One of the speakers at the session was Sarah Alexander, from the White Earth Land Recovery Project in Minnesota. The wild rice that is harvested by this organization is being promoted through Slow Food's Ark of Taste.
Unlike 95% of the "wild rice" sold in this country, true wild rice is a grass that grows wild in the lakes of places like Northern Minnesota and only a handful of other place in the country. It is considered a sacred food to the indigenous Ojibwe people. During the rice harvest, ricers harvest the rice on the lake two to a canoe. One person sits in the front of the boat navigating over the lake, and the other hits rice stalks with a pole and gently knocks the rice grains free from the stalk and into the canoe. A good day of ricing will yield over 500 pounds of rice per pair. Once back on land, the native Ojibwe people follow further tradition and ritual for the preparation of the rice for market.
Native Harvest wild rice suffers from a name identity issue. Most Americans are used to a cultivated wild rice that is grown from seed in diked rice paddies and harvested using a combine. "That is different than two Indians in a canoe. They're trying to call it wild rice, but that's not wild rice - we call it tame rice. And it doesn't taste the same. Our rice tastes like a lake," says Winona LaDuke of the White Earth Land Recovery Project. The product is so different from cultivated wild rice, and yet it shares a name -- kind of like the difference between Kraft Parmesan cheese in a green can and Parmigiano Reggiano sourced from the Parma region of Italy.
I purchased some Native Harvest Wild Rice from Rainbow Grocery. At $9.95 a pound, I wouldn't have considered buying it unless I knew the story behind the rice, and the reason for the price difference. That's why Slow Food and the White Earth Land Recovery Project are working so hard to explain what true wild rice is, and the harvesting method that makes true wild rice so much higher in price than cultivated wild rice.
Upon rinsing the rice, I noticed a highly vegetal scent to the product -- one that would change to a more earthy, nuttier scent as the rice was cooked. The rice grains are long -- much longer than cultivated wild rice -- and the color, as you can see from the photos, is highly varied. For this first taste of Native Harvest Wild Rice, I cooked it in my rice cooker without any flavorings. The rice becomes much bigger once cooked.
Once cooked, we tasted the rice with a bit of salt and ate it alongside lentils. It was delicious with a nice texture that was firm but yielded in a way that cultivated wild rice does not. The taste was nutty with an earthiness that reminded me of mushrooms. I can't wait to try it with a mushroom sautee and some herbs. When I first purchased the rice, I thought it might be interesting to mix it with a more standard brand like a long-grained brown rice. But, tasting it, I realized that this rice stands nicely on its own and combining it with other rices would just mask the unique flavor of the Native Harvest Wild Rice.
You can buy Native Harvest Wild Rice at Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco. Find it in the bulk section near the rice selection.