Wild rice is a rich part of Northwestern Wisconsin’s history. Harvested in early to mid-August, wild rice was extremely important to the Native Americans, particularly the Ojibwe and Menominee tribes who lived in areas where wild rice grew abundantly. Wild rice has been harvested, processed and eaten for hundreds of years in our area, and harvesting is still much like a recreational sport like fishing or hunting to many who live in Northwestern Wisconsin.
Harvesting, or “ricing”, was once the women’s job in Native American tribes, but today all enjoy ricing. Harvesting rice is much like an art, and has special regulations to ensure everyone is able to enjoy ricing. Most take a canoe out to a lake or river, with a tarp on the bottom to catch the rice grain. Another person, known as the “knocker” uses two wooden sticks called knockers to bend the stalk over the canoe so the loose grain will fall into the bottom of the canoe. Afterwards, the rice must dry out in the sun laid out on a tarp which could take up to 2-3 days. Then, the rice is ready to be processed.
Processing wild rice is done in both large factory settings and small recreational settings. A local wild rice processor and ricing enthusiast, Phil Stromberg, was able to show the different steps wild rice goes through to be ready to consume.
1. The “Parcher”: Here the wild rice is being put into the wood-heated parcher to take out any moisture. When rice is first put into the parcher it is green. This particular parcher can hold around 100 lbs. of rice, but after 2 hours of being parched the weight cuts down by 50%.
2. The “Thrasher”: After the wild rice is parched for about 2 – 2.5 hours, it turns golden yellow, and becomes crunchy and hard, and is ready to be thrashed. The Native Americans used birch bark baskets and a sifting, pounding method to take off any hulls, but today it is put into a high-speed spinning thrasher to break the hulls free and vacuum them out.
3. Now the rice is ready to be thrown into the “Fan”. This polishes the rice and makes sure any leftover hulls do not get into the finished product. Polishing too much can break the rice and make yellow-looking ends rather than a rich, black rice grain.
Wild rice in Northwest Wisconsin is usually ready to harvest anywhere from August 15th– September 1st. According to Stromberg, wild rice is very consistent in its harvesting season. This year, wild rice has been very abundant because of the dry weather and low rain, because wild rice grows best in shallow water. In a matter of two days, Stromberg was given 900 lbs. of harvested rice by local, recreational ricers. Popular lakes and rivers in the area for ricing include: Yellow River, Long Lake, Clam Lake, Yellow Lake and Phantom Lake.
And if you ever need some rice processed, just bring it to the trusted yellow lab Ebba, on the Yellow River, parching yellow rice. To purchase locally harvested and processed wild rice, go to the Log Cabin Store & Eatery in Danbury, Wisconsin. ~ Abby Ingalls