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By Kurt Michael Friese

Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others. ~Cicero

Celebrations of the harvest have existed for as long as civilization, for indeed it was agriculture that necessitated both. But Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday; a celebration of the bounty shared by the native inhabitants of this land with foreign pilgrims. While Judeo-Christian prayers before a meal give thanks to God and Native Americans thank the very animal on which they feast, each are also a recognition of our own place in the world.

Giving gratitude for the bounty we enjoy demonstrates respect not only for nature and God, but for ourselves as well. And so, while gratitude should be acknowledged, felt, and practiced every day, we set aside one particular day each fall to celebrate the harvest and pay special attention to that which makes it possible for us to do everything else we do in this life. To recognize that food transforms us even as it is transformed into us.

The food that says Thanksgiving to me is my mother’s wild rice dressing which, in my own version, gives nod to those historic Native Americans. I never thought my mom’s recipe could be improved upon until I discovered the magnificent flavors of real Manoomin wild rice, hand harvested and parched on the lakes near Ponsford, Minnesota by members of the Ojibwe Nation. This is truly wild wild rice, far more flavorful, nutritious and surprisingly quick-cooking than the California-grown “paddy rice” that is commonly marketed as wild rice (In fact, a common Ojibwe joke on the White Earth reservation goes something like this: “How to cook paddy rice: put the rice in a large pot with a stone and plenty of water. Bring to a boil. When the stone is soft, the rice is almost done.”)

On Thanksgiving and every day, I am thankful for my family more than anything else, for they are my true source of sustenance and joy. I am thankful for my awareness of the importance and impact of my food. I am thankful for crisp autumn mornings and rain and my dogs. I am thankful that I am still on the right side of the grass.

And bacon. I am very thankful for bacon.

Next time you eat, whether around a sumptuous table or alone in the kitchen with that leftover turkey sandwich, stop for just a moment to consider what you’re truly thankful for.

Kurt Michael Friese is the founding leader of Slow Food Iowa, serves on the Slow Food USA National Board of Directors, and is editor and publisher of the local food magazine Edible Iowa River Valley. He’s also Chef and co-owner of the Iowa City restaurant Devotay, a freelance food writer and photographer, and author of A Cook’s Journey: Slow Food in the Heartland.

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Chef Kurt’s Mom’s Wild Rice Dressing

by Kurt Michael Friese

The spirit of the harvest season, the richness of my mother’s kitchen and an acknowledgment of my Heartland roots, all brought together in one enameled, cast iron casserole.

1 pound Manoomin wild rice, washed three times in cold water (if using “plain” wild rice, forgo the rinsing)
4 tablespoons butter
1 pound pork sausage
4 cups chicken broth
2 portobello mushrooms or about 10 cremini mushrooms, diced
1/2 onion, minced
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
1 stalk celery, diced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350.

Boil rice in broth for 20 minutes (if using wild rice other than Manoomin, follow package directions).

Melt butter over medium heat in an enameled, cast iron casserole and brown pork for 8-10 minutes, breaking up with a spatula as it cooks. Add broth, mushrooms, onion, parsley, celery and thyme. Season with salt and pepper and simmer for 10 minutes. Then mix in rice (and any broth left over from cooking), cover and bake for 20 minutes. Uncover and continue to bake for 10 more minutes, until dressing has got a bit of a crust on top.

Serve immediately or cool and freeze.

Serves 8

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  • ldgourmet

    Kurt – Love this piece. I have have a friend the brings or sends me rice from one of the reservations in Minnesota and I also noticed how beautifully it cooks up.

    If this dressing sings like your writing, it’ll be a treat at anyone’s table.

    – Jackie

    • devotay

      Well aren’t you sweet. It is a truly delicious dish and, along with my mother’s Bourbon pound cake, the essence of the holidays.

      I first learned about the Manoomin through the Slow Food Presidia project to protect and revive it, then learned more when I visited Winona LaDuke and the people who run the White Earth Land Recovery Project in the Ojibwe nation while researching it for my book.

  • Dona Clara

    This dish will grace our fine table thanks to your mom. Should I google White Earth Land Rec. Project to find this rice? Love your words of wisdom as always and since Thanksgiving seems to be one of those holidays that hasn’t lost it’s meaning we too, will be sharing our blessings before chowing down in style. Decided to go Italian this year for a change. Cancellations accepted from those who abhor garlic.

    • devotay

      You can find the rice at

      And why would anyone abhor garlic? I’d sooner open a vein than go without garlic….

  • Lia Huber

    Excellent, Kurt. I’ll add that link to the post.

  • Christne Friese

    I am truly grateful for family and for wild rice and for my endlessly creative and courageous brother Kurt. Off to order some REAL wild rice now.

  • mountainrn

    Oh my goodness Kurt . . I recently sent Lia a box of our local wild rice and now you are telling me it isn’t the best? :-) Sorry about that Lia (jk). I’ve never heard of your “real” wild rice but I’ll certainly order some today and see. My husband was involved in growing wild rice here in the Fall River Valley for a couple of years. That recipe looks wonderful and will be on our table this year too. And garlic? What a treat folks miss when they abhor garlic! We grow that here too. I wonder though . . . . are you going to tell me it isn’t real garlic? ;-)


  • Lia Huber

    I’ll have you know, Steph, that rice you sent me is earmarked for the Thanksgiving table . . . it looks great!

  • mountainrn

    I’d better send you another box then Lia – and this is for you Kurt:


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  • Stephanie Heringer

    Kurt . . . . making this again today.  :-)  Not sure with the new changes that you’ll see this but thanks!  To you too Lia.  steph