the rice is one of the bases of world food and its importance is such that it is in second place behind corn in terms of consumption.
Originally from Southeast Asia, it is an annual herbaceous plant, and as such, it requires a harvest that usually takes place between August and September in our latitudes. This activity is the protagonist of plans such as Rice Experience, in the Ebro Delta; the Museu d’arròs Molí de Rafelet in the same area, and La Torra – Rice Interpretation Centre.
Experience the productive cycle
The Rice Experience is an activity related to the productive cycle of this cereal, and that wants disseminate among the participants the great moments of its productionsuch as planting, mowing and drying hand in hand with participatory activities such as ancestral fishing gear, perchar boats and traditional games.
The activity takes place in the Ebro Delta Natural Park and is proposed discover an area with a lot of identity with its peculiarities, its customs, its traditions, its people, its gastronomy and with an environment with a great wealth of fauna and landscape.
The Museu d’Arròs Molí de Rafelet consists of guided visits to the mill where the cultivation of rice, drying in the sun, how the rice enters the mill and how it goes from the husk to brown and finally to white is explained to visitors. At the end of the visit, you enter the packaging room where each variety of rice is explained and what culinary dish it is used for.
To complete the experience, you can visit the town of Camarlés La Torra – Rice Interpretation Centeran informative center that recovers the old mill of the municipal cooperative to also pay tribute to those who have worked in this field.
Cultivation of more than 10,000 years ago
But what do we know about rice? Its cultivation is attributed to China more than 10,000 years ago, and spread through India, Indochina and Japan, until reach the Iberian Peninsula in the twelfth centuryspecifically to the area of present-day Andalusia.
Currently, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, in Spain the most important producing regions are in Andalusia, Extremadura, Catalonia, Valencia and Aragon.
Its distribution is very localized in areas with high salinity and areas “such as deltas and marshes belonging to or close to natural parksand with soils that suffer from waterlogging problems”.
A necessary flood
the rice is a semi-aquatic plant and for its development it needs a minimum of humidity, so it is necessary that where it is planted there is some flooding in the fields.
One of the challenges in rice production is precisely the management of water and controlling this constant humiditywhich has undoubtedly configured landscapes such as those of the Ebro Delta that can be discovered today.
Rice production has some especially significant curiosities before the existence of machinerywhich has currently made it possible to mechanize from sowing to harvest.
In the past, the already slightly developed seedlings at about 20 centimeters, they were taken to the rice fields for planting, to be distributed in rows with garbejar carts (specific carts) to plant them by lines, as Fernando Sendra explains in his book ‘El conreu de l’arròs a la marjal Pego-Oliva’. Today, the techniques are more sophisticated.
When working bent over and in the water, the planters wore iconic sashes that protected their backs. As clothing, they also wore a kind of thimble to protect their hands from constant exposure to water, Sendra details. They wore rags on their feet to protect themselves from the bites of water fleas and leeches.
During the summer months, the main mission of the farmers was (and still is) controlling the water level, eliminating weeds and constantly fertilizing the land, until the harvest. Also, the need to keep the birds awayavid consumers of these seeds.
It is at the end of August, or the beginning of September, when the grain has matured, and it is imposed the magical moment of harvestthe rice towns, such as those in the Ebro Delta, devote themselves to its management until the grain is stored: before by hand, now by tractor.
In fact, one will know that the harvest has begun because a few days before, about a week, the fields begin to dry out to make harvesting easier for the workers on firmer ground and avoid health problems like those seen in the past.
Specifically, as established by the Regulatory Council of the PDO Arròs del Delta de l’Ebre, the first days of September the water level is lowered and harvesting begins, which can last until the first ten days of October depending on the degree of maturity of the rice.
With sickles at dawn
At dawn, the farmers equipped themselves with sickles of different drafts and holding the bundle of rice with one hand, they applied the coup de grâce with the other, discarding a part for later burning and use as fertilizer for the same field. Today this has changed thanks to the introduction of specialized machinery, which has revolutionized the sector.
In visits to the interpretation centers in the area, it can be seen how, in the past, with carts that received different names depending on the region, the spike was transported to the threshing floor and subjected to threshingsome iconic circular and flat spaces to shell the grain with different methods (with rollers or by stepping on it).
Finally, the grain was piled up in a corner of the threshing floor, and sometimes a second sifting is necessary to, as the expression goes, separate the wheat from the chaff (smaller). The result is a grain that must be allowed to dry from excess moisture and stirred from time to time. In essence, this is still the current harvesting process, but obviously more sophisticated.
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All this will allow the lucky diners of the area and of the entire Peninsula enjoy a first class rice in their paellas, and at the same time learn more about the secrets of this thousand-year-old agricultural activity that goes unnoticed in everyday life.
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