Twenty miles down the road, in a parching shed near the town of Ponsford, on the White Earth Reservation, a fat black iron barrel the size of a commercial propane tank rolled on its spit over a jumping fire. The thick sweat of rice parching hung in the air, a mixture of smoke and water and grain. The toasting rice in the barrel exhaled humidity in quick, short bursts. Like a priest’s swinging censer, it gave off a thick smudge that rose up to the high crease of the shed’s peak. I’ve been buying rice from the Dewandeler’s parching operation for years—first from Lewy, now passed on, then from his son Richard, and now from Lewy’s grandson, Aaron. Among local wood-parched wild-rice processors, their shed is the cathedral.
They parch in machines they’ve fabricated over the years. A 90-year-old engine pulled from a Ford Model A powers the huge barrel that spins over the wood fire. A cylinder painted sky blue houses a flywheel of soft paddles engineered to gently knock off the loosened hulls. And now Aaron has a new baby: a giant mechanical separator. It gyrated in the middle of the room, its screen plate shaking the good, beautiful finished rice to one end and the broken, undesirable rice to the other.