When I lived in Minnesota I fished the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) and the wilderness of southwest Ontario’s Quetico Provincial Park where I’d often come across patches of wild rice growing along the shorelines. It ripened in late summer and would fall into my canoe when paddling through to tall grass stems searching for northern pike. The plants grow in shallow water in lakes and slow-flowing streams.
Only Native Americans were allowed to harvest the wild rice back then (1970s). Several Native American cultures, such as the Ojibwa, consider wild rice a sacred component in their culture. They would use two sticks about three feet long. One stick was to bend the grass over the gunwale of a canoe so the rice would fall into the bottom of the canoe and with the other stick (called the “knocker”) gently brushing the mature grains off the tops of the stems.
I preferred lifting fish over my gunwale. And preparing wild rice is labor-intensive compared to reaching for a box on the grocer’s shelf. Wild rice had a sheath that must be removed to get to the tender inner grain.
In the US, the main wild rice producers are California and Minnesota (where it’s the official state grain). In Canada, it is usually harvested from natural bodies of water; the largest producer in North America is Saskatchewan.
Now that you know you’re eating grass, let’s mix some up with a mess of crappies
Crappie With Rice Stuffing
2 to 2 1/2-lbs. whole (cleaned & scaled) crappies
1 6-oz. package wild and long grain rice mix
1 tsp. instant chicken bouillon granules
1 1/2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms (optional)
1/2 cups chopped celery
2 Tbs. butter
1 2-oz. jar drained sliced pimiento
1/8 tsp. ground sage
Prepare rice as directed on package, adding bouillon granules to water. Set aside. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Grease broiler pan or 13 x 9-inch baking pan. In a small skillet, cook and stir mushrooms and celery in butter over medium heat until vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in pimiento and sage. Stir vegetables into rice. Place fish on broiler pan. Stuff with rice mixture, placing any extra stuffing around fish. Cover only the rice with foil. Bake until fish flakes easily at backbone, 20 to 25 minutes.
Poached Apples (for a sweet taste)
5 cooking apples
1 cup sugar
2 cups water
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 to 6 drops red food coloring (optional)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon extract
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg extract
1 teaspoon vanilla
Pare the apples and cut them in half crosswise. Pick out seeds, but do not core. Make a syrup of sugar, water, salt, food coloring, cinnamon extract, nutmeg extract, and vanilla in a large skillet and bring to a boil. Stir in the apples and simmer until tender, watching carefully, lest they will get too tender all at once.
If nutmeg and cinnamon flavoring extracts are not obtainable, use the same amounts of the dry spice; mix with the 1 cup sugar before adding to water.