Known for its luxurious nutty flavour and chewy texture, wild rice is not really rice at all. What we eat as wild rice are the seeds of a tall aquatic plant (Zizania aquatica) of the grass family. Wild rice is also known as Canada rice, Indian rice, water rice, and water oats.

Wild rice is a hardy annual native to the shallow shores of ponds, bogs, and lakes in the northern United States and southern Canada around the Great Lakes region. It was a major food source for many First Nations groups in this area. Native tribes of the Algonquian linguistic family - Ojibwa and Menominee - and Sioux groups apparently waged extended wars to gain control of the wild rice fields. The Menominee may have been named for a variant of manomin ("good berry"), the Ojibwa word for wild rice. The word has many - some say dozens of - synonyms which are the basis for many geographical names in the Great Lakes area.

First Nations people gathered wild rice by paddling their canoes into the fields, pulling the grain heads over their boats and beating them with paddles to cause the seeds to fall. It was a labour intensive job which also served a useful purpose for the plants themselves, as extra grains inevitably fell back into the water to germinate for the next year. Traditionally, the seeds were dried, either by laying out in the sun or slowly roasting over a low fire. The drying cracks the hulls; people would then walk on the rice to thresh it, and winnow it to remove most of the husk or hull.

All wild rice is expensive because it is a wild plant which is difficult to cultivate with success, and because it is not easy to harvest mechanically. The most expensive wild rice, however, is that which is still harvested from wild fields by First Nations people using traditional non-mechanized techniques.

Wild rice can be planted as an ornamental grass in your own garden pond and bog, should you be lucky enough to have one, and it will provide food and shelter to passing birds, resident fish, and other aquatic creatures. In the spring, soak some wild rice in water overnight and then broadcast it over the pond.

To prepare wild rice as a food, first rinse it. Try soaking the grains in water for a few minutes; any bits of hull and other debris will rise to the top. Cooking time varies depending on the rice, but it is done when most of the kernels are cracked, revealing the white interior. Measure 3 parts water to 1 part wild rice, and add salt if desired. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer until the water is absorbed and the rice is fluffy and tender, about 35 to 55 minutes. If desired, add another grain like barley to the rice at the beginning, or add jasmine rice or some other white rice after the wild rice has cooked for 20 minutes.


Much of this information was gleaned from an online encyclopedia entry at
http://www.infoplease.com/ce6/sci/A0852259.html

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