillow stuffing or for tinder for fires.
Below are photographs of the wild rice growing in the lake, rice processing, a hand-made canoe (made by one of the attendees), and two teepees that campers brought to sleep in. Special thanks to Roger LaBine for his friendly, helpful information for this blog post. More later on how I am using the wild rice that I purchased.