Wild Rice Mania

Native grain feeds families through a world war and the Great Depression.

  • Wild rice
    Ray Hoffman has been harvesting, preparing and eating the wild rice of northern Wisconsin for more than 80 years.
    Amy L. Jenkins
  • Rice salad
    The dark grains of wild rice turn delicious in dishes like this wild rice salad.
    iStockphoto.com/Hamiza Bakirci
  • Rice kernels
    There are multiple ways to thresh the grain.
    Donald Ericksom

  • Wild rice
  • Rice salad
  • Rice kernels

Most people head for the grocery store when they have a hankering for rice. On the other hand, there are people who never write "wild rice" on a shopping list, although their pantries are filled with jars of the grain.

Take Ray Hoffman, for instance. He’s never read the store-bought package label touting the nutritional benefits of this water-grass seed: "high in protein, zinc, folic acid and vitamin E." Yet, wild rice is as much a part of his life as it is to the Chippewa and Potawatomi tribes, whose cultures are entwined with the only cereal grain native to North America.

For more than 80 years, since he was 10, Hoffman has been harvesting, preparing and eating the wild rice of northern Wisconsin’s Oneida and Forest counties.

When Joe Gerzinski helped out on the Hoffman family farm in the 1920s, he befriended Ray. The two of them would "go out chumming together" and watch the Sokaogon Chippewa harvest and process the wild rice. They asked questions and learned to add the grain, which Native Americans call manoomin (the good seed), to the family table. Wild rice from the shallows of the nearby lakes nourished the Hoffmans through the hard times of crop loss, a world war and economic depression.

Nowadays, Hoffman lives next to his old family farm near Crandon, Wisconsin. His current ricing chum is a fellow nonagenarian, Donald Torgeson. When the sunflower seeds mature, the duo knows it’s time to consider their harvesting plan.

They visit area waters, including the Rat River, Swamp Creek, Lake Whitefish, Little Rice Lake and Lake Wabigon, looking for wild rice that’s prime for picking. The state’s Department of Natural Resources has the final say as to when harvesting begins for regulated waters.

Earth Spirit
3/18/2009 6:47:34 PM

I have often seen seeds growing on tall reeds/weeds in lakes and wondered if they were edible or not. I also havent found photos of them in the library or online. I live in North Florida and would appreciate any information on any wild edible water seeds in this area.

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