Pheasant Run Offers the ‘Good Berry,’ An Original Earth-to-Table Delicacy
Like many grains, products labeled “wild rice” have been altered by modern agricultural techniques, minimizing the quality and nutritional value of what nature intended. But Jennifer Teffer of East Troy-based Pheasant Run proudly offers the real thing: manoomin—the Ojibwa tribe’s word for true wild rice that translates to the “good berry”—hand-harvested by traditional means for centuries by Ojibwa peoples.
Teffer started Pheasant Run around 2008 along with her partner, Julie Darrough. They sold their artwork and homemade eco-friendly laundry soap in reusable containers. To generate more income, Darrough came up with the idea to add natural foods like locally crafted sausage and manoomin to their offerings.
In 2012, Darrough died from complications from breast cancer, but Teffer was determined to carry on their business. Darrough was Native American and served on the board of directors for Indian Summer Festivals. Teffer said that through Darrough’s friends, they connected with rice harvesters on the White Earth Chippewa Reservation, in Minnesota, to offer traditionally grown and harvested manoomin.
The natural manoomin grain grows on aquatic grass found in lakes and rivers throughout Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan. The grass grows anywhere from three to eight feet above the water’s surface, and the grain is usually ready for harvest around early September. Traditional Ojibwa rice harvesters go into the water in canoes and use long wooden sticks to thresh the rice kernels off the plants and into their boats. The laborious process continues with drying and parching to remove moisture and prevent molding, and then hulling and winnowing, to clean the rice from the shaft. Traditional tools such as birch bark trays and woven mats are used during the harvest.
“A lot of people buy what they think is wild rice from grocery stores, but it’s cultivated by machinery that doesn’t break the grain,” Teffer said. “That grain gets really hard, so that’s why you have to cook it so long to soften. The true wild rice that I sell cooks in about 25 minutes, and it bursts open, almost like popcorn.”
Manoomin has an earthy, mildly nutty flavor that has multiple uses. It tastes great plain or with a pat of butter and salt and pepper, or it can be used in soups and casseroles.
Manoomin harvested through traditional means may be more expensive than rice in supermarkets, but Teffer and her devoted customer base know it’s worth the cost. “I feel fortunate to have access to this product. For Native Americans, they treat rice as something sacred. It has more meaning than food; it’s used in spiritual ceremonies. Native Americans live their lives with the belief that all things need to be respected.”
Teffer sells manoomin and Pheasant Run’s other products at the St. Ann Center Indoor Market, held November through April; the Lake Geneva and East Troy summer farmers markets; and customers can order via phone or email (no website). One cup of dry manoomin, which makes three to four cups of cooked rice, sells for $5; one-pound packages are $12; and bulk orders start with a minimum of five pounds for $50.
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