Simply in Season

News and reflections on all that's good about local food
from the co-author of Simply in Season,
a World Community Cookbook in the spirit of More-with-Less

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Take a walk on the wild (rice) side

The Simply in Season recipe of the week, Wild Rice Vegetable Bake, reminds me of a recent visit to the winter farmers’ market in Eugene. It had the usual selection of winter greens, squash, brussels sprouts, root vegetables, apples, local honey, and nuts. (Not to make anyone jealous, but one bonus of living here is the abundance of filbert orchards -- those are “hazelnuts” outside of Oregon -- and stall operators often give free samples. But I digress.)

As I turned the last corner, I was surprised to find packages of Oregon-grown wild rice. Just when you think you know what’s produced in your local area.

Turns out wild rice, North America's only native grain (and not a type of rice at all), grows well in the thick clay soil of the Willamette Valley. (The same thick clay soil has been a source of much frustration for neophyte gardeners like my husband Dave and I. “Use the Serenity Prayer and accept what you cannot change!” the local gardening columnist in Sunday’s newspaper advises. “Grant me the serenity to accept that, like diamonds, clay is forever; courage to add soil amendments; and wisdom to know when it’s time to start working soil in the spring!” Once again, I digress.) “Virtually all wild rice is grown in flooded fields,” one USDA source says. Huh. (I look out my office window.) Looks like my once-again flooded backyard is all set to go.

The Oregon Jewel Wild Rice website states, “The wetlands created for wild rice increases the biodiversity of the area, attracting all kinds of birds and other animals. The Lane County Audubon Society has placed [our] rice paddies on their list of birding sites. Testing has shown the water leaving wild rice paddies is cleaner and colder than when it entered.”

The majority of wild rice is grown where it originated, in southern Canada and Minnesota, but now also in California.

This article describes the history, production, and nutritional value of wild rice:

A second includes a description of the Native “rice moon” harvest, which began in late August to September:

Winona LaDuke’s thoughtful essay in Sierra magazine includes the Anishinaabeg legend which tells how this Native people was introduced to wild rice -- by a duck.

According to this source, wild rice is "done" when the grains are swollen and cracked down the side. If it's opened and looks like popcorn, it's overcooked. sells Oregon Jewel Wild Rice.

(And another great Simply in Season recipe to try is Light Wild Rice Bread, page 287.)


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