Minnesota’s Wild Rice Season

Wild ricing on the Leech Lake Indian Reservation.

The Bois Forte Heritage Center, a wonderful and overlooked Native American museum near Tower, Minnesota, beautifully tells the story of how their band of Ojibwe came to Minnesota. After being forced from the East Coast, a guiding spirit told them to go where food grows on the water.

That food–wild rice that thrives in the shallows of Minnesota and Wisconsin lakes–sustained them and remains a cherished part of their culture.

Celebrate the Wild Rice Moon

In late August and early September–the time of the Wild Rice Moon–tribal members and others head across the state to ricing lakes.

Raw wild rice from the Crow Wing lakes.

They pole through through the grasses, rhythmically using cedar ricing sticks to sweep the grasses over the canoe and gently knock the ripened grains into the bottom. I was fortunate enough to ride along with Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe conservation officer, Frank Bowstring, a few years ago. During his childhood, kids could get out of school to help with the rice harvest which could pay for school clothes.

We watched a few ricers head onto Nature Lake. They expertly captured wild rice grains with skills passed through the generations. Later, we watched water-rich green rice meticulously parched in iron drums that rotated over wood fires in Cass Lake. Once it dried and chaff was removed, bags of processed rice piled up with the name of the ricer written across burlap bags.

Hand-harvest wild rice vs. cultivated

The thick, plump mottled earth tones of hand-harvested wild rice is clearly a different product than cultivated rice. Cultivated rice, with its shiny, thin ebony grains are bred to be machine-harvested. With the tough hulls, it takes 45 minutes to cook. True wild rice takes only 20 minutes. The White Earth Band of Ojibwe has long fought to highlight the differences and to maintain this sacred crop.

Green wild rice ready for processing

I consider myself a harvest junkie, but will leave wild ricing to the experts. And I’ll more gratefully invest in bags of wild rice knowing the labor that’s involved.

Wild rice across the state

Anyone can rice, and many people do it as a seasonal passion. A license is required through the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, which can also help you find accessible rivers and shallow lakes. (Only tribal members can rice on reservations.) Following waterfowl helps, too–the rice is their equivalent of an energy bar for the long migration south.

Wild rice on a stalk.
The DNR estimates there are more than 60,000 acres of wild rice among more than 700 lakes –the most of any state in the country.

When you’re out and about this fall, look for authentic Minnesota wild rice at gift shops, grocers, and up-north convenience markets. Buying a bag or more helps support this $2 million crop and celebrates one of the state’s best culinary treasures. Add wild rice’s rich, nutty flavor to salads, casseroles, side dishes, breakfast entrees and Minnesota’s famous wild rice soup.

More on wild rice: Best places to dine on wild rice plus two excellent wild rice recipes for the holidays.