In the Spirit of Medicine: Manoomin is worth cooking right and it’s forever worth protecting

Sep 2, 2019

Arne Vainio ricing
Credit Ivy Vainio

  Jim Northrup was a good friend and we used to visit him when he was finishing maple syrup in late winter.We would sit under a shelter around a big cast iron kettle.  The kettle was hanging from a tripod encircled by chairs. There was a pit under the kettle for the base of the fire and firewood was leaning against the kettle all the way around.  We sat there and Jim told stories and then he told more stories. Once in a while the boiling sap would rise and try to overflow the kettle. A single piece of bacon hung from a string over the kettle and the sap would rise up, touch the bacon and settle back down.

“It’s the way I was taught.” he said.

Arne Vainio's Manoomin


  • About half a pound of wild rice. Rinse it well with a strainer.
  • Pour in about a quart of chicken broth. If you don’t make your own broth, a 32 ounce container is fine.
  • About ½ of a small onion, very finely diced.
  • Some fine ground black pepper. My uncle Roger covered everything with pepper from one of those square cans. Just a few sprinkles is fine.
  • Salt to taste. I use Himalayan pink salt from a grinder because it makes me think about how much I use. Someone called me at work once and when I called her back, she talked about Himalayan pink salt for 45 minutes. I don’t remember what she said, but if she liked it that much, it’s good enough for me.
  • Garlic powder. About a teaspoon. If you accidentally put in two teaspoons, that’s fine.
  • A teaspoon of bacon grease. This is the part that made me worry I would lose my credibility as a doctor, but it works to keep the manoomin from foaming and boiling over as it’s cooking and it’s what Jim Northrup would want me to do.


Bring it to a boil, then cover it and turn it down to simmer until all the chicken broth is absorbed or simmered away.

Put a little bit on a small plate or on a small piece of birch bark and put it outside for your ancestors before anyone else eats any. Just a little bit is all that’s needed in the spirit world and the first of it should always go to them.

Share it with someone, preferably an elder. If this is cooked properly, it will make them remember. Listen to the stories. This is our ancestral food, this is indigenous food. It’s what we need, it’s worth cooking right and it’s forever worth protecting.

In the Spirit of Medicine features the essays of Dr. Arne Vainio, an enrolled member of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and a family practice doctor on the Fond Du Lac reservation in Cloquet. His essays on life, work, medicine, and spirit are published in News from Indian Country and you can find the link to this story here.