Ricing Bad River  
OJIBWE WILD RICE  
line decor
  HOME  ::   NUTRITION  ::  RECIPES  ::  DISTRIBUTORS  ::   ECOLOGY
line decor
   

Harvesting & Processing

  Traditional methods used by the Ojibwe people to harvest manoomin are still used today. The same is true for finishing the harvested rice, although some have mechaniized aspects of finishing and will even finish rice for others for a charge. (See insert card for a list of finishers.)
  The description of the traditional Ojibwe harvest of wild rice that follows is based on an account written by Lac du Flambeau high school students, Jeff Allen, Raelle Allen, Gabrielle Poupart, and Bill Eckerstorfer, regarding the gathering of manoomin.

Knocking Rice

Manoominike ~ Wild Ricing
  Manoomin, called "wild rice" outside the Ojibwe culture, has played a central role in tribal life. It has spiritual attributes, and its discovery is recorded in legends. It is used in ceremonies and as a major food source. Traditionally, its harvest promoted social interaction in late summer each year. In August our people moved to their manoomin camps for harvest. Once manoomin ripened most energy was focused on harvesting. Manoomin was our main food source.
 

Manoominikewin (Making Rice)
   Harvesting wild rice is also called knocking the rice. Canoes are the best watercraft to use because their shape and smoothness causes the least harm to the rice plant. The only tools needed for harvesting manoomin are those required to move the canoe through the plants and ricing sticks to thresh the kernels into the canoe.
Sticks & Pole    Harvesters used canoe paddles to get to the wild rice beds, but long poles were used to move through the rice beds. These traditional forked poles were used because they protected the plants' root systems. Every harvester owned a pair of ricing sticks, also called knockers. The sticks measured about three feet in length. Lightweight wood was necessary for making the knockers so the ricer's arms would not tire, and the plant would not be damaged. A very smooth and light stick, hardly noticeable in the hand, was desired.
   The technique used for knocking was simple: the sticks were held in each hand, and the harvester reached to the side and pulled in as many stalks as he or she could over the edge of the canoe and knocked the kernels into the bottom of the canoe. Special care was taken to clean the canoe and wear clean clothing prior to and while harvesting manoomin. The same method and implements are used today.

dryingDrying
  Freshly harvested rice must be dried almost as soon as it comes off the lake. If not, it tends to mold quickly. Rice was carried to the campsites in bark trays where it was to be spread out to dry. Freshly harvested rice continues to ripen, but must have air, sun, and sometimes heat to rid it of moisture before roasting. Rice was dried on woven mats, animal skins, layers of grass or sheets of birch bark sewn together called apakwaan. While spread out, the rice was picked over to remove pieces of stalks, leaves, and insects. If all the rice could not be dried immediately, it was preserved in its green state by keeping it in water for up to a week. Holes were dug in the soil by lakes, and rice stored this way in earlier times.

ParchingParching
  Parching or roasting the kernel was an important step in preserving this food for later use. This process served several functions: it reduced the amount of moisture in the grain so it could be preserved; it destroyed the germ so it would not re-sprout, and it loosened the hull from the grain. The grain can be left unparched for a while, although our ancestors preferred it parched as soon as possible after harvest.
  Our ancestors originally parched rice using woven rush mats and scaffolds. A stick scaffolding that spanned the fireplace supported the mats. The rice was turned constantly until roasted brown. The mats were woven tightly, making it difficult for the rice to fall through. It is said that these mats would glow red in this process. As the kernels separate from the seed shells in parching, the grain takes on a golden, then brownish yellow hue, and then changes to a glossy, dark brown to black color.
  After European contact, large cast iron kettles acquired through trade were used for parching. The kettle was placed over a kindling wood fire, and the rice added to the kettle. Once over the fire, it was stirred constantly so it would not scorch. The rice would pop like popcorn if it was not stirred.

HullingHulling
  After parching, the manoomin was hulled to remove the tight fitting chaff from the rice kernel. The traditional method for this involved hard labor. A small pit was dug in the earth, and the manoomin was "danced" with special
moccasins. An average treading pit measured about 18 inches in depth and two to three feet in diameter. The sides were lined with wooden slats, and a block of wood was placed at the bottom. In Ojibwe the pit is called a bootaagan. After European contact, wooden and then metal buckets were used in this process. The pit was lined with deer hide. The moccasins had no beadwork on them. The bottom of the moccasins could not touch the ground because they were involved in processing this food. The moccasins were knee high to protect the huller's legs from the sharp barbs that are on the hulls. Proper treading required great strength and was difficult. To assist in this process, two poles forming a V-shaped railing were erected for the huller to hold onto while he or she danced on the rice, preventing too much weight from being placed on the rice.

WinnowingWinnowing
  Hulled manoomin was cleaned of its chaff before being stored or cooked. Traditionally, the rice would be taken to high ground or a rock outcropping near a lake so the wind could aid in this process. For winnowing our people used a birch bark tray called nooshkaachinaagan. The birch bark was heated, cut, folded, shaped then sewn with basswood fiber. The rim was made of ash and lashed to the edge of the tray. A covering was placed on the ground, and the rice gently tossed in the air. With the action of the tosser and the aid of the wind, the chaff was blown away and the rice kernels fell back in the winnowing basket. This method also helped grade the rice. The chaff blew away, the broken rice fell on the covering on the ground, and the full kernels remain on the tray. Once cleaned the rice was ready for storage.