It’s funny to consider the luxury foods of your childhood. Of course, that all depends on the era, and the part of the country, in which your childhood falls. For us, that would be the proverbial ’60s in the Northeast. What were the luxuries to us? Port-wine stained cheese spread in ceramic crocks, from WisPride and Kaukauna Klub; little metal-lidded glasses of refrigerated Sau-Sea baby shrimp cocktail in sauce; Rice-A-Roni wild rice pilaf.
We were what you’d probably call lower middle class, and such foods rarely showed up in our homes. When you did see them around you knew a grownup party was soon to follow and, if you were lucky, you might be able to snatch a taste or two of the luxuries. Times have changed. The cheese is still around, mostly crockless, but America has become tres chic in its appreciation of natural cheeses, domestic and imported. Shrimp cocktails are still well-loved but the creatures have become relatively inexpensive and commonplace. Those Sau-Sea cocktails are long gone now that we have easy access to big, beautiful prawns.
Wild rice? It remains exotic, perhaps even more so, at least in the American Northeast, and quite expensive, especially in comparison to workaday white rice. We still find the dark, needle-like grains to be mysterious and alluring, with a fetching, haunting flavor. Show up in Minnesota, however, and wild rice is everywhere! In fact, it’s the state grain.
There are a few annual celebrations of this edible aquatic grass seed around the state of Minnesota. The city (population: 362) of McGregor held their 53rd Wild Rice Days in 2017, and we were there. We only had time to spend part of a Saturday in McGregor but the festivities kick off Thursday evening with Family Fun Night and a singing competition.
Friday saw the beginning of the arts and crafts vendors, live music, and that strange-to-us regional tradition of the meat raffle. The biggest day is Saturday, which begins with the traditional wild rice pancake feed put on at the local VFW. If you want to sample wild rice you don’t want to miss this. Following breakfast, there’s much to choose from: a car show, a book sale at the local library, a silent auction, food and crafts vendors galore, live music, mud volleyball, a frozen t-shirt contest, and a grand parade at 2P. We love parades but had to split before it started – we had Twins tickets for that evening.
The Catholic church had a sloppy Joe luncheon and bake sale, while the Methodists went with a meatball luncheon sided by wild rice salad. The other big event happened Sunday: the big Lions’ corn feed, all you can eat. If we recall correctly, we believe that’s free, and were also told they offer real butter with the locally grown ears.
You, of course, want to sample wild rice while you’re here and, while it was not all rice all the time there were certainly enough opportunities to try the stuff: besides the wild rice pancakes at breakfast we sampled wild rice brats. There was also wild rice soup around, as well as a walking taco made with wild rice. A vendor sold one-pound bags of raw wild rice (we brought a bag home).
Next time, we have to make a point of staying for the parade and corn feed.McGregor MN 55760 218-768-3692 Wild Rice Days’ Website Wild Rice Days on Facebook