SARONA — Gardening is one way to keep fit. Wild rice harvesting is another way to get a workout while gathering food.
I attended a wild rice camp September 5-7 at Hunt Hill Audubon Sanctuary, Sarona. The first day we savored a dinner featuring wild rice as a side and in rice pudding, along with spinach salad and fish. After dinner we made cedar rice harvesting sticks while listening to a presentation by UW-Extension Natural Resources Educator John Haack. He informed us of the wild rice harvesting process, nutrition, and it’s cultural significance to the Anishinaabe. He also went over the rules and regulations. Talk about multi-tasking!
The following day we went out twice to harvest wild rice. The first time out I used one of my hand-crafted pair of sticks to lean the rice stalks over the canoe and the other to gently tap the stalks to release ripe grains. The grains that remained on the stalk weren’t ripe enough yet and were left to be harvested another time.
The second time out, after a refreshing shore lunch, I poled the canoe while my husband harvested the rice. Poling was harder than it looks! We tried two different poles. Ricing poles are usually 15- to 19-feet long.
It was awkward at first, because the pole never did touch a firm lake bed. A thick layer of silt or muck covers the bottom of the lake, which is what wild rice beds need. I took care to avoid damaging the wild rice plants. Placing the pole into the water to propel the canoe, then retrieving it hand-over-hand from the water, switching sides as needed, while standing, taxed muscles in the entire body.
During the rest of the camp we ate delicious meals with wild rice dishes (served with hot milk and brown sugar at breakfast), visited the canoe museum in Spooner, and took our rice to be parched, hulled, and winnowed. We went home with our rice and recipes.
Hopefully you can attend a wild rice camp next year!
Marilynn Nash writes about her exploration of the outdoors in Wisconsin -- a variety of outdoor experiences -- hiking, biking, snowshoeing, trailbuilding volunteer work, boating, ski hill tubing and more. She'll probably try a few things she hasn't done before.