Wild Rice (Zizania Aquatica) has been a staple food of the Chippewa Indians for centuries, but more than a food; wild rice has been an important part of their heritage.
In the early Fall, the Chippewa families would move to the wild rice fields to set up camp and work. For the next several weeks, the men would pole the canoes through the fields, while the women brushed the grains into the canoe with two sticks called "knockers." After the rice was brought to shore, it was laid out to dry, then parched over an open fire. The outer husk was removed by walking on it in a skin-lined pit, then, in the final stage of preparation, the rice was winnowed to remove the chaff.
A celebration took place after the first harvest to give thanks to the Manitok (gods). During this ritual, some of the first harvest of rice was cooked and eaten. Then, returning to the village, the prepared rice was stored in mancocks (birchbark containers) until ready to be eaten.
Native Americans were-the first humans to utilize Zizania Aquatica, the food they called "Manoomin" (Ojibwe for "good berry") and which early explorers called "wild rice".
Wild rice is the only cereal grain native to North America, however, it is a relatively new agricultural crop. Wild rice, or Manoomin as the natives call it, has been harvested in the lakes and streams of the Great Lakes area since long before the dawn of written history. It is found in great abundance in the shallow, cool lakes of northern Minnesota and the adjacent area of Canada.
The Minnesota Historical Society has suggested that the intensive harvest of Manoomin may have permitted a doublinq or tripling of the Native American population in the region during the time period of 800-1000 A.D.
Before the harvest, an offering was made to the Great Manitou. This tradition is still practiced today. After the harvest, a celebration took place to give thanks to the Manitou (Gods). During this celebration some of the first harvest was cooked and eaten, and after returning to the village, the prepared rice was stored in makaks, or birch bark containers until consumption. Manoomin is still harvested in traditional ways by native Americans of Minnesota.
Wild rice varies in taste and color from lake to lake, also the processing methods may vary creating further dissimilarities. Today, although still used as a staple in the diet of native Americans, much of the wild rice is sold as a gourmet food. Wild rice is an ideal part of a healthy lifestyle. It is rich in carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, it converts easily to energy in the body, is low in fat, and contains protein essential to growth.
Manitok Wild Rice is a small, but capable company owned and operated by the Ojibwe Tribe of White Earth Reservation in northern west-central Minnesota.
Cook onion in shortening until softened, but not brown. Combine bread, wild rice and broth. Add celery, onion and seasoning. Pour melted butter over surface stirring lightly. Add more seasoning as desired. Makes enough stuffing for a 14-16 lb. bird.
Drain juice from fruit. Combine all ingredients in bowl, except coconut. Sprinkle with coconut. Chill for 1 hour.
Mix ingredients. Place in buttered 2 quart casserole. Cover and bake 45 minutes at 350 degrees.
This page originally published as a FoodDay article in 1997.
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